Thanksgiving

One thing I’m thankful for this year is a blog post. A retired teacher, blogger Alice Massa is a member of Behind Our Eyes, a group of writers with disabilities with whom I’ve been associated for years. In a recent post on her blog, she shares instructions for a Thanksgiving acrostic game, and I encourage you to try this game with your family this year. According to Alice, it should work with children ages six and up.

In the meantime, here’s my Thanksgiving acrostic poem. In case you’re new to my blog and not familiar with acrostic poems, the first letter in each line spells a word, in this case, Thanksgiving. The first letter of each line of my poem is in bold and capitalized so if you have some vision, you might be able to see how I used the poem to spell the word. If you’re totally blind, I suggest you read the poem line by line with your screen reader or Braille display so you can understand how this works. I hope you all have a nice Thanksgiving and a lot for which to be thankful.

THANKSGIVING

Thankful I am for

Hands that caressed,

Arms that enfolded,

New life he shared,

Knowledge he imparted.

Soothing my soul, he

Gave me his heart.

I treated it well.

Velvet, soft,

In love, I cherished it,

Not bending or breaking. He’s

Gone, but I remember.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Advertisements

Escape

Have you ever wanted to fly away like a bird? I have, even as an adult, especially during stressful times. When I was single and employed, I often dreamed of flying out my third floor apartment window, then up and over rooftops and away from my job’s stresses. In the six years I cared for Bill, while sitting in the back yard, I frequently looked at the sky and wished I could lift myself over the fence and neighboring houses and yards into the clouds where nothing was required of me. Last summer after Bill passed, I looked at the sky and realized I no longer needed to get away from it all. This inspired the following poem which has recently been published on Voxpoetica.

ESCAPE

I used to dream of flying

up, up, up, away,

where problems didn’t exist,

and all lived in peace and harmony.

 

Hands raised skyward,

I jumped, flapped legs and arms,

propelled myself higher, higher, higher,

far from bullies, bad teachers,

impossible bosses, noisy neighbors,

trials of a family caregiver.

Surrounded by blue and white,

I looked down, content.

 

Now, with childhood and husband gone,
I look at the sky,

no longer wish to go there.

found my happy place.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Tiger Mother Revisited

You know how some television and radio programs broadcast reruns? I normally wouldn’t do this, but in the midst of learning to use a new computer, the creative part of my brain has been fried so instead of posting all new material this week, I’m going to give you a reprise of a post from three years ago where I review a book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.

Speaking of books,, I’m almost finished reading A Fool’s Gold Christmas by Susan Mallery. A former cheerleader for a Los Angeles football team moves to a small town in California called Fool’s Gold after a serious injury, gets a job teaching in a dance studio, and ends up producing a program that is traditionally performed on Christmas Eve. When you teach dance or any other fine art, and you work with kids, you’re bound to run into one or two tiger mothers so that’s what gave my poor fried brain the idea to repost this review. If you haven’t read it or the book, you should read them both even if you’re not a tiger.

 

 

In this book, Amy Chua details how she raised her two daughters Sophia and Louisa, using methods that might be considered unconventional by today’s standards. When I read about it in The New Yorker in January, a lot of people were blogging about it, and there were quite a few harsh comments on her methods. Someone even suggested she be arrested for child abuse. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading the book, it’s my turn. I’m not a parent so far be it for me to tell her how she should have raised her children, but I will say this. Looking back on how my younger brother Andy and I were raised compared to the upbringing of Sophia and Louisa, Amy Chua didn’t hold a candle to our mother.

After reading the book, I can understand why Amy raised her children the way she did. It’s no different from the pattern of the abused child who grows up to abuse her own children. Amy was the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and she and her siblings were raised in a strict environment. They were required to speak only Chinese at home and whacked with chopsticks for every English word accidentally uttered. They were expected to get straight A’s in school, and heaven help them if they came home with a B on a report card. When Amy won only second place in a school contest, her father said she had disgraced him. Amy’s husband isn’t Chinese, but Amy decided to raise their children in what she calls the Chinese way as opposed to the Western way which I’m assuming means the American way. Her husband went along with it, although he tried unsuccessfully to intervene when she was especially harsh with the girls. Sophia and Louisa were forbidden to participate in sleepovers, play dates, and school plays. They also were not allowed to watch TV or play computer games. All their free time was taken up with practicing the piano and violin. They were expected to receive no less than an A in most school subjects.

