Tag Archives: children

Everyone Deserves It

I wasted time at the train station after disembarking, slowly drinking coffee and eating a donut, while waiting for the demand for Ubers to subside.  When the price of the ride returned to the reasonable rate of a minute per mile, I got in one and let it take me to the hospital that once felt like it had a room with my name on it.  As a child, I had repeated bouts of severe bronchitis and thus spent a lot of time in a building now called the old wing.  But this 21st century plaza of glass and steel was not the healing place I remembered.  Very little in the town where I spent the first 14 years of my life looked familiar, for that matter.  That fact was a bittersweet distraction.

Once at the hospital, I still delayed.  Far too much time in the gift shop to come away with a mere card – and one that said something trite that felt insincere on my part: “May an angel always be beside you.”  Not a single bone in my body believed this man had lived his life in a way that should keep him in the company of angels – certainly not the part of it that pertained to me.  He’d inflicted physical and psychological abuse on my mother and me.  He told me numerous times that he hadn’t wanted to be a father and that my existence had made his more difficult.  My mother and I were made to pay.  And so I meandered around the spanking brand new wing of the hometown hospital, the one that used to have a room with my name on it, praying for the courage to face this man who forced me to play postman at his building just to get him to come into the lobby so I could see him.  Even then, I couldn’t get him to let his grandchildren in or to come out to the car to meet them.

“…Because everyone deserves it – no matter what,” I wrote inside the blank card with the trite spiritual wish on the outside.  That I believed.  Every child of God deserves the accompaniment of an angel, no matter how damaged or damaging he may be.  “I love you!”  I added.  Through every horrible memory, that too had always been true, sometimes in spite of myself.

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When I found the room with the beautiful view of Long Island Sound, the one with his name on it, he wasn’t in it.  He was back in the old wing of the hospital undergoing stress tests on his heart.  I would have missed him even if I’d gone straight to his room without buying the card, but not if I’d bypassed the coffee and donut.  It was now going to be at least two hours before I could see him, and I had only designated six for him.  The need to be the mother and the teacher that I love being called me harder than the obligation to be the daughter it hurt to be.  That, and the fact that my business as a baker still doesn’t run without me after two years, required I return home, as long as he was stable and could make his own medical decisions.

“What time did you leave?  I could hear you in my bedroom.  Did you kiss me goodbye?  What time are you coming home?”  Such were the text message questions from my teenaged daughter, who’s on the spectrum.  The last question was, in part, to know how long she’d have to play on the computer before I was home to turn her attentions back to Chemistry and Algebra II.  But I also know that my girl must feel the love from me each day for any day to be complete. She hated my business trips when I used to have them, which always made me hate them a bit, too.

God has an interesting sense of humor.  How else can one explain such an affinity for children in the child of a man who considers children a nuisance?

“Don’t cry when you say goodbye to him, Mom; it’ll probably freak him out,” my daughter said about a student whose family was moving to the other side of the country. She was right, I knew.  So I shed my tears at home, out of sight, before giving my parting blue sash a medallion I won years ago as a goodbye present.

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Somewhere in the haze of cold, selfish, liquor-wading isolationism, I know that my father feels a measure of fondness for me that’s at least commensurate with my affection for my students.  I’ve occasionally been able to hear it in his voice, after accomplishing something he could brag about to the neighbors he didn’t want to see or the golf buddies he’s now outlived.  But I’ve spent years wishing he’d feel a little more… and now, I’m told he does.  A stroke will do that.

“He gets emotional when I mention you,” his attending physician told me.  It’s guilt.  What else could it be?  I thought, as I slowly walked from his apartment to his bank, in no hurry to return to the man who had me out running errands without so much as a “good to see you” or “thanks for coming.”

“One of these days we’re going to have to have it out,” he’d said eons ago, back when his intentional verbal cruelty could still make me livid.  But I saw no need for that. It wouldn’t have taken the fear out of a childhood long gone or made him a man who wanted a family.  It would just have been more wasted time.

I thought again about the card from the gift shop as I climbed into the Uber back to the hospital.  “May an angel always be beside you.”  Indeed… for you never wanted anyone else to be.

