Belts being made into threatening weapons -- that's one of the clearest childhood memories. Being called "Hitela" (for Hitler) was my mother's way of reminding me how awful she thought my bangs were. That's another remembrance in my top 10.
Do I think that my mother would want those to be my memories? Absolutely not.
Do I think Amy Chua (author of the essay "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" in the online Wall Street Journal) wants her children to remember her for calling them '"garbage"? No. I don't. I think she wants her daughters to credit her for their success in this world, just as I'm certain my mother wanted me to credit her for my neurotic (which does decidedly not mean successful) monitoring of my hair, weight and every other outward manifestation of who I am.
So, what is it? Being cruel for the "sake of our children's success" or being kind for the "sake of their psyche"? Do we have a right or wrong here?
Amy Chua, a.k.a. the Tiger Mom for her newly released book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," says, when remembering being called "garbage" by her parents (an epithet she later threw at her own daughter), "I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage."
Okay, Amy. I didn't think my mother actually meant that I was a doppelganger for Hitler (we were Jewish, after all). But I got her message loud and clear: I looked awful, I was ripe for being mocked, and a cruel joke at my expense was worth the laugh.
I'm no parenting expert. Nor was I, by any stretch of anyone's imagination, a perfect or even top-notch one. I became a mother at 21 and basically grew up with them -- and boy do they love to tell the story of the time I threw a plastic bottle of Woolite at the wall because I'd sent them to the corner store for Tide.
The thing of it is this: I don't defend that action. I don't pretend I was providing a lifelong lesson in being a good consumer. I was PMS and out of control with my own life drama at that moment. Woolite was the missile of my mood. My poor daughters ended up the unmeant psychic target, and I'm certain I scared the heck out of them.
I can't rewind that moment.
I remember every cruel remark my mother said to me, and those remarks made me neither thin nor fashionable. I don't believe cruelty teaches better than kindness, though at times I've wondered if (Woolite notwithstanding) I was too much of a pushover mom, a question that led me to my older daughter (now a mother herself).
I asked her how she felt I was as a mother in the kind vs. cruel department. I knew I'd get truth, because she is always honest (even when I'd rather she not be) and has shared with me (in answer to my stupidly asking) what she thought were my worst parenting mistakes:
Sometimes, when you went on and on about how smart, beautiful, blah, blah, I was, I'd think: she has to say that; she's my mom. But isn't that what moms are for? If your mother doesn't believe in you, who will? It gave me confidence and it let me know that you were in my corner. I could go to you with problems, knowing you'd be on my side.
Lovely to hear, although this was also the daughter who told me I made it hard to be angry, as I always needed us to make up too quickly (since I am not able to cope with anger) when we had a fight. I didn't allow enough stewing time. Plus, she said, I didn't push her enough to play sports.
"But, sweetheart, you won the Little League Award for 'good sportsmanship' the one year that you played."
Perhaps I didn't push enough. But despite my wimpy kindness, we have daughters who are strong, smart, responsible women -- who earned advanced degrees from Harvard and New York University, even with me letting them take the occasional mental health day off from school.
Call my daughters "garbage"?
I simply couldn't bear to call my daughters anything but what they are to me: the light of my life. I never want to crush that light.