Confessions of a Monkey Mom

Amy Chua was born in the year of the tiger and dubs herself "a tiger mom."  Her recent book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom" has gotten tongues flapping everywhere. In short, I disagree profoundly with her more extreme behavior (detailed here), but I feel I'd enjoy having her as a friend.  People with passion, even passions masquerading as misguided neurotic behavior, have a special place in my heart.  I was born in the year of the monkey, and thus I dub myself "The Monkey Mom." While the term "tiger mom" does have a vastly more fearsome ring to it than "monkey mom," we monkeys are not to be taken lightly. Besides, as my son's father who was born in the year of the chicken can tell you, proclaiming oneself to be "monkey mom" is less embarrassing than publicly embracing the moniker of "chicken dad."

Though I reject the idea that one's year of birth has any influence on the formation of personality, I do think the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac are fun to ponder as 12 representatives of distinct types of people. As fortune would have it, I am pleased with the characteristics of the monkey. As written here, "People born in the Year of the Monkey are the erratic geniuses of the cycle. Clever, skillful, and flexible, they are remarkably inventive and original and can solve the most difficult problems with ease. There are few fields in which Monkey people wouldn't be successful but they have a concerting habit of being too agreeable." With the exception of the last line, those characteristics do describe me well--and if any of you objects to that, comment now or forever hold your peace.

As a monkey mom, I do many things that tiger moms do.  Education is top-priority in our household. My son started daily piano and taekwondo lessons from the age of 5.  He spends about one hour a day practicing piano and one hour a day doing taekwondo. At first, it was tough but he no longer complains, and usually enjoys it. He got his black belt last week, and played with poise and confidence, if not with perfect accuracy, in his last piano recital.  He takes a Chinese characters class once a week with a teacher who visits our home. Each week, he learns to read and write about four new characters. So far, he has learned to read and write about 400 characters.  He was also involved in a weekend soccer club, but we are taking a break during the winter months. Come spring, it will be back to soccer.

Reading has been a bigger struggle. When I was five, I took to reading like a fish takes to water. A few days of phonics and I was off on a ten-year adventure of reading, reading, reading. From age five to fifteen, my primary wake time activity was reading, and I have no memory of ever experiencing a reading difficulty. My son, alas, is not me.  Though he always enjoys being read to, he has strongly and steadfastly resisted learning to read. Tears on both sides have been shed, but finally he is reading both Korean and English at an acceptable but not overly impressive level for a six year old. I know that the fact that he is reading in two languages is impressive enough.  Still, as a linguist, I have read or been able to read five languages, and hope my son can do better than me! 

We also watch quite a lot of DVDs and movies. On most days, my son spends more than two hours in front of the screen.  One reason I've permitted this is that it gives him needed exposure to spoken English. We have watched all the Pixar movies dozens of times, and we discuss them together.  He knows that if he wants to watch DVDs, he has to be able to explain to his mother what the characters were talking about the TV. Just today, we were rewatching Toy Story 1, when I heard Buzz Lightyear say, "Don't you know my eyes could have been sucked from their sockets?" I immediately asked my son if he knew what eye sockets were. Later, T Rex said, "I hate confrontation!" and I explained to him what confrontation means.  Though I'm still aiming to reduce our TV time, at least we do discuss together what we watch, and I make a conscious effort to highlight new vocabulary and then include it our future conversations.  Instead of "conscious effort" I probably should say "obsessive-compulsive effort." Almost every second we are together, I am aiming to improve his vocabulary, and my efforts are not to no avail! A few months back, we were riding the bus and he asked me, "Mommy, what is polypropylene?" 

Starting from about one month ago, he does homework every night in three subject: math, Korean, and Chinese characters. Very soon, I will add nightly English homework for him.  Until this point, he has done English homework just two nights per week. Though he resists, I am unmoved. So far, so good.  A whole post could be written on spiritual and moral instruction. Suffice to say that for the past year, we read the Bible before going to bed and he is familiar with most of the major stories in the Bible. I'd like to have him memorize Scriptures as I did when I was a child, but I have yet to find a good program that is not written from an Evangelical/fundamentalist perspective. 

And there are many more hurdles to come, but that's all for now from this Monkey Mom.


  1. I think with reading, the most important thing is to instill a love of books. I think for kids who are simultaneously learning to read in two languages, it's harder. (I see this with some of the bilingual kids at my daughter's school.) But I think if he learns to love books, he will be motivated to read. That's how it has worked for us. We are still working on Korean reading, though.

    Funny that you memorized scriptures. I did that too, and although I hated it at the time, I think it really helped my study skills.


  2. Compared to these folks you are still an American pushover :)

  3. Wow, Josh, that is hard core! I'm afraid even of diving. Imagine if I'd been born into a circus family.

    Rachel, When I was young, I memorized a lot of Scriptures and poetry too. It was good for me, and yet I'm not sure how to do it with my son. If you ever have any ideas . . . :-)

    I'm hoping my son will pick up a love for reading. At least he does love books--he just don't want to read them himself. His kindergarten basically taught him to read Korean without any help from me, and I taught him to read English without any help from them.

  4. Awww, Monkey! He must be so big now! You are such a great mom, it was cool reading this. I miss you!