Asian Mom Syndrome
This is very embarrassing. Despite all my good white-person intentions, I have become apparently somewhat biased in my racial opinion as of late. I feel like a dirty liberal- no longer pristine. My PC Status rating has just dropped numerous points...I am tarnished.
It seems as though I have recently acquired Asian Mom Syndrome- or as it is known in professional circles, AMS.
And if you are not already aware of the particulars of this syndrome, I suppose I shall have to educate you. Though it pains me to use myself as the test case. AMS happens when you awake one day to suddenly realize that the Asian mothers in your societal purview basically have it all over you. They have it all over me. The Asian mothers in my world make me look like a mixture of "Mommy Dearest" stirred in with a little Janis in her final days- deep into the Southern Comfort and ludes.
Not only are the Asian mothers' children intelligent, polite, kind and (this is a big tip off-clue here-- ) ALMOST ALWAYS WELL-BEHAVED IN PUBLIC, but they themselves are a shining example of pulled-together elan. They constantly look effortlessly lovely and coifed, as though it was something that happened to them on the way from the bed to the sink to brush their teeth this morning. They seem to accidentally embody the paradigm of what American Mothers strive to maintain. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to just rock your world, Holly, having shown up to class with four baking sheets of canapes I made for the children this morning, on the way to my 48 hour shift in the ER, dressed elegantly down in my spotless Donna Karan blouse and Barney's Co-Op leather-like skinny jeans. With the silk Burberry scarf thrown casually around my neck like a French juene fille." (No one looks more French to me than the beauteous Asian Mom.) "Please forgive me, Holly... Um-- you appear to have a Cheerio in your hair."
This did not come upon me all at once. No- I suppose when I look back, I can see the dismaying seeds of this disease's early onset.
It really began way back- before I was even an adult. Back in my elementary school days, I recall the various city-wide piano recitals and contests I would participate in. Yes, back then I did already show some skill and talent in the world of music, particularly in tickling the ivories. Though of course my deep caucasian breeding kept me from the discipline I really needed to be able to ever fully impress or place at any of these contests.
While I was busy whizzing impatiently through what my actual assigned lessons were, only to then delve headlong into the Greatest Pop Hits of the 70's (Oh, Bread, how I loved you then...Marvin Hamlisch, you were so enticing..), other kids were actually practicing their piano. They were running through their scales and chords over and over again- diligiently plunking through their Bach interludes. Working up through them into the more challenging and crazy composers like Stravinsky and Rachmaninov. Building their chops, as it were.
Their ASIAN chops- I must now add, because of course almost every other child in my memory who placed at these various piano contests were ALL Asian. They were primarily studying the Suzuki method- a highly disciplined way of approaching a classical instrument. They were invariably wearing gloves to keep their hands warm and protected, sometimes with the fingers cut off like little Dickensian orphans. (It was the gloves that intimidated me the most. Those lovely thin calm Asian children staring off into space pre-performance, gathering all their Zen energy into their dilated pupils, sporting wool-blend knit gloves as though those particular items were the key! Those gloves were the secret Jedi weapon!) These children would always place. First, second, third. I might beat everyone out in the "interpretive" section of the judging-- I mean, I was playing "The Way We Were" ad nauseum at home. But I always lost out because of my "technique." Meaning, they had it- and I did not.
So it started early. I was bred through experience to be intimidated by Asian families because they simply seemed calmer. Prepared. Honed. Focused. Quiet. In a word---- better.
So now fast forward to me in early motherhood. I have only one child at this point- the other is on the way. My 18-month-old and I are sitting on a small wooden gym floor, participating in some Mommy and Me fiasco at the community rec center. And I say 'fiasco' because try though the spunky dimpled late-teen teacher might, she cannot get this group of haggard, sleep-deprived moms and their squirming fleshly piles of snot and drool to focus. Apparently none of us is able to stay sitting on the CIRCLE. So that we can ALL watch the puppet show. And we can ALL clap our hands at the same time and say "Yay!"
Now, when I say none of us- I really mean all of us with the exception of the one Asian family present. The young dainty Asian mom with twin two-year-olds, who also has a six-month-old strapped to her front in some sort of high tech perfect Asian sling. And if memory serves, was also a little bit visibly pregnant. (But that can't be, can it? I mean, it's not like she was IRISH or something.)
Anyway. So THIS mom and THESE children are in stark contrast to the rest of the circus. First of all, the six-month-old is sleeping soundly. Drool-less and perfect. Her head not cocked at some crazy angle that as a new mom you don't dare adjust once your screaming offspring finally shuts it and drops into a dead weight blob strapped helplessly to the front of your body....because if you touch it... it just might awake again and start with another round of ear splitting, mind melting noise making. Secondly, not one but BOTH twins are sitting upright, cross legged and alert- faced toward the teacher, expectantly wide-eyed and QUIET. Hanging on every word. Perfectly mimicking the accompanying hand motions to whatever story or song our fearless dimply leader is diligently shouting over the din. These children are like little robotrons. Not a hair out of place. Not a spot on their matching girl/boy coveralls. They are perfect and she is perfect and I could not get out of that class fast enough...sure that I was an enormous failure because of my non-Asian-ness.
