From Author Amy Chua
I wrote this book in a moment of crisis, when my younger daughter seemed to turn against everything I stood for and it felt like I was losing her and everything was falling apart. After one terrible fight, I sat down at my computer, and even though I usually have writer’s block, this time the words just poured out. I showed every page to my daughters and my husband. It was like family therapy. In retrospect, I think writing the book – going back eighteen years when my elder daughter was born and I was a very different person – was an attempt to put the pieces back together and work things out for myself . . . and the story is unfinished!
I was raised by very strict, Chinese immigrant parents, who came to the U.S. as graduate students with practically no money. My mother and father were so poor they couldn’t afford heat their first two winters in Boston, and wore blankets around to keep warm. As parents, they demanded total respect and were very tough with my three younger sisters and me. We got in trouble for A minuses, had to drill math and piano every day, no sleepovers, no boyfriends. But the strategy worked with me. To this day, I’m very close to my parents, and I feel I owe them everything. In fact, I believe that my parents having high expectations for me – coupled with love – is the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. That’s why I tried to raise my own two daughters the same way my parents raised me.
With my first daughter, Sophia, things went smoothly. But then my second daughter, Lulu, came along – she’s a real fireball; we have very similar personalities – and I got my come-uppance. We locked horns from day one, and at thirteen, she rebelled. This book is basically the story of my own transformation as a mother. It’s not a parenting book; it’s a memoir. It’s also supposed to be funny, filled with zany showdowns between me and daughters, who have all the best lines and are always calling my bluff.
From Chapter 9 (“The Violin”):
One thing that the piano and violin have in common – with each other but also with many sports – is that you can’t play extraordinarily well unless you’re relaxed. Just as you can’t have a killer tennis serve or throw a baseball really far unless you keep your arm loose, you can’t produce a mellifluous tone on the violin if you squeeze the bow too tightly or mash down on the strings – mashing is what makes the horrible scratchy sound. “Imagine that you’re a rag doll,” Mr. Shugart would tell Lulu. “Floppy and relaxed, and not a care in the world. You’re so relaxed your arm feels heavy from its own weight . . . Let gravity do all the work. . . Good, Lulu, good.”
“RELAX!” I screamed at home. “Mr. Shugart said RAG DOLL!” I always tried my best to reinforce Mr. Shugart’s points, but things were tough with Lulu, because my very presence made her edgy and irritable.
Once, in a middle of a practice session she burst out, “Stop it, Mommy. Just stop it.”
“Lulu, I didn’t say anything,” I replied. “I didn’t say one word.”
“Your brain is annoying me,” Lulu said. “I know what you’re thinking.”
“I’m not thinking anything,” I said indignantly. Actually, I’d been thinking that Lulu’s right elbow was too high, that her dynamics were all wrong, and that she needed to shape her phrases better.
“Just turn off your brain!” Lulu ordered. “I’m not going to play any more unless you turn off your brain.”
Lulu was always trying to provoke me. Getting into an argument was a way of not practicing. That time I didn’t bite. “Okay,” I said calmly. “How do you want me to do that?” Giving Lulu control over the situation sometimes defused her temper.
Lulu thought about it. “Hold your nose for five seconds.”
A lucky break. I complied, and the practicing resumed. That was one of our good days.
Lulu and I were simultaneously incompatible and inextricably bound. When the girls were little, I kept a computer file in which I recorded notable exchanges word-for-word. Here’s a conversation I had with Lulu when she was about seven:
A: Lulu, we’re good buddies in a weird way.
L: Yeah – a weird, terrible way.
L: Just kidding (giving mommy a hug).
A: I’m going to write down what you said.
L: No, don’t! It will sound so mean!
A: I’ll put the hug part down.