Being a mother can be very daunting, and yet it can be an extremely humbling experience. It takes you on a roller-coaster ride. I was on one such ride yet again over the past few days, and this time it was because of the two books I read back to back. Right after I finished reading Amy Chua's "Battle Hymns of the Tiger Mother", I got onto Emma Donoghue's "Room", and the hangover still lingers.
Chua's book is about her frantic efforts of giving her two daughters a strict "Chinese" upbringing. Her disciplined and single-dimensional parenting can sometimes perturb you as a parent. Some 30 pages into the book and you find yourself asking too many questions. Can you define parenting this way or the other? Is there a guarantee that a strict child-rearing will result into superior kids? And what's superior anyway? By advocating traditional, ethnically defined approach to parenting, who is she trying to prove a point to?
You sometimes find yourself reacting like her younger daughter Lulu does. Just when you are cursing Chua for forcing her reluctant daughters into a rigorous practice of violin or piano, most of the times to the extent of being unreasonable, the anecdote ends with the daughters mastering a very difficult piece. You can almost imagine the girls’ faces all lit up, determined to work more and more, determined to push themselves some more, practice some more, master some more... That's when you understand that demanding ‘some more’ from your children is not unfair. You are only making them realise their potential, and you are only making sure they achieve what they deserve. While I don't put my style of parenting in a certain bracket, I do accept that Chua also made me question myself. If I wasn't doing enough to discipline my children, was I being plain lazy? Is it not easy to let them be, where it saves me as a parent from a lot of stress and nagging?
So what makes me talk about the two books in one breath? Both happen to be the stories of victories of two mothers, under two very different circumstances. Both celebrate the love between a mother and her child, albeit very differently. ROOM is the story of a five year old boy named Jack, who lives in a eleven by eleven foot room with his mother and has never been out of this room. The room has been Jack's only world, his only identity, till Ma tells him about the world outside. The story is in Jack’s voice and Jack’s belief, wisdom and courage leave you startled. Jack derives his strength from his mother - a victim of abduction, rape and confinement for over seven years. Room has all kinds of emotional punches. It leaves you drained and angry but it leaves you utterly optimistic.
I am going to quote an excerpt from the book. Jack has rescued his mother from the Room, and they have been put in the hospital for recovery – more psychological than physical. Jack and his mother are the talk of the town, and Jack’s Ma wants to do a TV interview, not for anything else, but for the sake of Jack. The money received from the interview could be good enough for Jack’s college fund. When asked very uncomfortable questions about her confinement by the TV anchor, Ma shows her indomitable spirit only a mother could display.
The woman looks down at her paper again. “There you and your baby where, condemned to solitary confinement…”
Ma shakes her head. “Neither of us was ever alone for a minute.”
“Well, yes. But it takes a village to raise a child, as they say in Africa…”
“If you’ve got a village. But if you don’t, then maybe it just takes two people.”
“Two? You mean you and your…”
Ma’s face goes all frozen. “I mean me and Jack.”
Ma is not ashamed of how she has brought up her child. She used the limited means available to her and has given the best to her child. She has taught everything she remembered, understood or knew – poetry, stories, cooking, drawing, hygiene, cleanliness and above all, Faith. She, like Amy, unabashedly believes in their way of bringing up children. This is their way of parenting. Period.
“You don’t think Jack’s been shaped – damaged – by his ordeal?”
“It wasn’t an ordeal to Jack, it was just how things were. And, yeah, maybe, but everybody’s damaged by something.”
Cut to husband and I discussing a script that we are working on. We are working on the protagonist’s parents’ characters.
“Father is not a fool you see. He is well-read. He is sharp. But he is a victim of the circumstances. He gives in because mother is worried about her son, and she makes him do things a certain way. The mother is not a fool either, just that she is a… how do I say it… She is a…”
“A mother?” I ask. That explains it all.