It may not shock you to hear I caught a virus in Hong Kong last month. Except this time it wasn’t some God-awful stomach flu or the type that gives you a Rudolph nose and bloodshot vampire eyes, although it rendered me just as unrecognisable in the mirror! You see, last month I caught Tiger Mother.
WTF is that, I hear some of you ask? The term was coined by a talented but terrifying writer called Amy Chua, who published a memoir in 2011 called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It detailed her ‘tough love’ style of parenting that put the “You will do nothing but study and practice piano” into the word ‘strict’. Since then, the pet name Tiger Mother (insert little™ symbol here for, you guessed it, ‘Tiger Mother’ – nailed it!) has become known to describe a woman who’s as much a dictator as she is parent, all in the name of trying to compel her child into a life of success. And, pull out your hankies, because here’s the sad part of the story: I think Tiger Mother is catching, because I just caught it.
A huge part of this problem is that I’m really not the type to catch Tiger Mother. I was as chilled as a cat on Sunday before I became a parent in Hong Kong (a city I love, just to be clear). My idea of schooling didn’t exist, because it would be something I’d worry about when my kid was about 37. My answer to everything was, “She’ll be right, mate” (the Aussie version of “Ah, whateva”). Let me also explain that my son is currently under the age of two. His head barely clears the top of the dining table, the best thing in the world to him is sliced bread (literally), and when I say things like, “D is for…” (hoping he’ll say “Dog” like a good tiger cub), he mostly just dribbles. But, then again, D is also for Dribble, so yeah, kid should probably get a point there. (See?! Tiger Mom!)
So, because said tiger cub is almost two and we live in Hong Kong, apparently I was meant to have sent out his school applications when my own mother was still pregnant with me. When I found that out, I panicked and scrambled to hire a (admittedly fantastic) schooling consultant who put together a spreadsheet of all the schools we were going to apply for, at a cost that would make your eyebrow twitch. This was the first sign of Tiger Mother Disease. Tiger Mothers get professional help and create spreadsheets for all things education. Tiger Mothers do NOT walk the wilderness of their child’s future success alone.
But it wasn’t until last month that I became an officially (self) diagnosed Tiger Mother, because that was when his school assessments started. Assessments… for a kid that can’t pee in his own chamber pot yet. To prepare, we were advised to practice playing with blocks, and to go over colours, animals, and body parts before each interview. This is the call of the wild to a Tiger Mother’s ears! I was also instructed that he would need to look each adult in the eye, and speak both English and Mandarin if he can… he can’t.
What I should have done was crack a rib laughing, and pre-Hong Kong me might have done that, but not the newly birthed Tiger Mother. I spent weeks going over his colours, animals, letters, numbers, types of food, and body parts. We played with blocks until he could practically build a Millennium Falcon. I ironed his pint-sized shirt and dress pants on the day of the interview and complained that his shoes had scuffs. I made sure he ate oatmeal with banana for breakfast instead of pancakes so his energy levels wouldn’t drop. And when I discovered that his interview time was right when he would usually be napping, I lamented to my husband that, “He’s got a disadvantage.”
Oh. My. God. Roll out the red carpet for Tiger Mother, folks, she has officially stepped out of the limousine. So why did this happen to me? If I had the answer, I’d be injecting it into my arm like a vaccine. All I can put it down to is environmental and social pressure. There are friends, and groups, and websites, and advertisements, and articles, and words of mouth here that constantly remind you that there is always a better school, a smarter kid, an octo-lingual child, a top international university that’s within reach “if only you start them early”. There are also about 9 billion children applying and about 5 available places. If you secretly want your child to just be a child and play on the equipment, and watch cartoons, and scrape their knees, you feel like they’re going to fall behind the rest. That if they don’t get accepted into one of the best schools in the city they might not become the best person they can be – because that’s what so many people around you seem to believe. And maybe it’s actually true.
But, you see, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, actually, we were on our way to our school assessment. As we pulled up and my nearly two-year-old bolted toward the school’s jungle gym, I decided to just not give a (bleep). I told my internal Tiger Mother, “It’ll be all right, mate.” And that was just as well, because the school didn’t test him on anything we’d prepared; they just wanted him to know all the words to a song he’d never heard before (Note to Tiger Mothers: Better learn the actions and words to every song that has ever existed, and maybe a few more just to be safe). He probably won’t get in to this one, but that’s okay, because he’s about minus 12 years old at the moment. He doesn’t need to enroll at Harvard just yet… right?