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…Right in the Jungle

“I gotta hurry back upstairs to the television!” I told my son as the screen door closed behind him.  “It’s the final fight scene in Kill Bill.”

“Omigod!  It’s so cool you have it on, too!” Aaron yelled, jogging behind me.  “That’s why I’m late.  I was watching it at Chris’s house!”

“Did you lock the front door?” I asked rounding the corner to the stairway.

“Shit!  No!” he answered, frozen in his tracks for a moment, weighing whether the lock could wait for the end of the movie.

I could launch into a diatribe about the themes of Kill Bill Vol. II and how much this martial arts mom relates to them.  I could present a laundry list of the traits my son and I have in common and how similar our tastes are in art and music.  In fact, I could fill pages with both subjects.

But as my first born and I sang the soundtrack tune “Goodnight Moon,” watching Beatrix Kiddo drive off into the sunset, my mind centered on a collection of facts that had strongly shaped the moment and that are more important than commonalities with my child or my love of a movie:

  • I had to become a mother to care about my character.
  • I had to quit living like a frat boy to learn what character really is.
  • When my son started living like a frat boy in my house, the character that motherhood made me care about compelled me to show him the door.
  • Showing him the door now brings him back through it with a level of respect and love that I’ve wanted us to have from the day he was born.

The rest of the afternoon’s visit consisted of chowing down on hard shell crabs that Aaron brought with him, chatting about his job, friends and flirtations, and waxing philosophical about the best first career choice for a talented young man who’s bound to have more than one.  It was an afternoon that made the week, if not the season.

“The lioness has rejoined her cub and all is right in the jungle.”  That’s the final statement in Kill Bill… and it’s the truth.


A Most Welcomed Surprise

Friday, a child who isn’t mine hugged me as if she were.  When I let my arms fall away from the bear hug around her lanky 10-year-old frame, hers remained so tightly wound across my rib cage and back that I couldn’t move if I wanted to without taking her with me.  A blue sash level student of mine who’s leaving for six weeks of summer camp out of state isn’t just going to miss Kung Fu; she’s specifically going to miss me.  I didn’t expect it and don’t know if I deserve it, but it was a most welcomed surprise.

“I miss,” are two words I find myself saying more often than I’d like.  The most recent family funeral three weeks ago was a goodbye to the last of the four women – two aunts, a grandmother and my mother – most responsible for my character and my better childhood memories.  But it isn’t just the dead I miss.  It’s also the remarkable young man I raised who no longer lives in my house, and the eccentric, now-teenaged girl who stopped dancing in the car years ago.  I miss the former colleagues who only kept in touch when my departure from the office was new.  And I miss remembering with ease where I left my glasses – or simply what day it is.

There is nothing new, of course, about middle aged people bemoaning the passage of time and the unwanted changes it brings.  There’s nothing new about melancholy accompanying loss.  And perhaps the most familiar remedy of life for ridding me of any hint of self-pity is the embrace of a family member.  So there’s nothing new in the comfort of a hug either.

But there was something new in having a child who isn’t mine hug me as if she were.  It gave “I miss” a happy meaning for the first time in recent memory.


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.

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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.


No Longer Fine

I could hear it in her voice.  It was more than fatigue.  So I asked again if anything happened during her school day that was out of the ordinary.

“I messed up my math and got upset with Mr. White.”  I asked what she meant by “got upset.”  There was a time in her life when an emotional outburst at school was an almost daily occurrence that prompted phone call and email notification.  There was a time when everyone in the neighborhood knew when she was upset because they could hear it through the stone-covered walls of our house or the bricks of the school.

“Well, I had to take a moment to go to the bathroom and calm down,” she answered, sounding chagrined.  It was a strange sound that brought me up short.  I paused for a moment and asked if she and Mr. White were okay with each other.  It was my way of trying to find out if she’d been disrespectful in her outburst.

