When I first read about "Tiger Mother" Amy Chua and the pressure she put on her offspring, I felt a glimmer of recognition. Like Chua, my mother was strict with me, enrolling me in piano lessons at age 6, making sure I practiced, limiting the amount of time I spent around other miscreants in our tiny northwestern Wisconsin town, and expecting that I got A's in every class.
In my house, there were no PG-rated movies without prior parental approval, no PG-13 movies until I was at least 13. No ear piercing until 7th grade. No sitcom watching. PBS nature show watching abounded (which is funny, as most PBS nature shows are mostly animals fucking and eating each other, which is way more raw and damaging for a child than watching Zach Morris sass his teachers, but I digress), as did encyclopedia reading.
As a child, I remember thinking that what she and my father were expecting of me wasn't fair, that they weren't allowing me to be a typical kid. My pink and purple pastel diary was fraught with hand ringing expressed in blocky 4th grade girl script and ALL CAPS complaints about not being allowed to drive to Rice Lake with Stephanie and her mom and spend the afternoon just bumming around in the mall. We didn't have cable, so I didn't know anything about the shows kids were watching. We only listened to NPR in our house and so all I knew of pop music, I learned on the bus ride to and from school. In retrospect, though, they were effectively giving me a childhood by sheltering me from the constant barrage of pop culture noise that awaits media-exposed American. Instead of watching crap TV, I spent hours playing outside and reading books. Instead of dating, I spent hours playing music- singing, playing piano, practicing flute (aside: practicing flute ended up being a huge dating asset later in life! Double tonguing! Whoo!) (Second aside: Mom, if you're reading this, that was a joke.). Instead of playing video games, I learned how to sew and crochet and bake and chop wood, and thus when the zombie apocalypse comes, I'll be able to mend and bake my way out.
As could be expected, when I reached adolescence, we butted heads. I remember sitting in the car one day and demanding that she be my friend.
"I'm not your friend," she said. "I'm your mother."
It's hard to see your parents as human beings with flaws and strengths when you're young, but as an adult, things start to come into focus. The person who I saw through my overdramatic childhood lens as a dictator who hated fun is, in fact, a badass lady whose dedication made me into who I am today and whose continuing example shows me who I want to be in 23 years. When I was a kid, she never once commented on my weight or appearance, praising me instead when I achieved something that was the fruit of hard work. As a result, today my relationship with my body and with food is about as un-fucked up as is possible, and I'll always be grateful for that. She taught me to work hard and to be nice even when my feelings for a person or situation aren't exactly warm (it's become a bit of a meme among my family for my mother to take me by the shoulders and say, gently, "Erin. BE NICE."). Unlike Tiger Mother Amy Chua, she never told me I was worthless and always supported me, taught me that anything is achievable with dedication and hard work.
She's been a journalist, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, and a high school principal. She reads books,can cook anything, sewed her own wedding dress, delivers speeches that move people to tears, knows how to maintain a garden and make homemade strawberry jam, runs at least 5 miles a day, directs high school musicals, and, even though she doesn't sing much, she has a beautiful singing voice. My mother is quick to laugh and to pun and has an opinion on just about everything. She loves A Prairie Home Companion and Paula Deen and Vivaldi and her pomeranian. She and my father are still married and still in love and they still live in the same house in Northern Wisconsin where I grew up. She's 50 years old and she's never stopped aspiring for more for herself and for her family; she still has dreams of her own. I have no doubt that she'll have whatever she wants out of life, as my mother is one of the most stubborn and ambitious people I've ever met.
While I've heard other women worry aloud about turning into their mothers, I can only hope I turn into half the woman she is.
Happy Mother's Day, to my Badger Mother.
I love you.