On Tiger Wives, Rabbit Babies, and Shrinking Violets

Smackdown! Deng in action. Photo from tntmagazine.com

My parents are on vacation in Greece, so the multiple daily phone calls my mother and I codependently engage in have been replaced via email. Yesterday she emailed, “last night we went to dinner with two other couples and they all agreed they want wives like Wendi Deng,” Rupert Murdoch’s spouse who punched a man attempting to throw a pie in the face of her husband, disgraced octogenarian Rupert Murdoch, in the midst of his parliamentary hearing for hacking and corruption of the journalistic and cop-bribing kind.

Well, of course they all wanted wives like her. First, Wendi Deng is 38 years younger than her husband, which may be every 70+ gent’s dream.

Second, she’s Asian, which, in many men’s minds, immediately makes her attractive. (Years ago, my friend Elsa told me that she wanted to write an article about the Asian-galpal-as-status-symbol entitled “Asians are the New Blonde.”)

And third, as the events of this week show, that little lady is feisty! She not only stood by her man, she stood up for him, unleashing a beat down on his tormentor. Let’s face it, she gets the job done. I am not such a good wife in that department. Just this weekend I refused to argue with a valet who charged us an extra hour of parking although we’d only gone a few minutes over the first hour, even though my husband, when he went to collect something and left me in charge of retrieving our car, advised me, “don’t let them charge you for a second hour.” But I did. To me, it was worth the three dollars not to fight with the attendant and harsh my poolside buzz. You know who would have walked away with three more dollars in her pocket? Wendi Deng.

Why is this couple smiling? Photo taken from yanxishan.wordpress.com

Wendi changed her name from Deng Weng Ge, which means “Cultural Revolution.” I answer to all sorts of mispronunciations of my name, Eleni (pronounced Eh LEH knee), ranging from Elaine-y to Alani to Emily.

Wendi Deng is not afraid to resort to fisticuffs to protect her man. I sold mine out for three dollars (although they were my three dollars, not his, which I think makes it OK). This doesn’t mean Wendi loves Rupert more than I love my sweet husband. There are mitigating factors. My husband is three months younger than I am, not forty years older. He can do his own punching should the need arise, although I hope it never does. If the two of us were ever in a similarly fraught pie situation, I think I probably would have take off my ever-present pink cardigan and used it to wipe whipped cream off his face, saying, “You’ve got a little something on your nose.”

Marital dynamics aside, I am a little jealous of Wendi’s ability to stand up for herself, and others. When the Time Warner Cable operator reduced me to tears I huffed, “You should know, you are NOT a nice person!” And when people steal a cab out from under me, I’ve been known to yell “enjoy the karma!” after them. (You would be surprised at how this makes grown men quiver.)

The thing is, I don’t like fighting with people, and I do think karma will take care of bad guys in the end (look where Rupert was sitting when he got attached with baked goods). That’s all fine for me, but the question I’m wrestling with now is, given that I’m having a daughter, what kind of girl do I want to raise? One who steps aside and waits for karma to do its thing, or one who isn’t afraid to make a point with her fists?

Amy Chua wrote the controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, about her experience raising her two daughters using what she describes as Chinese methods, which involve never letting them go to sleepovers, insisting that they practice musical instruments for hours each day and rejecting their handmade birthday cards if she feels not enough effort has gone into making them. I was born the Year of the Tiger, 1974, but it’s Deng who is a Tiger Wife, or, as some of press dubbed her, a Crouching Tiger, coming to the defense of her family, ninja-like.

My daughter, Amalía (note we’ve added an accent to her name to help our obstetricians, and others, pronounce it correctly, as Ah mah LEah, not Ahmahlya) is being born the Year of the Rabbit, which should make her sensitive, even timid. But if all goes according to plan, she’ll be a fiery Leo, which should mitigate some of that sensitivity. Still, astrology does not conquer all. Which brings me to the question of nurture.

I was emailing with a few fellow gestating writers the other day when one shared the story a friend of a friend had told her: the woman’s little boy had said to her, “Mommy, I don’t want you to be a writer.” The woman explained that because she was a writer, she got to stay home and work near him all day, unlike some mommies who had to go into the office. The little boy said, “But I don’t want you to be anything. I want you to just be a mommy.”

This started a discussion about balancing work and child-raising, with the woman relating the story to my friend saying how it brought up all her own guilt issues about taking time to write when her child was in the next room (with a sitter) asking for her. I felt the woman’s pain, but couldn’t help but remember a great response I, as a teenager, heard a mother give a toddler who was whining about wanting dessert before dinner. After explaining why that wasn’t a good idea, and hearing the toddler repeat “But I WANT it!” again, the woman said, “Well, I want the moon, but I don’t have it.” Case closed.

I thought this was a great response on so many levels; it forestalls any negotiations, subtly teaches the child the difference between wanting something attainable or not, and also introduces him or her to the idea that other people–including mommies–sometimes want things they don’t get. As a middle child between an adored older brother and an adorable younger sister, I always knew that the world didn’t revolve around my desires, and that knowledge prepared me to be delighted when I did get what I wanted, or, as the Rolling Stones promised, I got what I needed. On the flip side, maybe it made me too eager to fork over three dollars to keep the peace, or too quick to burst into tears when dealing with Time Warner Cable.

Anyway, in the course of the email exchange with the writing moms-to-be, I made the case for this kid not getting what he wants without the mom feeling guilty. Would he ask the same of his dad, I wonder? I pointed out that we’re not just raising children, we’re raising citizens, and there’s too much entitlement in our culture already.

And then I realized that I was the meanest mommy in the group, before my daughter even arrived. I was the Tiger Mom, thwarting my unborn child’s imagined desires, only without the noble end goal of raising great musicians or greeting card designers.

If we do live in a culture of entitlement, perhaps I’m better off raising a daughter who will demand what she wants from the world? By doing so, maybe she’ll get it some or most of the time. At the same time, I can’t stand the entitled among us, the students who want the A without slaving over a paper, the politicians who think anyone would be delighted to receive a picture of them shirtless post-workout, the Time-Warner-Cable rep who takes her customers for granted. I couldn’t live with a person like that for the next 18 years.

So, what’s a Year of the Tiger mom to do? I don’t know the answer. I will probably try to raise a polite child who believes in karma. But I may just try to stalk Wendi Deng and try to set up a few playdates with her girls. And if I ever do meet her, I promise not to call her “Cultural Revolution.”



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