On the other hand, Andy and I were raised in a less restrictive environment. We could have sleepovers and play dates and do a lot of other things that kids did. I took piano lessons and tried the violin. Andy learned to play the drums. We were never forced to play any musical instruments like Sophia or Louisa. Our parents were proud of us even when we got B’s.

 

Sophia and Louisa were born three years apart with Sophia being the older. When both girls were five, they started formal musical training. Amy was present during all their lessons which was actually required by the Suzuki teachers. At home, she sat next to them when they practiced and gave pointers. At times, she told them they were getting worse and threatened to burn or give away their toys and deprive them of food if they didn’t play a piece correctly. The girls were forced to practice five or six hours a day and sometimes not allowed to leave the piano to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom. When they were teen-agers, Amy left strict instructions on how to practice certain pieces in the event she couldn’t be home to supervise them.

Andy and I are seven years apart. I started lessons when I was five. Andy started taking drum lessons when he was about eight. Mother rarely stayed with us during our lessons. At home, she showed me how to play the pieces because I couldn’t see well enough to read the music, and I never learned Braille music. Andy could figure out drumming on his own without help from Mother. We were never threatened with serious consequences if we didn’t play correctly, but  Mother lost patience with me from time to time when I didn’t get the pieces right the first or second time. Once I got the hang of the pieces, I was left to my own devices, but Mother was always nearby since the piano was in a central location. There was no set amount of time for us to practice. Once we had gone through our assigned practicing, we could do what we wanted.

Sometimes, I stayed at the piano and made up songs. When I was older, I sang popular songs I heard on the radio or records and accompanied myself on the piano. Andy often played the drums with me. I’m glad Amy wasn’t our mother because she would have frowned on this. Although she encouraged her daughters to play together, she insisted they play strictly classical music.

 

When Sophia and Louisa were seven and four, they gave her birthday cards they’d drawn on construction paper with crayons. She rejected them, telling her daughters she wanted something better. She claimed that since she went all out for their birthdays, buying fancy cakes and party favors, she expected the same in return.

My mother never reacted in such a way to any gifts we gave her. Dad often took Andy and me shopping for Mother’s birthday and helped us pick out stuff he thought she would like: shampoo, lotion, and other cosmetics. Mother always expressed appreciation for the things we gave her, and I think she tried to instill in us the idea that it’s the thought that counts.

As a result of Amy’s rigorous schedule of practice and lessons, Sophia played at Carnegie Hall when she was thirteen, and Louisa became concert master for a youth orchestra and recorded a CD when she was the same age. I never made it to Carnegie Hall, and Andy never recorded a CD, but I won second place in a talent contest when I was in high school with my piano and vocal rendition of “You Light Up My Life,” and of course, my parents were proud. I had hoped to be the next Debbie Boon or Olivia-Newton-John, but that didn’t happen, either. It doesn’t matter. I’m happy with my life, and I’m glad that when I was growing up, my mother taught me to enjoy it. I hope that when Sophia and Louisa grow up, they will learn to enjoy life as well, and when they have children, perhaps they will break the vicious mother daughter cycle and raise them in the Western way.

Amy Chua tells a compelling story, weaving incidents of the girls’ musical exploits with other family events: the acquisition of two dogs, the loss of Amy’s mother-in-law, and her sister’s bout with leukemia. In the end, she describes how Louisa rebelled against the strict regimen and her decision to retreat from Chinese parenting tactics. I purchased the book in recorded format from audible.com and was lucky to hear the author read it. She did a terrific job. This book is available in print anywhere Penguin books are sold. I recommend it to anyone who likes a heartwarming family story. For more information, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Hymn_of_the_Tiger_Mother#Summaryy

 

 

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor

Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Paper Is This?

