Twenty Dollar Bills, Huck Finn, and Parenting

Yes, it’s apparently all related. And hopefully I tell the story properly.

[I’ve been putting off writing this, but it’s been a week, so forget finals for a while. ]

Last Monday, I went to volunteering, and there was still thirty minutes until class started, and Auntie Michelle started the conversation with this story/quote:

A well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the room of 200, he asked, “Who would like this $20 bill?”

Hands started going up. He said, “I am going to give this $20 to one of you but first, let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple the dollar bill up. He then asked, “Who still wants it?”

Still the hands were up in the air.

“Well,” he replied, “what if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. “Now who still wants it?”

Still the hands went into the air.

“My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It is still worth $20.

“Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value: dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to those who love you. The worth of our lives comes not in what we do or who we know, but by who we are.”

I was studying for Huckleberry Finn in English class, so I decided to tell the following story:

After he has escaped, Jim says,

Yes; en I’s rich now, come to look at it. I owns mysef, en I’s wuth eight hund’d dollars. I wisht I had de money, I wouldn’ want no mo’.

My English teacher asked us, “What’s wrong with that statement?” And the general consensus was that a human life is priceless, and you can’t just put a value to it.

My teacher then told us when she was studying this in book in high school, she had a teacher who used to teacher who taught in the poorer part of Washington, D.C. When she asked one of her students what they thought about the quote, he responded, “Well, our lives ain’t worth shit.”

And everybody else in the room agreed.

Uncle Charlie: You’re going to think that if everyone tells you that.

Auntie Michelle: Right, that’s the thing. Have you read that Tiger mom book?

She thought that “calling your children worthless” was a really choice since “the entire world is going to say you’re worthless.” And she thinks it’s totally wrong, and she thinks the author’s children will probably grow up not speaking to her. And since children have limits, you shouldn’t push them like that; she heard that the author had a relation who had special needs, and she should be more understanding

Which I totally respect. I mean, she has her own children, and she obviously has opinions from raising them. However, she hasn’t read the book, and she isn’t really familiar with the culture background, so I tried (and I think failed) to explain. Hopefully, the following is a better explanation:

First, Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother is a memoir and not a book about how Chinese mothers are better than the rest. (It says so in the title.) Many of the comments are sarcastic. Not that I agree with what she did, but in the end, she’s just a mother who wants the best for her children.

Okay the culture part. Chinese culture basically says something like, if your children don’t succeed, it’s your fault. And children are expected to provide for their parents when they grow up, so it’s optimal to raise successful ones. And also this thing from Confucius: the parents are always right. No matter how wrong they actually are, they will never say sorry. So don’t expect that. Also, in China, tests are everything. There is one test for you to get into college, so sorry if you’re sick on the day; there is no retake.

For people who think the children will grow up never speaking to their parents: well, I’m not sure how many generations of Chinese children were raised in this culture, but I’m pretty sure most still talk and care for their parents. I think part of it is understanding the culture; it’s okay (doesn’t feel nice, but okay) for parents to call their children worthless, because the children understand that their parents actually love them more than anything. They get that their parents are just exasperated.

The general stereotype of a Chinese parenting is something like this: authoritarian rule, children are forbidden to have any fun and are forced to practice for hours piano or violin. And incessant drilling for standardized tests. And cold and unfeeling. Probably am missing something, but something like that.

Stereotypes are founded on truth, yes. But they flatten out the truth into something so one-sided that it becomes a lie.

Here is a quote from Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mom:

For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments thirty minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.

When I read this, I smiled. Because my average daily piano practice time is around 3-4 hours. And no, my mom does not force this. Practice for me was never really forced. (Exception: my mom made me practice a full fifteen minutes in the beginning. Hey, how else does a six-year-old play C-D-E for fifteen minutes?) Somewhere in junior high, my mom handed the piano decision to me: I could quit if I wanted to, because I was old enough to make my own decisions. Obviously, I chose to continue. By giving the decision to me, she’s already won more than half the fight. Yeah, my mom is amazing. And I love her.

People think for Chinese moms it’s always, always grades. My mom just wants me to try my best. And she believes it’s well within my abilities to get good grades (because it actually is). It’s not about the grades, it’s about what I can do.

And they think Chinese moms don’t allow their children any fun. My mom taught my sister and I card games so we could play as a family. Her (changed) dating policy is simply to tell her if and when I get a boyfriend.  She wants me to go to dances, and she freaked out four months before prom over my imaginary datelessness. And her humor is wonderful and we laugh over the most random things.

And although she gets mad at me for random things and I get slightly annoyed, I know she loves me and it’s for my own good. And sometimes I don’t agree, but in the end, I go along with it, because I know it’s what she thinks is best for me.

And mom? I know you know my blog exists, and I know you don’t read it since I asked you not to, but if you stumble on a post I hope you find this one.


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