“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
When I was young, the expectation was that there’d be a singular answer: doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, policeman or fireman. Pick one. No Career Day speaker ever told us little tykes that we might have a first career that would pay off the student loans and build the down payment for the starter home, before transitioning to work that we find ourselves more suited for as we age and change – to say nothing of a possible third gig that supplements the social security in retirement years. That would have been too much information for little kiddies at Career Day. That scenario also may not have been as common in the 1970s and 80s as it is in this new millennium. So it’s no surprise we were conditioned to believe that one is supposed to do one something with his or her life not many. But I knew before I hit middle school that such would not be the case for me.
At five, I had a role in my school’s performance of The Little Prince. So in first grade, I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. Several years later, I sat down at the plastic typewriter my mother gave me and banged out what I thought was a tortured but eloquent memoir. It was five sentences long. Suddenly I wanted to be a writer. Somewhere along the line, struggling working class parents made clear in not-so-subtle ways that the two things I wanted to be might make paying the bills harder than it had to be. So I added a licensed profession to the list of future jobs.
Flash forward several decades, and here I sit, having enjoyed a successful and fulfilling first career in journalism, a short stint in the law that made me miserable, and several soul-smiling years (and counting) teaching Kung Fu, awaiting news of whether a potential investor in my food company will become an actual one. While weighing the possibility the investment will fall by the wayside, I’ve been forced to envision a return to career number one or two. The first thing that came to mind was: “I can’t switch again; that’ll make me look crazy, like a person who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up!” Gratefully, it took only a moment to toss that thought into the mental trash can.
My problem, for those who would call it one, has never been career confusion. It’s been sincerely wanting to do them all – and not caring that I was expected to pick just one.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Little did I know at age five, eight, 12 or 17 that the singular answer wasn’t a career at all. The answer was and is that I want to be master of a destiny as full as my interests, skills and time will allow, with a minimal fear of being broke and a maximum disregard for the scoffing of others.
On most days, for more than a decade now, I’ve been exactly what I wanted to be. That makes gratitude easy, even in tough times. It also makes me glad I never thought to stick with just one!
Leave a comment | tags: change, gratitude, happiness, life, personal musings, teaching, work | posted in aging, Uncategorized
“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.
1 Comment | tags: change, children, family, happiness, life, martial arts, motherhood, personal musings | posted in Family, Uncategorized
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.
Leave a comment | tags: children, grief, happiness, kung fu, life, martial arts, middle age, personal musings, students, teaching | posted in aging, Uncategorized
“Welcome to the neighborhood!” That’s been the phrase of the week for customers who don’t know that I’ve lived in the neighborhood for almost seven years; it’s just the business that’s new. I’m writing my first post in more than a week (the longest silence of my blogging life) during the first lull in the first Sunday that my business has been open.
Last Sunday was the final day of the second session of my kung fu class, and I just couldn’t manage to pull off working in both the gym and the store when all of my familial employees were off working a day job or visiting their father. But I couldn’t help but notice as I walked home from the gym that there was a lot more hustle and bustle on the street than I’d anticipated, especially since it was the middle of the football game in a town that loves its Ravens. I was compelled – largely by the need for sales that every new business has – to see if the same would hold true a week later. It most certainly has!
Sunday is apparently the day that everyone wants to ignore the diet and indulge in butter and sugar. I’m more than happy to oblige! Following a large, rush order for vegan cupcakes yesterday and a growing group of neighborhood residents becoming regulars, Stupid Delicious!, www.stupiddelicious.com for you Baltimore residents, is off to a solid pre-advertising start. (Quick – somebody knock on wood!) But to make this double-duty thing work on Sundays going forward, I’m going to need a paid employee a lot sooner than I’d anticipated. That’s a very nice problem to have!
On the kung fu front, the newest revelation about my deteriorating body is that I have a small tear in my rotator cuff. That explains the extreme pain and difficulty sleeping that plagues me off and on – now exacerbated by whipping up various batters and frostings. This could get very interesting right as my stellar corporate insurance goes bye-bye.
The challenges never stop, for sure, but that’s what keeps me on my toes. Right now, just for today, I’m having too much fun and feeling too much gratitude to complain. 🙂
7 Comments | tags: Baltimore, food, happiness, life, martial arts, teaching, work | posted in food, health
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.
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.
2 Comments | tags: change, children, family, happiness, learning, motherhood, parenting | posted in Family, Uncategorized
It felt like old times. Sifu was cracking jokes. The audience was standing room only and so was the head table. A dozen black sashes were on hand to evaluate those testing. Half of the promotion candidates must have been nervous enough to wet their pants when looking at a table full of teachers, all sizes, shapes, ages and ethnicities, decked out in red from neck to ankles, waiting to rate their performances. The other half was composed of three red sashes anxious to wear black themselves. Two of those were my family.
Ava had the best sparring match of her life, fearlessly battling a faster, more strategic opponent, but one much shorter and lighter than she is. She knocked him down twice with her roundhouse kicks, and she wasn’t even trying.
Then, it was Merle’s turn. Her opponent was almost a foot taller and almost 40 years younger, but neither of those facts seemed to matter. The “old lady” put the kid to shame.
The black sash demonstration – the real main event of a day geared toward trying to attract more students – was one of the most entertaining in months. Aaron gave a near flawless exhibition of 12 Kicks, and I performed White Eyebrow in public for the very first time. Nerves slowed my pace, but I made no errors. Both Aaron and I received words of approval from Sifu.
October testing day was the first time ever that all four members of the family performed at the guan on the same day. We all had a reason to be proud and happy. It felt like old times… only better.
1 Comment | tags: family, happiness, kung fu, lifestyle, martial arts, performance | posted in sports, Uncategorized
Starting a business, while slowly extricating myself from a full-time job that requires a three-hour round-trip commute and continuing to train in and teach a discipline that requires abundant energy, may prove to be the unreasonable endeavor of my middle age. It certainly leaves me with a fraction of my former blogging time. In short, I have to keep this short; so I’ll get straight to the point.
Just when I thought that the highlight of Sunday was teaching my most reluctant student to do a pretty decent long arm swing, I got the call…
The store is mine!!
May the battle of licensing bureaucracy begin…. Stay tuned. 🙂
1 Comment | tags: change, happiness, life, lifestyle, martial arts, middle age, teaching, work | posted in Uncategorized
I’ve gotten a total of nine hours sleep over the last two days – not counting the snippets of time spent inadvertently snoring or drooling on the commuter train. Surprisingly, I awoke the last two mornings feeling more refreshed than I have on the rare occasions that my nightly sleep reaches or exceeds seven hours. Anticipation is the reason. I think it may be life’s cosmic caffeine boost. There’s been no difference in my training regimen, eating habits, nightly routine. Hope is the only reason I’m rested without rest.
This storefront – five blocks down the street from my house, a block up the street from one of the city’s high foot traffic restaurant areas – may soon be mine. They’ve had my financials for more than twenty-four hours; they told me it would take no more than forty-eight to know whether my person and my vision are things they want to gamble on by granting a commercial lease.
I’m one giant step closer to adding baker-by-day to my life of Sijeh-by-night! It’s going to be a long weekend if I don’t hear anything today. But I suspect it’ll be the most exciting sleepless weekend of my life… however the crumbs may fall.
4 Comments | tags: change, happiness, humor, inspirational, martial arts, sleep, work | posted in food
I’m behind in my posting, which irks me almost as much as being late with homework. But it couldn’t be helped. Sometimes taking care of things is more important than writing about what you’re taking care of, and my days seem to be filled with that circumstance with greater frequency. How cool is that? I think, once the impulse to scold myself passes.
My food manager certification is in the mail, as I passed the exam with flying colors! So I’ve now begun working on the first real business plan of my life, the construction of which is redefining the term time-consuming as I know it. Rent or purchase? Mobile or stationary? Wholesale or retail? These are the questions for the baker side of my life. Then, there’s the Sijeh part. (Greater explanation of these “parts” discussed here.)
I ordered sashes this week to tie around my students and hopefully inspire greater investment. The key to the success of the kung fu side of my future lies in keeping the students I have, of course, and acquiring new beginners every session. Flier construction has already begun for enticing the next crop in November. The difference between the number who expressed interest and those who finally showed up was too large. I’ve got five weeks to shrink it. But, no pressure.
Meanwhile, it appears there’s a new form on my horizon. On Saturday, I was assigned a move with the staff that involves shooting it off the left arm from behind the back and catching it with the opposite hand. It’s a nifty little trick that requires moving the breakables out of the way and making sure the lower back muscles are sufficiently stretched. I thought Sifu was a making a change in one of the final moves of White Eyebrow until Siheng Allen (pictured below, instructing the Monday night class) said: “Oh, that’s for the spear.”
Spear?? There’s a spear in my future… along with a whole lot else! 🙂
Leave a comment | tags: change, happiness, humor, life, lifestyle, martial arts, teaching, work | posted in sports
I’ve never seen a single episode of the HBO program The Wire. What makes that strange is the fact that I live in the city where it’s set. I’ve lived in Baltimore for six years, now; so I’ve had plenty of time to rectify the anomaly. But the longer I live here the more I’m happy I’ve never seen a show that I’m told presents the worst aspects of the city, albeit in fictional form.
These were my thoughts early this afternoon walking five blocks down the street to my neighborhood Safeway. It’s been forever since I’ve been out of the office and home, with the time and opportunity to walk to the grocery store, and it was a beautiful day for it.
This is the view in the front of the place where I buy most of the family’s food.
The Wire’s settings are very real, however, and we go through a few of them on the way to the guan and back. So I fully understand the D.C. friends who asked incredulously why I was moving to Baltimore – almost all of whom asked, “Haven’t you seen The Wire?”
Nope. I’ll get around to it eventually. But much to the chagrin of my D.C. native son (my daughter considers herself from Baltimore, despite being born in D.C.), in a battle between the nation’s capital and Charm City, the latter has won me over… in everything but baseball. 🙂
Now, off to the first kung fu class of my second session at the gym.
3 Comments | tags: Baltimore, exercise, happiness, life, lifestyle, personal musings | posted in Uncategorized
Rows of snap kicks
Backfist-straight punch-snap kick in place
Rows of double straight punches
Rows of Backfist-straight punch-snap kick
Palm strikes in horse stance
Front hand block and finger strike
And so on….
I spent so much time Tuesday night working out and writing down my curriculum, by the week, that I have nothing left to write a pithy post about the day’s events or even a stream of consciousness. I’ll just leave it at this before I crash: I’m ridiculously excited to start implementing this night’s work on Friday evening. It turns the annoyance of dealing with the trials of the television world into a walk in the park. 🙂
2 Comments | tags: exercise, happiness, kung fu, lifestyle, martial arts, teaching, work | posted in sports
I’ve spent the night studying. I haven’t had to study for anything since the last set of exams some nine years ago. This is nothing like that.
Food, glorious food… and scary foodborne illnesses that I’m cramming to learn how to keep out of my baked goods.
Can it really be coincidental that I got my groove back on my White Eyebrow form tonight, in between study sessions?
Cupcakes and kung fu – a day closer to fruition! Back to the book…. 🙂
Leave a comment | tags: food, happiness, learning, life, lifestyle, martial arts, work | posted in Uncategorized