Cordelia is distracted during our weekly bowl of garlic soup. “Are
Russian schools off this week?”
“Not that I know of,” I confirm.
“I played tennis in the morning rather than the afternoon, and the entire club was taken up by Russian children being screamed at by Russian tennis coaches. Shouldn’t they be in school?”
“They probably are,” I hypothesize. “Except the parents have paid off the school so they can skip history and foreign languages, which no one in today’s Russia needs, so they can put in five solid hours to become tennis prodigies.”
“How barbaric,” Cordelia says.
“Nonsense,” I insert, “this is a global phenomenon: Bullying kids to succeed—like that lunatic woman Amy Chua.”
“Cordelia, are you the only person in the galaxy who hasn’t heard of the book, ‘Battle Hymon of the Tiger Mother’?”
“God, I hope so,” she said.
The liberal uber moms, while publicly horrified by Chua’s best-selling book, wonder if threatening to auction off the stuffed animal collection to exact mastery of a complex piano piece might just be the way to go. They’re wrong.
My 13-year-old daughter, Velvet, is an exceptional equestrienne. She’s always coming home with blue ribbons. The Olympics have been mentioned as a realistic goal.
Everyone wants to know how I, who seldom take on anything that I can’t do in my pajamas, managed to produce an athletic prodigy for one of the world’s most elite sports. No one believes me when I just shrug my shoulders and say, “Honestly, I did nothing.”
Velvet is a typical product of successful “indifferent parenting.”
This is the way I was raised, by two 1960s WASPs. They took great care never to expose my sister and me to anything in which we could win a medal of any kind. “Field hockey,” my mother said pursing her lips. “Why don’t you go out for Big Chorus?” I assume we did our homework at some point, because one day we were both packing our trunks for prep schools, from which we both matriculated to the Ivy League.
Primed by parental assurance that the fusion of Glee Club, AP Latin, most improved JV Soccer player and a backstage solo in “Jesus Christ Superstar” was exactly the skill set that prepared one for The Real World, I was ready to be a model of indifferent parenting when Velvet started to display a single-minded determination to excel.
When she wanted Breyer horses, I gave her an American Girl Doll. I countered her plans to spend 12 to 14 hours bailing hay with a two-week Shakespeare camp.
I refused to buy a horse. I made it clear that I was never, ever going to haul anything behind my Subaru. I developed an extreme allergy to horsehair and hay, producing notes from doctors to prove it.
This is what the Russian Bear Mamas don’t get. Fire the 18 tutors and put your manicured feet up. Don’t push your kids toward anything. Push against everything. Really.
Jennifer Eremeeva is a longtime resident of Moscow; she blogs at www.rbth.ru/blogs and www.dividingmytime.typepad.com. She is currently working on her first book.
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