Letter From the Editors: What Will We Be When We Grow Up?

Ho Lin

Caveat Lector: Tiger Mom

If you haven't heard of the Tiger Mom, a quick web search will get you up to speed. The Wall Street Journal's excerpt from Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a tale of sound and fury, a how-I-did-it monument to child rearing, where Chua's precepts ("my daughters were not allowed to get any grade less than A... not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama... be in a school play... complain about not being in a school play," etc., etc.) are presented in bullet points, with the force of a forensic report from the scene of the crime. Even the title of the piece, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," is like an incitement to riot.

As the Middle East undergoes convulsions, poised at the brink of an uncertain maturity, we can still relate to the angst and trauma surrounding the concept of growing up. Refreshingly, most of us are level-headed enough to recognize that there are no black-and-white binaries to the process; Chua's approach, based on a charming assumption that there is a final product at the end of the line, goes awry later in the book when her youngest daughter has a meltdown in a Russian restaurant over caviar. That's not to mention the slippage around terms such as "successful," "achievement," and "the best” (in everything except performing arts outside of violin and piano music, if Chua has her way). Contrast that to a recent Japanese film, Sawako Decides, in which the decidedly un-special heroine's mantra, “I'm not average, maybe lower-middle,” would be anathema to high-achieving parents anywhere. And yet, Sawako's ultimate rallying cry “So what's wrong with being incompetent?” is both a defeat and a victory, a statement of identity. Surrounded by billions of others around us every day, perhaps that's the point: we are forever growing up, fluid as we seesaw between average and unique, and if events and fortune catch us at the right moment, we gain small victories of insight about ourselves.

Many of those moments can be found in this issue of Caveat Lector, from Christopher Bernard's short story “Shadow in the Water,” a coming-of-age tale which would probably give Ms. Chua a coronary, to Mark Smith's “A Passenger Travels Great Distances to Reach You,” in which a whole world's existence is encapsulated within a delivery, and Stephen Kopel's “Corsair,” wherein a pirate walking the plank can retain a childlike sparkle of fun. Even folks near the end of the road are given their due: the protagonist of Rafaella Del Bourgo's “Solitude” meets his wife, a common event, and yet everything is new again, while the obituary of a man not-quite-known in Chris Waters' “Elegy for Fred Howard” can still take the time to revel in the joy of “careening through life.” We may never become finished products by Amy Chua's standards, but these artists and others in this issue are ceaselessly inventing, rethinking, growing – and maybe that's not so bad after all.

As always, our website has a trove of other treasures you won't find in print, including short films by Anna Geyer, audio readings from our poets, and musical explorations by this sometime musician.