Tag Archives: learning

Comedy of Errors

The toilet seat arrived today.  It took two weeks, two different companies and a mis-delivery to a city halfway across the state, but it came.  Now, the fun of putting the damned thing on to satisfy the State of Maryland, which requires that toilet seats in a food establishments be “open.”  The closed circle currently on the commode in the shop won’t do.  Both the floor and the sink in the backroom were objectionable, as was the positioning of the soap and paper towel dispenser.  Nothing, it seems, is as obsessive compulsive as health department regulations – which, perhaps, is as it should be.

20141118_164847

Then, there’s the fire department. Three minutes in and out for three figures out of my bank account.  Now, if I were cooking on the premises, it would certainly have been more extensive; there would have been more to check.  Still, the brevity coupled with the expense left me with a touch of whiplash.

Then, there was the misunderstanding with the carpenter.  I know I said four feet for the shelf.  I have no idea what he heard, but I was handed something that I could sit on a desk, not on the floor.

Then, there was the lost credit card machine that sat in a Fed Ex warehouse fifteen miles away from my house without any notification that someone tried to deliver it.  The door tag must have blown away in the wind, one might think. But no; the recent college graduate who opened my merchant account sent it to the wrong address.  With the most major delivery of all still to come (the long refrigerator with the worktop), I’ll be holding my breath all day tomorrow waiting for the truck to actually pull up to the storefront door – on the actual day it’s scheduled to, for a change.

It’s been a comedy of errors already and the doors haven’t opened yet. The good news: very few of those errors have been mine… and I’ve been able to laugh through most of them.

God willing, the opening is less than two weeks away.  Stay tuned!

Advertisements

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.

IMG_20140730_174409

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.


Fever and Frenzy

It’s baseball fever in Baltimore, but for me, it’s bakery fever.  And as the temperature rises , so does the level of craziness in my days.  The last forty-eight hours have looked something like this:

-Emails with publicists, authors, journalists and politicos (the day job) interspersed with emails and calls with the staff of the property manager who hasn’t spoken to me directly since calling to tell me the lease is mine; requesting and receiving an emailed confirmation of being approved for the lease.

-Learning from the city’s chief health inspector the brands of ovens that eliminate the need to change the ventilation system in the building; learning more about plumbing building codes than I ever wanted to know; finding out that even my frequently generous plumber has limits to his generosity when tearing out a floor is likely (the three compartment sink might cost more than the specialized oven).

-Sending out the promotional announcements for the next live show, sorting by copyright my guest author’s books and cracking the cover on the first.

-Searching for a place to get passport photos taken for my food manager’s license and having it take much too long, when I needed to keep my lunch hour to 30 minutes.  Having a little birdie whisper in my ear “don’t mail that” right before I walked into a training session for the company’s new edit software and later being glad that it did; calling during training break to find out that the new procedure, just days old, is to deliver the application in person and have the pictures taken onsite.

-After two hours of software training, making a mad dash to the train to get picked up by my family for kung fu class.

-Two hours of sparring and long staff work later, taking the whole family with me on a brief, unimpressive tour of a commercial kitchen I can rent, if sink issues delay opening the store.

-After shower and food, shopping online for the best equipment prices and comparison shopping on business insurance policies; being forced by my better half to shut it down and grab some sleep as the clock sped past 1:30.

-Waking 20 minutes later than normal, needing more sleep and anxious to get into the future store again.  Meeting up with property manager’s assistant to get measurements in the shop and make notes; taking my food manager’s application downtown on the way to the morning train, only to be told it needed to be accompanied by another larger application – and a larger check.

Another dash to another train.  Another day of emails and calls on the current life and the future one.  Another afternoon of training on software I won’t be using for long.  Another day of acting like it was just another day… and loving that it wasn’t.


Inspired… but Tired

It’s after 1 a.m. on the East coast, and I’ve just watched the Royals battle back to win the wild card game.  It’s hard not to be inspired.

In the wee hours of this first day of October, however, I realize, as I tend to my throbbing right shoulder, that I’ve now been working on this form for the same amount of time as a full-term pregnancy – and I still haven’t been taught the final moves.  I’m ready to have this baby already!

Not yet.  Not yet….

Sleep would be good, now.


The Probability of Blows

Martial artists know techniques for injuring quickly and with minimal effort.  That fact floats into my head whenever members of an increasingly inconsiderate public seem to enjoy acting uncivilized – but not for the reason one would think.