As a child on the spectrum, she’s been through all sorts of techniques and suggestions, from parents and professionals alike, to control her emotions better, and she’s made continued progress over the years.  Though I’ve been notified multiple times this school year about mandatory study hall assignments because her homework wasn’t as done as she said it was, the last in-school outburst I heard about was a year ago.  Did I now need to expect an email from Mr. White about my daughter being rude?  I wondered.

“Yeah.  We were fine after I calmed down,” she answered.  There it was again – the sound of something totally new in my thirteen-year-old, emotionally and socially-challenged girl.  It sounded like embarrassment, perhaps even shame.  I had a sudden confusing twinge of completely contradictory emotions.  I hurt for her and was elated at the same time.

Through a lifetime of being told and taught to better control her reactions to situations and information she dislikes, Ava’s always acted as if the people upon whom she inflicted her outbursts were the ones with the problem.  As she saw it, we just needed to let her flip out and happily live with the completely inappropriate behavior.  But as she told me about this incident during her daily afterschool phone call, it was clear  that she was the one who was bothered by her own lack of control.  She’d gotten used to reacting well, and she was disappointed in herself for going backwards.

I was so proud of her I had to keep from crying, as I sat in the cubicle I’ll be leaving in less than a month.  I told her not to feel bad, that it sounded like she got it together pretty quickly and was still on good terms with Mr. White, so there was nothing to worry about it.  I told her I love her and gave her what my family calls a psychic hug.

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Ava started testing for her black belt a couple of weeks ago.  She’ll be getting her braces off a couple of weeks from now.  The application process for public high school selection (a unique ritual in Baltimore, as far as I know) begins next month.  In short, my girl’s going through a lot of changes this season, but none more significant than being disappointed in herself for behavior she once thought was fine.


Sunday Rites

Back in the blogosphere, if only for an hour or so!  I haven’t had time to write or read (outside of work material) for a week, which has been disturbing.  I thought about pouring out all that I can about the week’s adventures in store making, but my thoughts keep coming back to the warmth of my favorite day.

Sunday is great.  It’s almost as busy as any other in the week; so its greatness doesn’t lie in being a day of rest.  What makes Sunday so wonderful to me is that it’s the day I get to do everything I most enjoy.

I get up and indulge the journalist in me by watching the news talk shows.  After twenty years of covering the federal government and the people in it, it’s a task as automatic as brushing my teeth.  It’s also an unspoken job requirement (for just a little while longer), since I’m supposed to know what the big stories and sound bites of the day are.  I watch while eating, stretching and warming up for the beginner kung fu class I teach at noon.  Then, I’m off to my students.

I teach the kids for an hour, doing my best to keep a straight face when the front kick instruction suddenly turns into a conversation about peanut butter and birthday parties.  Today was a particularly special day, as it was the last class of the session.  I taught everyone the final moves of the white sash form, and my star students perfected what they already knew as I worked with the younger attention spans in the group.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taught a set of students an entire form – and the only time I’ve done it alone!   I look forward to awarding yellow sashes in a couple of weeks.

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After my kids and their moms left me alone in the yoga room, I continued my Sunday ritual.  I always spend a second hour in the gym trying to lower my stances, speed up my spins and quicken the pace of my performance of the White Eyebrow staff form.   I use Sunday to practice the corrections Sifu gives me in Saturday class.

For several months now, the day’s routine has ended with me replenishing the carbs I burn off in training as I watch a baseball or football game.  Then, I cook dinner for the family and work on recipes for the sweets shop.  This Sunday, I ended the afternoon by meeting one of the better handymen I’ve ever known at the site of my future store and going over all I need to hire him to do to get it ready for a grand opening.

And so, the ritual has changed.  Going forward, Sunday’s greatness will likely always include time at the store.  Soon, that will be true of all days.  How great is that?

 


In the Corner of My Eye

Sunday was a great day to be a Sijeh.  My seven-year-old social butterfly, who’d rather chat with me about friends and fashion, gave her most focused effort yet.  I had to have her practice alone for a bit as I worked with the five year old who missed class last week, and I was stunned by what I saw out of the corner of my eye.

She did one repetition after another without prompting and even self-corrected after watching me with her classmate.  I didn’t know she had it in her – the inclination to keep her mind and body on kung fu for more than three minutes at a time.  I was so proud of her (and the classmate who finally earned his white sash) that I felt high for hours afterward.  A second grader’s concentration made my favorite day of the week even better than it normally is.  It’s still the little things, always and forever, that make the biggest difference.


Force of Nature

I am not a big fan of time today.

This girl..

..is now this teen.

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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.

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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.


Herding Cats

My class was a playground today.   That was not a good thing.

Joining the four regulars was a four-year-old whose mom has been trying to get her in the door since the middle of the first session, but time was never her friend.  She told me that her daughter has an above-average attention span, bolstered by her enthusiastic interest in kung fu; so I was more than willing to see if she could follow along well despite being under five.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to see how well she can follow along, because in walked a world of distraction that made even my industrious five-year-old think about everything but kung fu.

My first-session kindergartener returned without warning.  That’s the one whose dad wanted him to be there far more than he wanted to be.  With him came the entire family: a two-year-old brother who kept running up to hug him; a mom who kept getting up from her seat in the back of the room to reposition her son’s feet, over my objections;  and a dad who kept popping into the corner of the room behind me to take pictures of his hugging boys.  To add fuel to the fire, my old kindergartener goes to school with the new four-year-old.  So, in between having mom, little brother and dad stealing his attention, his classmate – the newest and youngest member of the class – kept trying to “help” her friend correct his hands and feet, though she herself was having trouble getting into a fighting stance!

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On top of it all, the other little boy in the class, who’d previously been plugged into my every move and coming along nicely in his martial arts aptitude, went off the rails with the addition of two younger children to the class.  He also had a baby sister watching from the sidelines with mom and dad.  That seemed to turn on an ADD switch that I didn’t know this particular student had.

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Long story made short: there were more spectators today than students, and the students suffered for it.  The highlight, however, was that after I allowed the youngest and newest to bow out early, I watched the more proficient students do the first seven moves of the form with surprising dexterity (they’d been practicing while I worked with the younger kids), and I was more than happy to reward them by teaching the multi-step move number eight, the end of part one of the form.  If nothing else, the oldest members of the class earned their white sashes today in the middle of a circus… and I learned what it feels like to herd cats.


Skip to My Whaat!?

For me, it’s another form of walking.  It’s almost second nature.  For the layman, it requires thought, concentration and suppressing the urge to skip.  Moving forward in a fighting stance is simply a lot harder than it looks – a fact I’d forgotten until a trio of primary school students reminded me by making a mess of their leg movements.

The lone parent in the class was the only one who got it right on the first try.  The five, six and seven-year-olds, not long from having learned that the fastest form of human motion without aid of machine is to put one foot in front of the other, weren’t comfortable being asked to keep one foot permanently in the backfield.

All of a sudden, I had to hit the pause button on my recently crafted curriculum.  Forget about doing rows of double straight punches.  We needed more repetitions than I had time for of simply moving down the floor in a fighting stance.  Ultimately, I assigned it as homework, so we could move on to form practice.

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All four of today’s students are enthusiastic, follow along well and catch on quickly.  Still, in the second class of the session, I find that we’re running out of time to complete the day’s tasks.  What I hope to determine next time is if having the mother-daughter team practice what they know while I keep the two youngest from skipping will keep me from having to strip techniques from the session plan.

It’s a learning experience for me, too, as a teacher.  I love that!  I wish I could do it everyday…. 🙂


Before Pizza

It was one of those days.  My boss was in a foul mood from the moment he walked in the door.  That’s not compatible with hosting three hours of live TV.  My director couldn’t see or hear clearly for the first ten minutes of the show, which resulted in several on-air errors.  Those are uncorrectable when you’re live.

I was sitting in the control room on the opening Sunday of football season – a fact that’s been frustrating for the last six years of my life.  But to make matters worse, both teams that matter most to me didn’t just lose, they embarrassed themselves.

I took a cab ride home from the train station with a driver who kept swearing he knew where my street was but still asked me at every red light if he was going the right way.  By the time I started chopping an onion for dinner prep, I was glad the powers of the universe had saved the worst day of the working weekend for last.

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My working weekend actually began right after leaving the office on Friday.  The first of my long-scheduled demo classes was waiting for me at the gym.  In it were two children with moms along for the ride.  By the end of the hour, everyone was sweating, rubbing their legs… and smiling.

“This was fun,” the seven-year-old girl whispered to her mother.  Her mom looked like she didn’t agree with the word choice.

“This is a real workout,” the other parent said rubbing her legs.  “I didn’t expect that.”

“Yes, it is.” Playdate with punches this ain’t!  I thought.  The mother-and-six-year-old son duo said they’d be signing up; the mom and daughter left without sharing a decision.

Fast-forward to Saturday.  An hour after inhaling a plate of pancakes to quell the hunger caused by intensive classes at the guan, I was back at the gym for the second of the demo classes.  This one introduced me to a five-year-old who approaches martial arts the same way my daughter did when she started tae kwon do at four: with a non-stop smile.  (I’m not sure if there’s anything cuter than a kindergartener doing double-straight-punch-snap-kick combinations to the chin with an ear-to-ear grin on his face!)

At the end of the class, he was still smiling but not as broadly.  So I asked, “Are your legs hurting?  Was that too much for you?”

“No,” he said without pause, sounding slightly insulted.  When he turned to his dad, I could tell it was decided.

“So what do you think?  Should we put kung fu before pizza on Friday nights now?” his dad asked.

“Yes!” he shouted, showing almost all of the pearly whites.

It looks like I’ll have a class of at least four people this session who know what they’re getting into.  That knowledge and the joy of future students’ smiles enabled me to handle a difficult time on the day job today with a healthy measure of grace.


Dead White Guy Favorites

It used to be called the canon – the must-reads of Western literature that allegedly represent the best in creative writing and exploration of the human condition.  At the very least, they represent the books and plays most written about by those who study literature.  These books and their glaring absence from my children’s curriculums weighed heavily on my mind Thursday, after a fantastic kung fu workout in which I realized that I’m much more mentally aware of how to fix what I’m doing wrong in a form than I’m often conscious of.  This incredible “Aha!” moment was juxtaposed to the awakening just an hour earlier that, academically, my kids don’t know nearly as much as I did at each of their ages – at least as far as literature is concerned.

It all started at dinner out with my son earlier this week.  As we scarfed down Polish fare, he asked me to name great books for him.  He hadn’t read any that I mentioned; more disturbingly, he hadn’t heard of a number of them either.  I expressed my concern at the time, but concern turned to a mild form of ire yesterday when discovering that the syllabus for his senior year doesn’t include any canon books either.  Silly me, I thought his teachers would patch up the curriculum in the final year.

My son attends a Jesuit school that’s geared toward providing a better education to children of urban, working class families who can’t afford private school.  Now, I understand that there’s been a move in the last decade or so to get away from caring about the perspective of dead, white men and thereby make reading more appealing to the largely non-white student bodies of most of the public schools in America’s largest urban centers.  However well-intentioned, this move seems to have all but eradicated from those same schools any trace of what used to be required reading no matter where one lived and what one looked like.  If administrators remove from literature curriculums all but a few of the dead white guy favorites, we’re going to end up with a generation who, ten years from now, will immediately recognize and understand any reference to the “ice bucket challenge,” but who won’t have the slightest idea what grandma is talking about when she compares Johnny’s ill-advised pursuit of a person or thing to Ahab’s quest for the great white whale.

I remember as a kid watching a Bugs Bunny episode I’d seen dozens of times, listening to Bugs go into a riff about an apartment number that started with “2B or not 2B; that is the question” and understanding for the very first time that the Hamlet allusion is what made it funny.   Something about that realization felt good, especially since I could go on to finish most of the monologue, at the time.

Does it matter in the grand scheme of things if today’s youth understand literary references?  I can’t answer that.  What I know is this: my children have excellent grades.  But I’m not sure if their grades accurately reflect how much they know.

Not getting the joke may be no big deal.  But not knowing what their grade point averages suggest they should could be huge.