Thanks to a post on Writing Wranglers and Warriors for inspiring this. How far should a parent go when dealing with a child’s homework? When I was in elementary school, Dad often helped me with math. Instead of doing it for me, he talked through the problems with me, and we figured out the answers together. When he drove a taxi in Tucson, Arizona, he often gave me extra problems by telling me he took a customer so many miles at so much per mile and asked me to calculate the fare. He said I was good at math, but I hated it all the same. 

In high school, I took a recent U.S. history class, and since some of the material wasn’t in an accessible format, Dad often read it to me. Since he grew up during the time period covered in the class, he made it more interesting by sharing his own memories. As part of the class, we were assigned to interview a senior citizen about life during World War II. I took a tape recorder to Grandma’s house, and we had an interesting chat about her life as a housewife while Dad was growing up. When I got home, I listened to our recorded conversation and wrote the report. I thought maybe I wanted to pursue journalism as a career.

However, I’m ashamed to say that I let my mother squelch any idea of me writing professionally. Being an English teacher at SheridanCollege for most of my high school experience, she didn’t just proofread what I typed for spelling, punctuation, and grammar, she often rewrote my papers. Like any kid glad of not having to do homework, I let her do it. At no time did I ever say, “Who’s paper is this, mine or yours?”

Of course I couldn’t go off and do something else while she rewrote my papers. I had to sit there and listen while she typed and verbalized what she was writing. Still, it was better than doing it myself.

I finally got to the point where I didn’t bother trying to write the papers myself. I told Mother the topic. If research was necessary, we went to the library together. She read me the material then wrote the paper. One day, she kept me home from school so I could be there when she finished writing a science paper on cancer that was due the following day. I must admit I learned quite a bit about the topic, although I didn’t write the paper.

When I started as a freshman at SheridanCollege, I took English classes from her colleagues, not her. I figured she might be embarrassed if I handed in compositions she’d written so I again tried my hand at writing a paper. It was an essay on Shirley Jackson’s story, “The Lottery.” I went to the library with a volunteer reader to do some research on the author. She read the material on tape for me, and when I got home, I listened to the articles and composed the paper. I was pretty proud of that paper until Mother took one look at it, put a fresh sheet in the typewriter, and started anew. I then realized that Mother was ashamed to have her colleagues read her daughter’s writing which was inferior in her eyes. Maybe this is why I didn’t become serious about writing until after she passed.

I think Mother started to see the error of her ways when the mother of one of her students who lived in Sheridan called her to ask about papers she assigned. Danny was in the law enforcement program, and I hoped he could get a job with the department in Sheridan so his mother could write his crime reports for him.

I definitely saw the folly of allowing my mother to write my papers when I transferred to RockyMountainCollege in Billings, Montana, my junior year. I felt lost, as I sat at my desk in my dorm room with my typewriter and a tape recorder with a cassette containing numerous articles recorded by volunteer readers to write a paper on Ann Hutchinson for a history class. I could have taken the bus home on weekends and let her write the essay, but I think we both knew I needed to do this myself. Besides, Mother didn’t know any of the faculty at Rocky so she wouldn’t have been embarrassed by her daughter’s papers. To make along story short, the paper wasn’t half bad, and I think I got a passing grade but don’t remember.

I got better and better, as I gained more confidence. My best paper during that time was about Duke Ellington for a jazz appreciation class. It started like this. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Even before I took writing seriously, I knew the value of a good opening line. I was so proud of that paper that I mailed it home to my parents when I got it back with an A+. For once, Mother agreed it was a good paper, despite the “ain’t” in the opening sentence. Dad liked it so much that he showed it to a friend who taught jazz at SheridanCollege, and he loved it. If I’d saved the paper, I would post it here.

 

Despite this encouragement, I decided to go into music therapy instead of writing. However, now that  Mother has been gone for over ten years, I’ve published two books: a novel, We Shall Overcome, and a poetry collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. Neither of these are best-sellers but so what? I doubt my mother would have been inclined to rewrite them if she were still alive today. 

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver