In the fall of 2000, right around the time then-Governor Bush’s drinking history became the October surprise of the presidential campaign, my three-year-old boy was earning the nickname “the littlest techie.” I was one of the senior producers for an entertainment company that was starting a news division, and shortly after the job began it came with the unexpected twist of requiring that I commute back and forth from DC to NYC for several months. They let me bring my son to New York and into the studio with me for part of that time, after I tore into an underling over a minor mistake and apologized with the tag line, “I miss my son!” That was the first business trip of motherhood for me.
While it was a nightmare in many ways, it also enabled me to live well in Manhattan – a place I’d always wanted to live, having grown up right over the state line in Connecticut – on someone else’s dime. It’s certainly been true since then that all work travel comes with similar fringe benefits. Still, as time moves on and the children need me less, these trips remain hard to make – and I couldn’t be more grateful for the difficulty.
For nine years now, the four of us have engaged in martial arts training as a unit. There’s never been a time when just the children attended or just the parents. One of the four has taken leave to either physically repair or mentally regroup, but we have always returned to our place in the family ritual.
Kung fu is at the center of our life routine. It is the thing all four of us plan around. It is the reason we’ve spent an enormous amount of time together, been present to watch each other grow and change, hurt and celebrate. There might have been another activity to bind us, but I can’t imagine what it would have been. I share love of baseball and football with my daughter, love of fine dining with my son, love of all three with my partner. But we couldn’t afford to do any of those things outside the home three to four times a week, and at least one family member would probably want to sit out. Martial arts was the activity we wanted to do that we could do, and it’s helped maintain an amazing relationship that I wouldn’t exchange for anything.
Tomorrow I leave on a business trip that includes a free evening in Beverly Hills to do as I please, and I’d rather stay home with my family. I’m sure that’s crazy to some. It feels awfully lucky to me.
A meeting is set for next week to finalize plans for the children’s kung fu class at the gym. My excitement grows as the days pass. But joy is a bit muted today on this Good Friday, because I miss my mother.
Mom was raised a Fundamentalist Baptist, but by the time she died, she’d probably attended a service of every Christian denomination in North America. Though she wasn’t loyal to the Fundamentalists (I can’t help but be a bit grateful for that), she was a church-going woman who consciously strove to be a good Christian until the day they wheeled her into the hospice center for the final day of her life. So, from as far back as I can remember, Easter was a big deal in our household. And though I’m not a church-going woman, it’s still a big deal to me today.
Ironically, the part of the holiday that makes me wistful for my mother’s presence is the pagan ritual. Easter egg hunts in her yard are some of the fondest memories I have of the extended family. And her final Easter, three months before her death, was the last time my children saw her still looking like herself, still acting like Nana.
I wish I could personally thank her for the many wonderful Easter weekends of my life – before and after my children came along. I did so while she was living, but not nearly enough.
The first time I saw him spar competitively, I kept stepping to the edge of the ring and leaning forward, as if to pounce. Each time the glove made contact with his face forcefully enough to snap his head backward, the mother bear in me wanted to wrap his opponent up in a headlock and make him cry uncle… or just cry. My son would not have appreciated that.
“Your mama bear can be scary sometimes, even when it’s on my side.” He gently told me that as a ten-year-old, when he wanted to handle problems he was having with boys in a new school, and I wanted to take the matter into my own hands. I’ve been sure ever since to ask if he wants my involvement in an issue. The answer has always been no.
I don’t think I’ll ever shake the impulse to physically protect my children, though they are now about the same height and weight that I am and more – and have spent quite a few years sparring. I controlled the protection impulse the day of the inter-school sparring event some four years ago, but the desire to jump my son’s opponent was apparent enough to get me teased about it later.
I will face the biggest hands-off-mama-bear test of my life in a little more than a week’s time when my buck-sixty-pound son climbs into a ring with total strangers who, like him, are trying to win a medal for their sparring ability. I’ve watched many a tournament fight. They are intense, testosterone-driven battles that frequently injure and produce blood. My boy is super fast on a good day, with a wicked, flicking roundhouse kick that can take out a kidney. But he also has a propensity to drop his hands and leave the ring with blood on his face. And there’s a brain behind that face, one that I don’t want sloshing around in his head, making him punchy somewhere down the line in his life. I want him to obtain the outside validation that we all seek for skills that only matter most when publicly displayed, but I want him to live a life that’s long and healthy far more.
This is the last year that I’ll have anything to say about it, anyway. Come his eighteenth birthday, he can sign himself up for any competition he chooses. So perhaps the fact that I’m letting him find out now, while I have a say, how he measures up in full-contact competition means that the mama bear in me has already passed her greatest test.
The big toe on my left foot was pointing straight up in the air, perpendicular to its four brothers and nothing I did would make it relax. It was New Year’s Eve, and I was in a hotel room in one of my favorite eastern cities, waiting for the best choice I ever made to return from a trip to the lobby. In pain and a bit fearful, I hobbled over to the cell phone to call for help.
“Hey, honey. I’m in the middle of sending an email; give me five- ”
“I need you. My toe is stuck, and I don’t know what to- ”
“I’m on my way.”
I didn’t even have to finish the sentence, and she was on her way. It’s been that way since my screams for her from the living room during an empty stance calf cramp, while practicing for black sash testing. Or before that, when she sat in a darkened hospital room watching me sleep after the first meniscus operation. I had a problem coming out of general anesthesia, so I had to be kept overnight. She’s come running through every moment of drama, physical and mental without ever saying she’s had enough.
“I don’t know what happened,” I said, as the licensed massage therapist went to work on my leg and foot.
“You didn’t do any kung fu today; that’s what happened,” she answered with a smile.
New Year’s Eve, 2013, the 10th anniversary of my second marriage…spent in the caring and capable hands, as always, of the best choice I ever made.