Tag Archives: family

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.

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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!

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Sash Levels and Surveys

This is what boot camp must be like.  Going to sleep late after nursing one’s strained muscles until well past midnight, then rising early to abuse the body all over again.  Only in boot camp, one gets paid for the privilege.  As much as I love kung fu, sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this.  The  morning after the Friday night class is usually when that happens.

With my students out of town this weekend and Merle beginning testing (and thus required to attend Friday class), I accompanied her to the guan last night to find that things had changed a bit since the last time I was there.  In walked two green sashes and a blue sash, making me wonder if I was in the right place.  Friday night used to be a red and black sash class only where the body was put through the grinder of kung fu techniques for two hours.  The presence of the lower sashes didn’t lessen the repetitions, but it drastically eased the difficulty level of the drills.  What’s happening to Sifu?  I thought.

This discovery came in the same week that my inbox included a survey from him.  A survey.  The man who practically screamed at me back in February that things are the way they are, they’re going to stay that way, and I need to take it or leave it, is now asking all his students to tell him what they think could stand to be changed about the curriculum, teaching methods – the whole kit and caboodle.  I like to think that his unfortunate exchange with me in February set him to thinking about being set in his ways.  But maybe it’s just fatherhood that’s changing him.  Either way, I’ll take it!

Now, I’ve got to get ready for more kung fu.

 


Drive Time

Twice a month I drive to work.  That’s about an hour and fifteen minutes of one-way driving in rush hour traffic.  Unlike driving to and from the grocery store or kung fu or college visits, that bi-monthly drive has become the time that I listen to music that’s special to me without the interruption of family conversation.

Driving up the highway last night, on my way to kung fu training at the gym, I just had to hear a song from a CD my son gave me for my birthday.  It’s a great collection of tunes I loved back in my twenties and songs he loves today that are similar to the old Nineties “alternative music” hits.  My need to hear the song was a direct result of a cool photo of the extended family that he sent me from his grandparents house, where he’s the photographer for a change.

Courtesy of YouTube, of course, here’s the song the picture put in my head.  The studio version is one of my new favorites of 2014, thanks to a kid who knows me pretty well, but the live version is pretty good, too!

 


Bending Before the Break

Kung fu and cupcakes – that’s what I want.  I’m finding it harder and harder to get out of bed for the commuter train in the morning, which is why I’m becoming habitually late.  My boss is on vacation this week; so the guy with one-third of my experience in the industry is in charge in his absence.  I just love it when that’s the case.

Truth be told, I think the ability to bend my hours as sleep, child and kung fu needs dictate is a direct result of the under-experienced one being made second in command.  It’s been insinuated that my freedom of movement is the Bossman’s way of making that indignity up to me.  But it’s not enough anymore.

I leave Sunday’s class, miniscule though it is, satisfied, happy and wanting to do it all over again the next day.  My six-year-old’s mom joined us in class, and she was pretty good.  More to the point, her  presence made the first grader work harder.  I was able to get through half the Chu Chi Chuan form for the first time, having previously been forced to settle for having the students do repetitions of the first three horse stance punch moves.  I’ve spent so much time on double straight punches and walking snap kicks (coordination doesn’t come naturally to every recent kindergarten graduate) that the form has taken a bit of a back seat.  Additionally, both students have only attended a class a week.  (If I were the parent, I’d be getting my money’s worth!)

The benefit of halftime attendance is that they have to sign up for the second session to learn the rest of the form, and they’ve already told me they’re going to do just that.  My energies are now turned to drumming up more business, and I’m enjoying that, too.  I never thought marketing would give me a charge.

Could I make a living at this, supplemented by cupcake sales (I’ve signed up for the food manager certification to be licensed to cook in a commercial kitchen) and freelance journalism?  I believe I could.  And with each passing day the happiness attached to doing and teaching kung fu, and hearing the enthusiastic inquiry “Do you sell these somewhere??” from almost every person who’s recently tasted a baked good from my kitchen, has finally come to outweigh the fear of not making the bills.

In 2015, my son starts a new chapter of his life.  Barring the unforeseen, I think I might beat him to it!


Quiet in the Kung Fu House

I am alone in my own home.  The children are at their grandparents’ house, and my better half is out of town for a Monday funeral.  The last time I went to sleep and woke up at my address with no one else in the building, I didn’t have a daughter yet and my two-year-old son had a weekend’s head start on Christmas vacation with his dad and grandparents, while I was finishing up the work week.