An instance of uncivilized behavior has stayed with me for a few days now.  A man was flying through the parking garage at the gym, ignoring stop signs.  I had to hit the brakes to keep him from plowing into the passenger side of my car – which, at the time, was occupied by my son.  I looked at the driver with a what-is-the-matter-with-you expression and motioned for him to continue on.  He stared at me a second, then laughed before peeling away.

“I wanna rip his face…” my son said angrily.  “Never mind,” he quickly added with a heavy sigh.  “But did you see that?? He was laughing!”

I told him I saw it but thought it best not to think about it.  Thinking about it would make me want to go chase the guy out of the garage.

A chase would be stupid and juvenile, of course.  A chase would automatically escalate the confrontation.  And once words were exchanged – particularly with a son who already wanted to “rip his face” – the probability of blows would be disturbingly high.

I’ve met many who, upon learning that I practice and teach kung fu, raise their eyebrows with what looks like disapproval, though usually cloaked in politeness.  One acquaintance actually made comments about promoting violence.  But the truth is precisely the opposite.  Most people don’t know that an evaluation of kung fu skills includes assessing one’s level of control.

Some of the most anti-confrontational people I’ve ever known wear a black belt or sash during their off hours.  The power to injure quickly and with minimal effort is sobering.  It frequently creates people who would rather just say “never mind.”


Automatic Pilot

They wanted to know how fast the form is supposed to go.  So I showed them.  By the time I reached move four of the sixteen step sequence, I knew I was sacrificing precision for speed, and I was glad that I realized it.

It made me wonder: in any given day, how many things do I do on automatic pilot?  How many tasks could use more precision – deserve it, in fact – but I speed through them instead, out of habit?

I’ve known the white sash form for six years.  I’ve done it thousands of times as a student and a hundred or so times as a teacher.  Though it’s the simplest form in most respects, it’s also among the most painful for me because of the number of horse stances that must be executed with battered knees and the number of stance transitions that occur without benefit of standing up.  So it came as no surprise to me when I recorded the form and saw that my stances were too high and a few transitions were too muddled.

So, tucked into the ritual repetitions of White Eyebrow, with finishing touches that thankfully look more finished by the week, I went back to basics and refined the first form, the one from which all others flow.  Now, my star students, the only two who consistently show up on a Friday night, won’t make the mistake of losing precision as they acquire speed.

Bad habits are inevitable.  I’d just rather not teach them, if I can help it.


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.

IMG_20140914_130714

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…. 🙂


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.

 


Cramming

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.

IMG_20140903_232042

IMG_20140903_230707

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…. 🙂


Predictable and Purged

Two people dear to me received bad news this week.  The issue for one was professional; for the other, medical.

Bad news produces a predictable response for me.  I feel angry and know that emotion will last a while.  I feel self-pity and immediately try to will that response away as quickly as possible, because it simply produces more anger.  (Self-pity makes me feel weak; the Marine father is responsible for that.)

I do my best to get a prayer out as quickly as I can, even if it’s one of complaint.  It serves to remind me that most things are beyond my control and that they always will be.

Depending on the news, I probably shed some tears or at least feel the sting of salt from the ones that don’t fall.  Then, I make a call or send a text to Merle, because being loved makes all things bad better.

Finally, I do some kung fu: a volley of triple straight punches into the elevator air, as if the bad news has taken physical form that I can strike.  A couple of sidekicks against the wall of the handicapped bathroom stall – gently, so as not to damage a knee or be heard by others.  The release is cathartic and just enough to get me to the next class, where I can thoroughly purge it all out and take the next right step to the next best thing.

Neither of my friends do kung fu, but they have their equivalents.  We all do, I believe, even if not recognized as such.  Whatever returns one to center, provides assurance that all will be right at some point, even if “right” looks different than initially imagined, that’s the best bet for getting to the other side of bad news.


Ninety and Ninety

Ninety minutes of learning in the guan today.  Ninety minutes of teaching at the gym.  My most faithful student came early and stayed late for the final class of the session, and I hobbled together an hour of self-training in the time before and after she left.  By the time I washed off the day’s training and teaching in the shower, I’d been in one set of kung fu clothes or another for more than eight hours and felt like I’d worked every muscle I have, whether I wanted to or not.

It was a successful, exhausting day of martial arts mania.  And I liked it.  A lot.

IMG_20140823_161039

Here’s hoping the next session brings many more like it… along with new and better ways to  nurse my knees when the days are done! 🙂


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!