Posted by: Kath Usitalo | January 11, 2011

I’m NOT A Chinese Mother…Am I?

Graham, Paige and yours truly at the Detroit Institute of Arts

I received a most precious gift for Christmas from the kids: A day with them, just the three of us, no dad allowed. And as a bonus I realized I am not a Chinese mother.

Graham and Paige knew I’d always wanted to attend Brunch with Bach, the monthly concert series at the Detroit Institute of Arts that features a small ensemble or soloist with or without a side of quiche. But in all these years I’d never made the time or planned ahead to make a reservation; the programs usually sell out well in advance.

This Christmas I opened an elaborately designed card that had all the words a mother wants to hear about how wonderful and appreciated she is—words that had me reaching for the tissues—and an invitation for Sunday’s outing.

Good Girls makes great crepes

They decided we would skip the DIA’s quiche, however, and feast before on crepes at Good Girls Go To Paris. A great call on their part.

Paige and I’d sampled the Good Girls crepes at their original downtown walk-up location, but I had yet to sit down at their Cultural Center spot just across the street from the Art Institute, Library, and Historical Museum. (Paige, the Detroit-centric girl she is, has been there many times and showed me a list she keeps on her phone of all the crepes she’s sampled.)

We had lox and spinach (left), bananas and whipped cream, and quality time together

I let the kids order and after a leisurely cup of coffee or two (be prepared to wait for the food—very slow in coming off the crepe makers) we shared two savory and two sweet crepes—delish—good conversation and a few laughs, we headed to the  DIA for the concert in Kresge Court. I’ve always loved the brick-walled space, which was originally a garden, now enclosed by a massive skylight.

As we listened to pianist May Phang effortlessly perform works by Liszt, Bach, and  Chopin I a) wondered how in the world she memorized all that music, and b) realized she must have a Chinese mother.

I’d just read the Wall Street Journal article Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior by Amy Chua, who wrote about the differences between Western and Chinese parenting.

The circa 1338 bell over our heads in the Kresge Court went off: am I a Chinese mother?

According to the author, a Yale Law School professor, you don’t have to be Chinese to be a Chinese parent, but you must posses the will to support the belief that, “they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences.”

Chua freely gives examples of how she’s restricted her daughters (the young ladies have never attended a sleepover, had play dates, watched TV, or chosen their own extracurricular activities) and demanded nothing less than an “A” in any class, or to be the top student in every subject except gym or drama. Her husband, apparently not a Chinese father, seems to have little say in the girls’ upbringing.

She describes in agonizing detail how she forced one daughter to practice piano beyond her breaking point until she—to the amazement of no one but the Chinese mother—was able to play her piece flawlessly.

As pianist Phang wrapped up her program with Gershwin’s Embraceable You, I flashed back through 22 years of parenting and how I’d shared this very music—the Bach, Liszt, Gershwin (plus Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Harry Chapin, Patsy Cline and others) with Graham and Paige. I wanted to expose them to the wide world, in part, through the genius and variety of musical expression of the ages.

And I realized how—yikes—I’d forced our kids to play in the school band from fourth grade through high school. Both started out on the very clarinet I’d played at my elementary school, and graduated to better instruments as they made their way through the program. Initially, I thought, there is some Chinese mother in me. Then I remembered that the only acceptable instrument for a Chinese child is piano or violin, and that I never forced the kids to practice (well, not often).

Somehow Graham and Paige survived being “band nerds” (as we were called at my high school) and have grown into magnificent young people with a variety of interests, opinions, and talents.

Best of all, they didn’t seem to mind spending a sunny Sunday with their mom. Bring on the tissues.

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  1. What a wonderful gift from the kids. Sounds like you had a perfect day. Since I worked at the DIA for 7 years I was lucky to go to B w B, Jazz at the Institute and more. Kresge Court has always been a favorite of mine. It was in Kresge Court that I learned I had a full time job at the DIA. One of the best places I have ever worked and great fun overall.

    • I miss the cafe in Kresge Court.

  2. Kath, you truly are blessed! What a wonderful gift, one any mother could wish for.

    • I was thinking of how I used to take them to the DIA; now they’re taking me…Cannot believe how the years have flown.

  3. Sounds like a very fun day. You’ve raised them well.

    • Thanks, I often wonder where they came from 😉

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