The quiet in my house was disquieting once I wound down from a good class and training session.   Without a family meal to cook or laundry to fold, I noticed for the first time that there’s a kung fu item of some sort in pretty much every room of the house.  Not that I didn’t know they were there.  I just didn’t realize that my entire living space contains kung fu items, until there was nothing to distract me from the realization.

There’s the 100-pound bag in my bedroom, and the adjustable bag in the family room.

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There’s the inability to use the first-floor stairway or the kitchen without passing the collection of workout bags and gear in front of the basement door.

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There’s the virtual staff store we pass when leaving the house, and the sashes and medals hanging on walls, mirrors and doors.

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This is a martial arts house – period.  Even when I’m the only person home.

I have to smile at that fact…even while I’m shaking my head. 🙂


Foot-cramped and Kid-Free

My beautiful babes were in a goofy mood as they waited to get through airport security.  I’m in the middle of day one of nine without my loquacious Minecraft and Warriors-loving girl and my ear buds-donning, bilingual boy, with arms full of self-made bracelets.

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He held up the security line for a good five minutes getting them off and back on.  I’m fairly certain he’ll pack some of them on the way back.

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All four family members sweat together in Saturday’s upper sash class.  It’s the only hour of the kung fu week that we’re all guaranteed to be together.  So, of course, I missed my kids today — particularly as my beleaguered glutes started screaming for relief somewhere around the forty-fifth outside crescent kick.

Misery loves company.  In this Saturday of seemingly endless kicks and horse stance holding, my daughter would have commiserated and then some.  “Batman” might have asked to kick in another rotation or two.  Then, I would’ve wanted to kick him. 🙂


Britches and Cheeks

Watching from the car as my children and other students awaited the arrival of Siheng, I realized that a month had passed since last we had a Thursday with Pooh.  First he was on vacation; then, we were college hopping. It was good to see him again.

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But my children’s adopted local dad came back from vacation with a bee in his britches.  No more socializing, goofing off, complaining, he lectured. His is an advanced class; it’s time to stop acting like beginners, he told the class.  He took half of the blame for the relaxed atmosphere on his watch, but no more.   Pooh was decidedly out of honey, yet no one seemed to mind.

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It was a hard-working, focused session.  My son leaves town on a high note for vacation with the grandparents; my daughter leaves with the worrisome realization that even with Pooh, who’s awfully fond of her, she’s going to have to act like a red sash – finally.

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What’s the worst thing that could happen?  She might get tapped for black sash testing earlier than she thinks.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Merle practiced all of her under sash forms to prepare for her first of twelve black sash tests.  The kids are going to miss cheering her on for the first test but will have a front-row seat for number two.  If all goes well, my better half and I will share the same black sash award anniversary weekend every January.  That thought makes me grin until my cheeks hurt.

Speaking of hurt cheeks, there’s nothing like a form full of deep empty stances (at least four, by quick count) to make this woman more conscious of her ass than I ever wanted to be.  I’ve spent so much time this summer concentrating on swinging the staff, running with it, walking with it, turning, etc. that I was temporarily oblivious to the pain that can be generated just standing still with it, like below.  Of course the only reason they hurt so much is because this pose is much closer to the floor these days than it is here.

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Progress can be painful… especially when the goofing off is done.


Playdate with Punches

Sifu and Siheng Steve have the same sports car.  It’s the school sticker on the back windshield of Sifu’s that alerts me to our leader’s presence before I reach the school door.  When I saw it Monday night, the only night of the week he doesn’t come to the guan, I knew immediately that he was filling in for Siheng Chris, teaching the beginner class.  It’s been six months since Sifu suspended my teaching privileges, and he still doesn’t call me to fill.  Even though I now have a class of my own that will hopefully grow, it still hurts a little to feel outside the fold.  I suspect that the pain will decrease in direct proportion to the success of my class at the gym.  So I’ll just keep the focus where it belongs.

To that end, I’m happily anticipating the announcement for the second session of the class.  This one will be open to parents as well, just as the guan is filled with families of students.  I’m finding, as my young charges become more annoyed with the increased level of energy required of them to learn the white sash form, that the class may have been assumed to be a playdate with punching, instead of an actual kung fu class.  It will be good to have parents know what they’ve actually signed their kids up for.  It will also be good to have students with a longer attention span mixed in with the ones who need to be entertained.  Here’s hoping I get a good turnout, whatever the mix.