"I'm turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so!" (Oh if only...)
Now we snap back to the present-- my children are in elementary school. My daughter about to graduate to middle school this spring. My son going into 3rd grade next year. And yes, we enrolled them in developmental private school years ago. And it's, yes, sadly, mostly filled with white people. People literally exactly like us- white, Jewish, privileged, West-side entertainment industry families. But thank goodness for the "others." The wealthy (and some thankfully not so), Middle -eastern, Eastern-European, African-American, and yes Asian-American kids who give me and my husband hope that our children, upon eventually emerging from their private school education to spring into this lovely, rainbow-colored world, won't wholly be social douchebags.
Now, with the lovely irony that frequently patinas my world, my daughter Josephine- in all her gorgeous, free-spirited, enthusiastic ways is growing up to be a far less disciplined caucasian than even I was as a kid. The kind who leaves half-eaten jelly toast lying about on the stairs, who still comes home from school soiled like a Kindergartener-- greasy, holey knees, shirt cuffs stained from paint and dirt. Though Josephine may like her clothing, she still has no inherent ability to understand when she is putting those clothes upon her body in peril. Her room is sometimes too smelly to enter. Her backpack filled with small dead forest creatures like roly-polies ("How did THAT get in there Jo? Dunno mom. Poor little guy-- he's SO cool looking, isn't he?")
And this delightful slob, this creative whirling dervish, this goofbag akin to the likes of Carol Burnett and Gilda herself, has acquired over the years a large number of smart, sweet, CLEAN, WELL-MANNERED Asian-American girlfriends. And to a person- they tend to be on or near the top of the list of my favorites of her friends. Replete with classic American/English names like Emma, Chloe, Erin, these girls are the classic model of what a girl should be. How a friend should act. How a young lady should behave around her peers and around adults.
My son too! He's guilty of this similar collection! Though he's naturally a bit more attentive to the details, my eight year old boy (momma's for sure) chooses a number of wonderful Asian-American friends to run around the playground with. To spend their hours crafting Minecraft cyberspace cities...comparing lego structures...shooting hoops...skateboarding... These are the boys who never have smelly socks when they take them off in my house. These are the kids for whom it seems impossible to drop mustard on their little cashmere Ralph Lauren sweaters. And they're so patient with him! And so nice to me!
But of course, I know why I look at things this way. Me, being an unfortunate sufferer of AMS, cannot see these children nor these families for what they really in all likelihood are-- which is essentially just like us with perhaps a bit more Woolite round the house. I see these mothers and these families as walking perfection themselves.
And come on- it's really really hard not to when every one of these Asian moms in our private school- to a fault- is naturally beautiful- number one. Number two- seriously ALWAYS well dressed. Ok, so one of them is a jewelry designer, so she's gonna naturally gravitate toward the fashion, but the others are doctors, and oh- then there's the doctor. And I think the last one is a film producer. Always dressed well- even if only in a relaxed way. Even if it's only basic Tshirt and jeans. And little pristine white Converse sneakers. (How does she not have ONE stain on those? Did she just buy them this AFTERNOON? NO- because I've seen her wear them before. Maybe she has a whole closet of them lined up at home next to all the laundered and pressed Calvin Klein navy and black sweaters.) Always wrinkle free- clean- every piece of carefully accessorized clothing sitting well upon each one of their quite shapely healthy frames.
And they're not only lovely on the outside. They're the ones who volunteer more often in the classroom. Who have important, powerful jobs outside of being a mother (see- PRODUCER, DOCTOR and ER above) Whose houses are always spotless whenever I go to drop off or pick up from a playdate or a sleepover. My goodness- one of them, who shall remain nameless- hosted two sleepover parties to which Josephine was invited two years in a row. Two sleepover bdays where she and her two lovely Asian daughters engaged the girls in cooking and baking and candymaking all night long such that when they came home bleary-eyed in the morning from all the fun, carried with them what looked like sugary mounds of edible tafetta crafted at some high-end Beverly Hills cupcakery.
And none of this seems to phase them in any way- these Asian moms. None of this grinding activity carves wrinkles anywhere upon their smooth parchment faces. None of the hours of schlepping themselves and their children around the city in the soccer mom mobile plants little blobeldy mounds of saggy cottage cheese upon their thighs. They are somehow timeless and inhuman to me. Like the world affects them differently. A higher breed- farther down the evolutionary chain than those larger, smellier, wrinklier louder American white people of whom I am very much a perfect example.
So I've outed myself. I suffer from Asian Mom Syndrome. Please don't hate me or stop reading me. And if you do and you must- I get it. But if you stay, I just might upload an mp3 of my rendition of Bread's "Baby I'm-A-Want You" for your listening pleasure in the next post...don't wanna miss out on that...