by Jennie S. Bev
Amy Chua is a “tiger mom.” My Chinese Indonesian mom is, on contrary, a “koala mom.” Amy Chua wouldn’t allow her kids to play and insist them to get straight As. My mom would ask me many times to stop studying diligently to go out and play and insist that “enjoying my life” is far more important than getting straight As. Amy Chua would confine her kids to practice piano, my mom would take me to a movie or a Disney on Ice show. Amy Chua wouldn’t allow sleepovers, my mom would take me to the Sentosa Island just for the weekend.
My childhood recollection included my mom literally carrying me on her back like a koala would do with her baby. I was going to Santa Theresia Elementary School at Jl. KH Agus Salim, which was a narrow street notorious with being flooded during rainy days. On one rainy day, I insisted going to school despite the flood, so my mom carefully drove me to school in her beetle Volkswagen. The water was knee high, so she said, “Well, I’d better carry you on my back so your uniform won’t get wet.” And she did it without any further ado.
She has been carrying me on her back since the day I was conceived and is likely to continue carrying me until the day I die. That’s how much she loves me.
My mom has been a single parent throughout most of my lifetime. Her husband and my biological father left her when she was pregnant –with me. She was in her early twenties at that time, a blossoming young woman with the whole world in front of her. Never I saw her weeping over her deadbeat former husband whom I only met three times in my adult life.
Undoubtedly, my mom was the best mom a kid would have. She bought me beautiful things and took me to overseas trips so that I would know that the world is such a big and beautiful place. She was cheerful, loved singing and playing the piano, and –more importantly—wouldn’t push any kid to study.
Her philosophy was, “Anyone can be successful without having to go to school.” That’s like having a mom who issued a license to skip schools and be totally spontaneous without having to worry about the future.
But I knew that underneath that rosy demeanor, my mom missed many things a 20-year-olds would experience, like going to college and dating guys.
We never talked about her former husband and I assumed she thought I didn’t know about who my father was. So the routine life was quite normal for us. She would design and make beautiful western clothes and kebayas (Indonesian traditional outfits for women) every day, while I diligently went to school without talking about any sad thing. When one day I mentioned I knew who my father was, she laughed out loud, “You are so smart and you pretended you didn’t even know.” We laughed so hard afterward, as the silence has been broken.
The strength of my mom is her ability to pick herself up and carry me on her back like a koala mom, without losing a smile on her face. And I’m forever indebted to her for this. She maintained a sense of normalcy, as she gave me a normal life without any drama, without any tears, without any unnecessary wasted energy. Never once occurred to me that I was a “broken kid from a broken home” because I sure wasn’t. I excelled at school and was admired for my accomplishments.
Four years ago, at 57, she applied for college and eight semesters later, she graduated with a cum laude. I was elated, because my “koala mom” made a “tiger cub” proud.
Yes, I was and still am a “tiger cub” to my mom. I pulled and pushed her to realize that she is an extraordinary person and she could go back to college even in her 50s and graduated at 61. I used to call her (because I live across the continent) at least once a week to “nag” her to pursue a bachelor’s degree despite her “I’m not an intellectual person and I’m too old” excuse.
Sometimes I would scold her, “Do you think you’re smart or stupid? If you think you’re smart, why are you afraid to go to college? I will pay for your tuition and you don’t need to get straight As, just a few Bs with a C average is fine. You just need to attend the minimum amount of lectures, no need to have a perfect attendance. And if you don’t like it after two semesters, just drop out.” On other occasions, I would give her a list of books to read and summarize, which made me really sounding like a “tiger cub.”
Eventually, she threw in the towel and applied herself to a weekend Sarjana (bachelor’s degree) program at a nearby private university. She finally assuringly promised me with a disclaimer, “But I won’t be graduating in seven semesters or going to Universitas Indonesia like you.”
On November 15, 2010, my mom graduated from college in eight semesters with a cum laude. That’s a happy new beginning for a koala mom and a tiger cub. And I will nag her all over again until she graduates from a doctorate program with another cum laude.