I had my first face-off with Lulu when she was about three. It was a freezing winter afternoon, one of the coldest days of the year. Jed was at work and Sophia was at kindergarten. I decided that it would be a perfect time to introduce Lulu to the piano. Excited about working together, I put her on the piano bench, on top of some comfortable pillows. I then demonstrated how to play a single note with a single finger, evenly, three times, and asked her to do the same. A small request, but Lulu refused, preferring instead to smash at many notes at the same time with two open palms. When I asked her to stop, she smashed harder and faster. When I tried to pull her away from the piano, she began yelling, crying, and kicking furiously. Fifteen minutes later, she was still yelling, crying, and kicking, and I'd had it. Dodging her blows, I dragged the screeching demon to our back porch door, and threw it open.
The wind chill was 20 degrees, and my own face hurt from just a few seconds' exposure to the icy air. But I was determined to raise an obedient Chinese child if it killed me. In the West, obedience is associated with dogs and the caste system, but in Chinese culture, it is considered among the highest of virtues. "You can't stay in the house if you don't listen to Mommy," I said sternly. "Now, are you ready to be a good girl or do you want to go outside?" Lulu stepped outside. She faced me, defiant. A dull dread began seeping though my body. Lulu was wearing only a sweater, a ruffled skirt, and tights. She had stopped crying. Indeed, she was eerily still.
"Okay, good - you've decided to behave," I said quickly. "You can come in now."
Lulu shook her head.
"Don't be silly, Lulu. It's freezing. You're going to get sick. Come in now."
Lulu's teeth were chattering, but she shook her head again. And right then I saw it all, clear as day. I had underestimated Lulu, not understood what she was made of. She would sooner freeze to death than give in.
I had to change tactics immediately; I couldn't win this one. Plus I might be locked up by Child Services. My mind racing, I reversed course, now begging, coddling, and bribing Lulu to come back into the house. When Jed and Sophia arrived home, they found Lulu soaking in a hot bath, dipping a brownie in a steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.
But Lulu had underestimated me too. I was just rearming. The battle lines were drawn, and she didn't even know it.
Reprinted from Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother by Amy Chua by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Chua