Randomness and Reason

Does everything happen for a reason?  I used to believe adamantly that it did.  Then, a series of hard and horrible things happened over a few years, and I was at a loss as to why.  So my brain did a 180 and started thinking of everything as random.  It was easier that way.

Now, I wait to hear whether an unrequested gift that was dangled unexpectedly before me a week ago will in fact be mine.  I wait wondering if it’s a gift at all or merely the greatest reason I’ve had in years to reconsider whether everything happens for a reason.

Meanwhile a trip to Target before afternoon training at the gym brought another unexpected gift our way.  I was there for a reason: new workout shirts.  My son made a random decision to accompany his sister and me, and it led him to the happiest shopping moment of his life.

He’s wanted to be Batman since he was three.  Thanks to his afternoon purchase, he feels a step closer.  So… does everything happen for a reason?

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It’s the Little Things

The last couple of days have been filled with little things that make me happy.  Just going home to Connecticut means visiting with aunts, cousins and a cantankerous 95-year-old grandmother that would stop speaking to me if I photographed her at this stage in her life.

It also includes a mandatory visit to the grocery store of my childhood, which happens to be the coolest place on the planet to buy food.  I get a kick out of watching my kids make a beeline for their favorite items in a store that’s enthralled me from the first time I watched the milk go into the half gallon carton we’d later bring home.

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We later enjoyed the comfortable hospitality of the aunt-in-law’s beautiful Brooklyn brownstone.  That was actually not a little thing.  Having a relative with the space to put us all up saved the expense of hotel for four people. Yay!

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Come Thursday morning, we were back evaluating colleges in weather that teased us with threats of rain that thankfully never came.  Cloudy-turned-to-sunny is another little thing that makes me happy.

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I had the presence of mind to save my arthritic knees for pounding the pavement farther down the highway in Philadelphia and simply watched my boy wander around the Redmen’s Queens campus from the top of a very large stairway.

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After fighting the insanity of New Jersey Turnpike traffic, we arrived fifteen minutes late for the last tour of our trip.  But we managed to catch up with the groups just as they were leaving the auditorium and beginning the walk around the campus.  Perfect timing – a little thing that often feels huge.

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Another traffic battle through Philly’s rush hour brought us home to a water heater hose repair and more than an hour of separating preservable photos from the ones that had to be discarded.  The upside, of course, was a visit with old pictures and warm memories.

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Bottom line at the end of a whirlwind trip: it’s the little things that make for life’s big days!


Leaking & Looking

The day started with the hot water heater literally showering boxes of photos in the basement, with a profoundly poor-timed leak.  The four of us were on our way out the door for Aaron’s college visits but delayed the departure to spread dozens of pre-digital memories out on the family room floor.  Here’s hoping the pictures dry well enough to be worth keeping.

Rather than be bogged down with depression over drenched photographs, I spent the day taking dozens more of a child who grew much too fast and is a measly year away from moving on.   He’s still looking for where he’s going next, and we were along for the ride.  Actually, we were the ride.

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The Right Right

The little guy can only keep his balance for about two seconds at a time.  That makes a snap kick hard to execute.  He, like most young children, can’t point his toes, which makes a snap kick potentially painful for him.  He doesn’t level out his thighs when he gets into a horse stance, and he has trouble remembering right from left.  Yet, he is an excellent student.

His eyes stay glued to my hands when we’re doing double straight punches, and I can see him mouthing the numbers I’m calling out to him, as the repetition count grows.  He emphatically announces, “I remember that!” for every technique reviewed from Sunday’s class and quickly demonstrates the accuracy of his recall.  He takes it upon himself to review his knowledge of left from right, sporadically checking with me on which is which: “This one is the right, right?”  Above all, he does every exercise I ask him to do without complaint.  That’s a first for a five-year-old student.

I’m fairly certain that, though he seems to like me just fine, he’s not all that interested in kung fu.  He’s in my class because his father wants to foster some kind of athletic interest in him.  He works hard regardless because he wants to make dad proud.

I can’t teach him the same way I do the ones who want to be there.  I have to switch gears and tactics to keep from losing his attention and his smile.  It’s a challenge I’ve never encountered before.  I wasn’t permitted to care at the guan whether students were having a good time – or, rather, I wasn’t permitted to show that I cared.  But now that the rules are my own, I have to do my best to meet this challenge.  An excellent student deserves no less.