battle hymn of a bereaved mother

During the past couple weeks it seems Amy Chua and the promotion of her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” are everywhere – The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, Time, and even in my People Magazine. Somehow I have managed to let the premise of her narrative get under my skin, which I’m pretty sure is her intention. A disclaimer: I have not read her book. But I have read enough excerpts now to be reminded of how different my life is from hers. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that in a world of parenting books and philosophies – how to raise your children right, discipline the right way, how to maximize your child’s potential, and more – those “right ways” no longer fit for our family. For they assume that a) your child does not have special needs mentally or physically and that b) your child does not get cancer and die.

Prior to Ben’s illness, I could have been accused of trying to parent the “right” or perfect way. I had an ever-growing library of “how to” books. But Ben’s diagnosis blew everything out of the water. Watching him suffer beyond my worst imagination and die in front of me has, needless to say, completely changed me as a person and parent. Ryan now has, for better or worse, a different mom. My goals for him are very simple: live. Surely, I want him to be a positive contributing member of society. I hope he goes to college. But my expectations are vastly different from Ms. Chua’s. Am I a Westernized parent? Or a golden retriever mom? Perhaps. Or maybe I am just a bereaved mom, who has been forced to recognize that life can change in one second and ultimately our children’s lives are not in our control.

Yet, in what I can control, I know this to be true: I want Ryan to be happy, to do something he finds joy in, to love and be loved. The rest is up for grabs. I could care less if he becomes a musical prodigy or goes to Harvard. Of course if one of those happens because of his own dreams I will be immensely proud of him. But his success, or lack of success, in terms of worldly judgment means little to me. I will not be crazed if he doesn’t practice violin for three hours a day, nor deny him food under any circumstances. That’s what happens when your first child is fed through a nose tube. The only thing at this point that I can think of that will be my undoing is if he threatens his own life in any way. If he does something stupid that verges on a reunion with his brother I will bring my wrath down faster than the humidity in New Jersey can ruin my straightened hair. But I guarantee you I will never tell my son he is “garbage”. And I doubt that word would come to mind again for Ms. Chua in reference to her daughter if she saw her hooked up to oxygen, unconscious and days away from death.

Do we watch too much tv in our house for brain development experts – probably. Do we jump on the bed more than other families? I am guessing yes. Do I give him – within reason – what he likes to eat? I do. Does Ryan still receive time outs? Of course! I want people to like him. Do I let him do whatever his little three year old crazy brain desires while praising him incessantly and imagining rainbows and butterflies dancing over his head? Of course not. But there are not a lot of “rights” anymore. There are just the three of us, trying to do the best we can each day – without the other member of our family. And while I in no way, shape or form would ever ever wish Ms. Chua’s daughters, or anyone, to be diagnosed with a life threatening illness – I do wish people like her could live in my shoes for a moment. For in doing so, my guess is they would be a little less self-righteous about the way they parent and perhaps for a minute they would love their child for who they are instead of who they want them to become. For if I had only loved Ben for whom he would have become I would have been severely disappointed.

It’s funny the things that set me off these days. I must be back in the anger stage again. Good thing Seattle Children’s expansion has begun…

*steps down off of own self-righteous soap box*