Tag Archives: adolescents

Teeth and Tattoos

I’ve spent four months away from writing, and with each day that I’ve been away, it’s been harder to make the time in my perpetually-sleep-deprived days to return.  But with two young Kung Fu Sihengs weighing heavily on my heart these last weeks, one of whom I just finished speaking with on the phone, the re-entry point is clear.

My son is boarding a plane to Texas tomorrow morning to visit his grandparents for a week.  When he returns, he’ll have one day to dot his “i”s and cross his “t”s before heading down the highway to Georgetown University, which is also my alma mater.  I was scared shitless, as they say, when I found out this child was on the way.  I don’t think the fear was evident to anyone but my therapist – a man who knew enough about me to gently suggest that motherhood might not be the best choice at that point in my life.  My marriage was the epitome of dysfunction, which, given the emotional and physical messes we both were, was all it could be.  But to my therapist’s amazement (and my own!), I consciously chose and gave my all to getting my act together for the sake of the boy who’ll be boarding a plane to Texas tomorrow morning.

He’s getting on that plane missing half of one of his front teeth.  That fact infuriates me for two reasons: first, because he injured himself doing something thoroughly irresponsible and thoughtless, which wasn’t particularly legal either.  ‘Nuff said on that.  Second, the fact that he’ll be taking off for college with this new look, despite having the means and opportunity to cap the tooth, tells me it’s a look (persona?) that he prefers, and it will likely be with him a long time.

So, the mom who stopped being self-destructive in order to enable her child to become exactly what he became – the sought-after valedictorian, scholarship student  – will, for the foreseeable future, be reminded every time she sees her boy that it’s now his turn to be self-destructive.  And he’s taking it.  Repeatedly.  If only someone had chipped his tooth in a sparring match!  I’d still want him to cap the damn thing, of course, but it wouldn’t actually hurt to see it missing.

allofus-profile IMG_1605

The visuals that half tooth gives me, both of my past and of my son’s possible future, are probably nothing compared to the imaginings in the minds of the parents of a young man with a brand new tattoo.  The adolescent who taught me how to make a long staff give me gold medals is entering his last year of college – and counting down the days to his commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Siheng Bad-Ass, as I affectionately refer to him, recently returned from an ROTC training mission in Fort Knox that cut him off from the rest of the world for a month.  He was excited and proud as he talked about repelling down walls, while taking practice shots with a machine gun, and I knew before I asked what assignment he’d be requesting ten months from now.

“Oh my God, your poor parents!” I said aloud before I could catch the words.  I was imagining him ducking bullets in Iraq or Syria.   “You’re going in as an officer with a great record.  You can pick anything you want.  You don’t have to choose the infantry,” I said as if I were his mother, telling him what he knew better than I did.

“It’s my calling,” he answered with a big smile.

A week later, he walked into Wushu class with a tattoo on his forearm that reads: “For those I love, I sacrifice.”  I’m not sure I’d be able to read that on my infantry-bound son’s arm without crying each time I saw it.

I worry almost as much about the future of the boy-Siheng who was my teacher as I do about the future of the boy that’s mine.  I haven’t seen the future soldier’s father in months, because my schedule at the store has kept me out of his Saturday class.  But I wish I could give him a hug of commiseration.

We get them ready to walk into the world on their own two feet, then, we have absolutely no control over the size, sound and rhythm of their steps when that walk begins.  At the end of a job well done, what remains is watching and waiting.  Please, God, please…give us a good and happy show.

Advertisements

Force of Nature

I am not a big fan of time today.

This girl..

..is now this teen.

IMG_20140924_190121 IMG_20140924_175147

And she is, quite simply, a force of nature.  Her smile is infectious, and her bad mood can disappear on a dime.  She’s a talker with no filter and a math whiz who hates math.

IMG_20140826_181230 IMG_20140918_174716

She throws a roundhouse that feels like a log and talks smack about sports better than a middle aged man. She’s made me proud and pissed off in the same moment on several occasions in her short life, and she’s sure to do so again.

Today, my youngest became a teenager….  I couldn’t be a more thankful and hopeful mother.  I couldn’t be less of a fan of time.


The Only Variable

I took a night off from kung fu last night, which always leaves me anxious to get back a little faster.  My mind’s already in the guan. But there’s a lot besides kung fu going on in my head today; so I’m going to let things tumble as they may.

A third member of the family has begun black sash testing.  Here’s Merle post sparring practice with me, sometime last week.

IMG_20140814_193142

Our girl has decided that she’s not thrilled about being the only member of the family who’s not yet eligible for testing.  All of a sudden, Ava’s stepping up her game and executing some of the better kicking combinations she’s ever put out.  Today will tell the tale on whether she’s really pushing for eligibility. Today, she has the sparring practice that she dreads, and I want her to do well.  I want her to be deemed eligible for testing if she wants to be.

In her favor is the absence of a brother who’s normally a thorn in her side whenever the sparring gear goes on.  Tonight, he’s going to work.

This fact was a bone of contention of sorts last night, as I always seem to be the last to know when his plans change.  Now that Merle is testing, that can be inconvenient, with one car in the family and three people who often have different places to be that are 10 to 40 miles apart or the same place to be at different times.  I’m apparently supposed to “just chill” when a conflict arises, even if it could easily have been avoided by a sharing of information – and even though I’ve requested info sharing ad nauseum.  Such is the plight of parenting a teenager who, by definition, thinks he should be in charge of all aspects of his life at all times, legal liability and severe financial restraints aside, among other things.

Every once and while I have to stop, take a breath and say aloud, “I’m sorry, Mom,” because what goes around truly does come back around.  My son has become just as good at telling me what he thinks is wrong with me as I was at telling my mother.  And that’s just the way it is.  It’s his turn.

Here’s what I know about parenthood, regardless of how my children assess me, each other, themselves: “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest kid.”

I can’t remember where I first heard that, but I remember feeling socked in the gut with its undeniable truth.  I was so moved by it when I first heard it a dozen years ago that I repeated it to half a dozen friends and co-workers, all of whom visibly had the same reaction that I’d felt.  This fact is the reason my son probably hasn’t heard the word “no” from me more than a half dozen times in his 17-plus years (and my daughter’s heard it a lot less than she should, given behavioral issues not entirely in her control).  It’s also the reason I make myself nuts getting them to where they want and/or need to be.

I am unhappy when they are.  Period.  The only variable is the extent.  I can chill all day long if all I have to care about is me, but I doubt there’s a good (custodial) parent on the planet who lives that way.

I have children living near downtown Baltimore, going to underfunded public and parochial schools, with peer influences that haven’t always been good.  But today, I’m not worried about drugs, sex, gangs or bullies – just whether my girl can get eligible for testing if she wants to and if my son can get into and afford the college of his choice.  I’m still moving slowly at becoming a duck (explained here), but I’m surely doing something right!


Surreal but Serene

It all started with flying headgear.  My right hook flung the old, ill-fitting, vinyl-covered foam across the room, where it struck the mirror before laying limp over the air conditioning grate.  I stepped back with hands up, giving the 15-year-old powerhouse the room to retrieve it, but she declined.  I insisted she return the protective covering to her head; she insisted I continue the fight.

I looked at her face, hidden behind long, disheveled hair, and for just a moment I could see it.  She wasn’t simply exhausted after the ninth fighting rotation of the class; she was irritated – more than was warranted by losing her headgear to the second or third punch of our match.

I looked to my left and quickly caught a glimpse of a grin on her older brother’s face.  Less than a minute earlier, she’d been fighting her greatest and longest-standing rival, an 18-year-old bulky brawler with good footwork (long-haired blonde in the picture below), who was good at keeping his hands in motion before punching.  My opponent was annoyed at her brother, and she wanted to take it out on me.  She wanted to be the one doing the beating for a while.

IMG_20140807_173617

Against my better judgment, I got back in fighting stance and threw a jab to the top of her stomach.  Immediately after it hit, she was wrapped around my midsection and driving hard, trying to use her uncovered head to push me to the floor.  It was reminiscent of a fight earlier in the summer discussed here; only, my most logical and effective weapon of throwing upper cuts to a face in perfect position to receive them couldn’t be used.  I had to remember that she wasn’t wearing headgear.  Just as I was swinging my hips to fling her off of me, I caught sight of the wall she was rapidly approaching and knew her head would hit first.

“Wait a minute!”  I said as I pulled my hips back the other direction to slow her collide with the wall.  “I’m at a disadvantage because I can’t hit you in the head.”

“Hit her in the head!” her brother said while punching someone else.  She agreed.

I looked around for our instructor, thinking he’d put a stop to the MMA-style thinking these kids were famous for.  He was too wrapped up in his own match to say a word.  He was also used to granting their family permission to bloody each other.  So, with no one telling me I couldn’t hit her in the head unless she was wearing headgear, we proceeded.

It was among the more surreal experiences of my martial arts life.  For the remaining ninety seconds or so it felt like I was fending off a mugger – an upper class, suburban mugger with a few pounds on me, despite the three decades I have on her.  Fending her off required that I pummel the unprotected head (and body) of a doctor’s daughter – with the doctor in the room, saying nothing!  Go figure!

“That was not at all ‘light and fast,’” I said, quoting Siheng Mark’s directive on how to fight.  Moving on to the last opponent, still winded from fighting the kid and the eight opponents before her, I thought: What is with these teenagers?  Do they always fight like they have to take out the world, even with each other?  Or do they just need to prove that a middle-aged woman with really bad knees is not going beat them?

I don’t know the answers to my questions, and I don’t care.  I just know that the two teens who literally tried to knock me down this summer couldn’t.


Cookies and Curses

It finally happened.  My family and my clothes arrived at a destination on time, but my long staff did not.  It makes sense that it would happen in Orlando.  As good at their game as Southwest is, they still have no control over how long it takes TSA to inspect a plethora of oversized baggage coming into one of the tourist meccas of the country.

I’m deducing that that’s why my staff didn’t come in on my flight.  But it also didn’t come in on the next flight from Baltimore.  I know because I was still in the airport when the next flight arrived.  I was told to get out of line at the lost baggage office and go look for it in the next drop of Baltimore luggage.  So I had to spend another half hour in the airport when it didn’t come on the second flight, and I still needed to report it.

The night felt ungodly at times.  It included: landing in a thunderstorm with my stomach in my throat; temporarily losing my beloved staff (it arrived this morning); experiencing one of the longest car rental processes ever; having the GPS on my phone insist that my motel was thirty-two minutes away when I knew it should be less than ten; having the front desk man be nowhere near the office and having to track him down by website and phone in order to check in; and, finally, having a cut-rate bar as the only open source of food at midnight that didn’t come in a cellophane bag.

What saved the night and my sanity was an adolescent daughter who’s as impatient and demanding as I am – only she doesn’t have the necessary filter we adults all know we’re supposed to act like we have.  At one point in the airport, after the second flight didn’t deliver my staff, she looked at my dejected face and just silently reached out and bear hugged me.  I thanked her and told her she was being great, even though I knew she was hungry.  With a grin and in a why-are-you-surprised tone of voice, she said, “That’s because you gave me cookies.”  Bringing cookies for the flight may have been my smartest decision in a long time.

IMG_20140607_182847

Later in the rental car, sitting in darkness by the side of a highway ramp trying to figure out what was wrong with my GPS, the hungry girl I would have expected to finally be flipping out through no fault of her own just looked out the window and said: “It’s like we’re cursed or something.”  Her delivery was priceless.  I had to laugh.  And with tension relieved by laughter, I cleared out the address, re-entered it for the third time, and for reasons only God understands, it finally gave me a route that was seven minutes away, not thirty-two.

It was remarkable.  I remembered the cookies, but she remembered that sometimes I need her, too – to do the best she can not to add to a problem.  She remembered, and she came through.  What a blessing on a cursed night of travel.


Fun and Family

IMG_20140419_114543 IMG_20140419_114319

“It was nice working with you today. Or nice playing with you, really,” Siheng Perry said with a big smile. Today was the first time in a long time that he was in class with us, and he didn’t disappoint. Siheng Perry can be counted on for both wry humor and corny jokes, and with Sifu out of town judging a tournament, he practically gave us a nightclub act.

Coupled with the warm, easy, enthusiastic instruction of Siheng Steve, my compatriot in kung fu pain and passion (see “Facing the Door,” 4/5/14) it was a truly fun Saturday in the guan. That fun was sorely needed after approaching the school door this morning with a chip on my shoulder I hadn’t been able to shake.

My son attended Friday night class, a class that Sifu has yet to welcome me back into, though we’ve allegedly turned over a new leaf. When my boy began talking about happenings in the class, I felt nostalgic for the camaraderie of the select group I used to be part of, becoming angry about my punishment for the first time in a while. That anger then morphed into renewed disappointment in my son (see “A Small Moment, 3/31/14), who seems completely unbothered by my continued exclusion, though it should have been over the moment Sifu said, “I want us to start over from right now; forget everything I said before today.”

IMG_20140419_114128

I’m used to a young man known to show righteous indignation over unfair treatment. Perhaps he thinks empathizing with his mother would require boycotting Friday class. I’d settle for a simple, “It really sucks that you can’t come too, Mom,” on his way out the door. But that doesn’t appear to be forthcoming anytime soon – and I still have to feed him. 🙂

Yeah, I definitely needed a fun day in the guan. Gotta love it when the universe gives you what you need.


Passion & Possibility

“Stop, stop.  Come back and do it again,” Sifu barked at our contender.

The young Siheng walked back to the point on the floor where the last section began and proceeded with the run into the aerial.  He landed and spun his lower body into the upright, seated pretzel we were all used to seeing, the one we always routed for him to nail flawlessly.  He’d done just that, and all of a sudden, he was fired up.

For the balance of the wushu form, every stance was as low as he could possibly make it, and he hit every stop with the unmistakable punctuation of power. His head snapped sharply when and where it was supposed to.  His cranes were tight and dangerous. He was simply a joy to watch.  The final section of the form only lasted about thirty seconds, but it was the most electric half minute in the building in recent memory.

“What you just did in that last section, was better than all your form practice lately,” Sifu said walking to within a foot of the contender.  “You should be doing it like that all the time.”  He nodded his agreement at Sifu, probably thinking: Easier said than done.

The poor kid is so tired.  He told me so last night after we’d spent almost an hour sharing the floor and taking turns in rotations, as the two-person sparring class took place downstairs.  He said he was feeling slow and he just had to quit for the night, as if I had the authority or inclination to tell him to keep going.  I gave him a sympathetic nod, in lieu of giving him a hug.

But what a difference a day makes.  What a difference a public scolding by Sifu can make.  The contender may have been exhausted last night, but if he does his forms in two weeks’ time with the passion he showed in the final section tonight, he’s going to Turkey as a member of the national team.

I’ve spent the week worried about one little performance of a form that barely requires that I get off the ground.  Meanwhile, the boy wonder has lost count of the number of aerials he’s had to do across the room without landing on his head in a moment of exhaustion.

Everything – absolutely everything – is about perspective.  It’s a lesson I’m always so grateful to relearn.


Setbacks & Outcomes

Two of the potential gym spaces I was hoping to rent have turned me down, because weapons on the premises would be a liability issue.  When I began the search, I suspected that this might be the outcome, but I wanted to remain hopeful.

One would think that if I’m paying to be alone in the space, I wouldn’t be swinging the staff or the unsharpened broadsword in the direction of other humans.  But apparently, just the remote possibility of injury (as I walk from the parking lot to the gymnasium and bump someone?) is all it takes to frighten an owner or manager.  It would be a one-in-a-million chance, but we live in an awfully litigious society.  So, I understand.  Back to the drawing board.

In other news, my girl was bouncing off the walls tonight because she’s a kicking combination and a tornado kick away from knowing the entirety of the 12 Kicks form.  Her additional red sash knowledge, coupled with a report card so good she surprised herself, made for an awfully happy pre-teen – and an equally happy mother, despite my training space setback.

Thank you to those who expressed their concern and offered advice over my latest kung fu injury.  I’m happy to report that I’ve found some pain-relieving stretches for my upper arm and shoulder that are already doing the trick to get me securely through Saturday.  Here’s to the wonder of the internet and the knowledge of my massage therapist spouse.  Now, if only I could bring myself to tell the family to hide the staff from me until Saturday…. 🙂


Farther Away

My boy celebrated his seventeenth birthday a couple of nights ago, and it felt unlike other birthdays.  Seventeen seems much greater than sixteen.  It feels much farther away from home.

He surprised me by foregoing the recent tradition of eating out at a reasonable restaurant of his choice.  For seventeen, he wanted simply to follow a good evening of kung fu training with a pineapple upside down cake.  I asked as we were leaving school if his training had been satisfying, and he told me with a smile how many forms he’d done and how achy he was feeling.  He was happy.

“You know we’re crazy to think that serious achiness is a good thing,” I told him.

“Yep, I know.”  His smile was even broader.

On the way home from training a few days earlier, probably under the influence of too much Gatorade, I told my high school junior, “Why don’t you forget about college and start a kung fu school with me?”  He looked at me as if an alien had taken over my body.

“Forget college?  You are suggesting that I forget college?”

“Yeah, I can’t believe I said that, too.  Never mind. Crank call,” I answered with both of us laughing.

Image

Looking past the cake to the face of the baby boy turned young man, I remembered my so-called crank call.  And I was no longer sure any part of me had been kidding.


Doing Battle

I walked into my house this evening weighted down with grocery bags and was pleasantly surprised to have my daughter take them into the kitchen and unpack everything – without complaint. That’s what a lingering dose of Christmas happiness gets me.  As she tossed into the fridge the Gatorade we’ll be carting off with us to kung fu in the morning, I thought about how well she’d done in self-training Thursday night, following the directives of a black sash big brother she often simply refers to as “Jerk.”

I kept expecting one of her old classic blow-ups, either when he tried to get her to do one more set of front kicks, or when I told her to practice speeding up her wheel hands before we went home.  None came.

Is she finally getting the hang of control?  I wondered.  Is she simply growing up?  Could they be one in the same, despite all diagnoses?

I want to relax about her.  I want to allow myself not to worry about what adulthood is going to be like for her if I’m not there running interference.

My daughter has PDD-NOS.  That’s pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, which means she has issues with social interaction, and appropriate communication and behavior – but without meeting all the criteria for a diagnosis of autistic.  Got all that?  It took me forever to wrap my brain around it, particularly since in her pre-school years, her behavior could be so off the charts, she was thought to have Asperger’s.  Her diagnosis was corrected not long after we got to Baltimore, but changing the words on the page to a milder disability had nothing to do with taking the actual behavior down a notch.

She had such a hard time at her new school when we first moved that she was flipping out on a grand scale at least once a day.  She was teased constantly for her sensitivity, or being taken out of her routine, or having someone take the seat she thought was hers, or invade her personal space without permission.  Anything could set her off without warning, and when she went off, you could hear that girl yell from two blocks away.

Then, everyone would look at me.  I was not accustomed to everyone looking at me as if something was wrong with my parenting; so I spent an inordinate amount of mental time in defense mode.  Think that played a part in me sticking with kung fu?

I have to say, though, that my PDD baby was born with traits of the woman that I would want her to become anyway.  She defends herself when she feels she’s being wronged – often, loudly.  She got that from me (even the loud part, when I’m really upset); so I can’t honestly have a problem with it. It’s a tendency that sometimes has us shouting at each other, but God help me, I respect it.  I’m even proud of how much better she’s gotten at making her case with a lower decibel level.

My girl has kept me on my toes for a dozen years now, either by battling me or necessitating that I go to battle for her.  And that’s okay.  Defend her I will for as long as she needs me to.  More and more, that appears to be less and less.

And that simple fact is my lingering dose of Christmas happiness.


Let Up Already!

It’s been snowing all day, and I’m annoyed.  I haven’t had to drive anywhere; I haven’t even had to walk anywhere.  But in this day and age of technology, gaming and not doing anything that might cause one to break a fingernail, many are slow to pick up a shovel and a bag of salt to clear sidewalks in anything remotely akin to a reasonable amount of time.  I’ve also noticed, in more than twenty-five years of living below the Mason Dixon Line (after growing up in often-snowy New England), that city officials don’t ever seem to prepare well for winter.  They usually have far more important things than snow plows and the personnel to run them on which to spend tax dollars.   Bottom line: I’d be shocked if my children have school tomorrow.  And I want them to have school Monday.  I want it rather badly.  That’s why I’m annoyed.

Is it really a big deal if my 12-year-old daughter, Ava, and my 16-year-old son, Aaron, bum around the house a couple of weeks before winter break, get in one another’s way and thoroughly erase the weekend’s housework in a matter of hours?  Of course not.  But our kung fu school is closed anytime that weather closes the city schools.  And that is a very, very big deal!

I need my Monday training.  I need it more than any other day’s, because with the school closed on Sundays, the longest gap in training time is between the end of class in the one o’clock hour on Saturday and warming up in the five o’clock hour on Monday evening.  Think pack-a-day smoker going fifty-two forced hours without a cigarette.  Not pretty, believe me.  I used to smoke.

I gave myself a bizarre bruise of busted capillaries on the side of my index finger Saturday with an awkward – and obviously incorrect – slam of the staff against the floor.  Gotta fix that.  The slam, that is; not the finger.  The finger will have to take care of itself.

Getting a long staff back in my hands is the reason I look forward to Monday – that and helping teach the beginner class.  Getting up pre-dawn for an hour-long commute to work, after getting a couple of extra hours of sleep for two days over the weekend, makes me otherwise loathe Mondays.  Kung fu saves the day – literally.  Only a late train home and an exceptionally clogged drive from the station to the school can make me walk through the door unhappy on a Monday.  Such a far cry from how I walked in the door the very first time back in 2008.  Then, I walked in angry and uncomfortable, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I’d moved up the highway with my family just before the housing market implosion.  My adolescent son, who was significantly less than thrilled to be leaving his hometown of D.C., had already entered the phase of life in which everything parental was bad, stupid, irritating or meaningless.  So between being unhappy about moving to Baltimore and just being a tween, he could generate hostility merely by walking into the room.  Going to kung fu required sharing a seven mile car ride with my bundle of joy.  So it was easy to be tense by the time I got there.

I can’t put it all on Aaron, though.  I still had the job in D.C., and the first year in Baltimore, I drove to work every day.  I was probably more wound up from my commute than I realized back then.  I mean, by the time seven or eight months had passed, it was clear as day that I was going to kill somebody if I didn’t conquer the commute.

I also wasn’t all that happy at the job I was commuting to.  I’d changed departments around the same time we started going to kung fu – a change I’d requested, but I wasn’t doing very well at the new gig.  It was a job that had more to do with putting correct information into a database in the right way at the right time than anything else.  I had too much ADD and too little enthusiasm for data entry to do it well.

I was a television news producer.  I researched political, legislative, executive topics of the day, found the right guest to discuss it, found the right graphics and pictures and video to enhance the story, formulated the right questions and put it all on the air in the hands of the host.  Going from that to primarily data entry made me want a new employer all together.

And, there was losing mom.  I probably should have mentioned that first.  That’s called burying the lead.

We moved to Baltimore one year and three weeks after she died.  We started taking kung fu classes two weeks after what would have been her sixty-sixth birthday.  In fact, we’d started tae kwon do in D.C. right around the time she told me that the cancer was back.  Two years – and for me, two knee operations due to tae kwon do injuries – later, she was gone.  And I certainly wasn’t over it a lousy year later, if one ever is.

So that was the general picture of my life when I returned to martial arts after being sidelined for a year by injuries, the death of my mother, relocation to a new city, and a requested reassignment at work that wasn’t going so well.  Yeah.  I was definitely angry and uncomfortable in the early days of kung fu.  Now, I howl at Mother Nature to let up already on the snow and ice so I can go train!

Quite the transformation it’s been.  Let me count the ways….