It’s the time of year for my annual existential crisis: Am I or am I not a Tiger Mom?
Of course, I’ve said time and time again, I was raised by a Tiger Mother. I knew Tiger Mothers. I was friends with Tiger Mothers. I AM NO TIGER MOTHER.
But I wonder if other people think I am.
Case in point: it’s the first week of school. Chalk it up to the fact that it’s mid-August, but my boys would rather be playing video games all night and lollygagging at the pool all afternoon. Instead, they are trudging to class at 8:30 in the morning and then coming home for an afternoon full of homework and sports practices. Did I mention that Little Brother was incredibly upset that most of his friends were assigned to a different teacher and he is convinced that second grade is ruined? And his new shoes are probably going to permanently scar his feet.
So in order for me to get these kids to school on time, there needs to be a little motivation. Such as the day when Little Brother sat down on the sidewalk and insisted his new shoes were so uncomfortable they were probably going to render him crippled for life. We could hear the warning bell from a block away, and I shooed Big Brother down the street. “Keep going! You know the way! Be careful crossing the street! At least someone in our family should make it!”
Some people might overhear me yelling at motivating my children and get the wrong idea about me.
And then there’s the part where I ended up in the principal’s office. Big Brother was assigned to class that was rumored to be the designated repository for underachievers. This is the child who was pulled onstage in front of the whole school because of his perfect scores on standardized tests. He is also a generally well-behaved child who could be seen as a deal-sweetener for a teacher saddled with a disproportionate number of behavioral problems. I felt like I had uncovered the biggest conspiracy in school district policy. Instead of spending his fifth grade year getting preparing for middle school, my child was going to spend his last year of elementary school in The Breakfast Club (Unless your kid is in Big Brother’s class. I’m not talking about them *wink*).
So for the past week, I’ve lost sleep and lost hair trying to figure out what to do. I’ve blabbered about my situation to anyone who will listen to me, wrote a letter to the principal, and asked Big Brother twenty questions about his class. I tried to stop by the principal’s office, but one of the administrators body blocked me in the hallway and refused to let me through.
In doing so, I’ve kind of left myself open for people to shake their heads and whisper, “She’s such a Tiger Mother!” I’m sure after I post this, there will be some parents who read this on the Internet, email it to their friends, and then congratulate themselves for not sending their kids to one of those schools teeming with Asians trying to get their kindergarteners into the Ivy League.
I am not the first — or only — parent to worry about her child’s class placement. And I know some are far less diplomatic than me in dealing with it. After all, isn’t that part of being a parent? To ensure that your kid gets treated fairly and has all the opportunities you can provide for them? Still, as an Asian woman, I’m very self-conscious of appearing to fall into a stereotype, and sometimes I’ll be contrary just to buck the stereotype– even if it’s not in my best interest to do so.
By the end of the week, I was a mess. The principal had still not returned my phone calls, friends were giving all sorts of different advice, and I just couldn’t think straight anymore. So I decided to look the tiger in the eye and explained my plan to my husband. “I’m going to go to the teacher and ask her point-blank if this is a remedial class and what is she going to do to make sure our son doesn’t get ignored!” I should add that up until this point, I had whipped him up into such a frenzy that each day he was leaving to work each day admonishing me to “No son of mine is going to be in a remedial class! Make it happen!” Okay, it might have been me who said that.
So I did the best thing I could think of. I went and talked to the teacher about my concerns. I felt sheepish, even though I was trying not to accuse her of anything, it felt like I was doing so. AndI knew there was a good chance that this would be the woman in charge of teaching my son for the rest of the year.
“I’ve heard some rumors and wanted to talk to you about them first…” I began. Then I explained the situation as I understood it. It probably did not come out as smoothly as I planned, and I probably sounded accusatory and demanding as my husband says I can sometimes come across.
No, this is not an intervention class, she explained, as she showed me models of geologic formations that the students would be making.
I felt bad for her, this young woman with a reputation for being a good teacher, with this tiger breathing down her throat. It dawned on me that wanting the best for my children does not make me a Tiger Mother. Scolding them and putting inordinate pressure on them to do what I want would be Tiger-ish. Asking for fair treatment for my kids does not make me a Tiger Mother. Stomping and roaring and demanding my way would be Tiger-ish. I tried to remind myself that this is a conversation between two reasonable women with good intentions.
At the end of our conversation, I left feeling better. Not thoroughly unconvinced about the class distribution rumors, but feeling more assured that this teacher would see my son as an individual and treat him as one. After all, isn’t that what we all want– to be treated fairly and individually?
Note: The principal did call me back and reiterated some of the same things I heard from the teacher. There are pros and cons of the other classes, too, so we are deciding to keep him where he is. I think this one of those things as a parent where there is no easy answer. But I wish it weren’t complicated by my wondering whether people are judging me…