My son is 5. He’s been involved in activities since he was a wee one. We were singing and rolling balls back-and-forth to each other at Gymboree before he turned one. He started soccer at 3. Last year he played T-Ball and will again this year. JD has also been enrolled in karate since September.
Back in August he asked if he could have a “ninja boy birthday party”—so I threw him a party at a local karate studio. We’d been there before for birthdays and I knew JD enjoyed the art and craft of karate. After his bday he asked if could sign up and take classes, like his friends.
Uncle Bri took karate all his life and I knew this would instill discipline, courage and respect in him + it’s fun! This school mixes classic exercises and technique with games like beach ball dodge ball and running laps to pop music!
JD loves it—well loved it.
The past two classes he didn’t want to go. I made him get dressed—it was a fight. “I don’t like you, mom!” he said. “Well, I love you, kid!” I said. I dragged him in … he took class and it worked out.
This Saturday he cried. Real tears cried. “Please mommy, I don’t like it! I don’t wanna go.” He was really upset. The thing is, I didn’t know why. I never leave him at the hour class. I watch through the glass window. Fine, sometimes I see him struggle with a move or squirm to get his sparring gear on, but nothing extreme is happening in that class.
I got down on his level and wiped his tears. “Why don’t you want to go?” I said. “Tell mommy.”
Through tears, he sniffled, “I’m terrible! My other friends have a belt. I don’t. I don’t know all the moves and I’m never gonna be good enough. I wanna quit!”
OK, so this broke my heart.
“You don’t have a belt because Master *Bob needs to test you, honey,” I said. “All of your friends have level 1 belts because they have been going much longer than you. Remember when you started T-Ball and didn’t hit the ball right away? That’s because it takes practice,” I said. “Now stand up.”
One by one, I did the moves with JD. We did the special bow before you enter the gym space. We practiced bridge and nunchuck moves. We did push ups and held the stance. We did stretches.
“Mommy will practice with you everyday,” I said. “But we’re not quitters. Let me ask you a question. Do you like karate? Because if you really don’t like it, you can tell me and we can focus on baseball and art, which I KNOW you love.”
“I like it. I just want to be better,” he said.
As I helped him into his uniform I told him a story. “Buddy, there’s a lot of things in life you’re gonna have to do that you don’t want to do. There’s gonna be times when quitting seems easier—trust me, I know,” I said.
“When did you wanna quit,” he asked. I looked into his giant, brown owl eyes. They were curious and beautiful.
And I thought of the cold day I peed on that stick. And how I collapsed in my bed with the black duvet in that tiny NYC apartment with craigslist roomies. And how I inquired about my options. And how I had moments in those very early weeks where I thought, I can’t be a mom. I can’t be a mom right now. What am I doing. I’m not doing this. NO NO NO.
And how I didn’t quit.
And how my life has changed.
And how … but a gorgeous dream it has been.
“Mommy?” he said.
“Well, this one time I decided I didn’t want to write anymore because some people didn’t think my work was any good.”
“Like scribble scrabble art?” he said.
“Yes, exactly,” I said. “But, I decided I wasn’t going to quit because writing makes me happy and it’s something I can always rely on to make me feel less alone or scared or sad. Writing is like you, bud—my favorite thing in the world.”
When we got to karate, I spoke to one of the teenage helpers. I explained JD was feeling a little anxious about class. That kind kid stayed with my son the whole class and shadowed him.
I watched through the glass, waved and smiled. Then Master Bob made an announcement: “Wood breaking!” (This is chopping wood with your foot.) JD found me behind the glass. He looked worried. I gave him a thumbs up! He joined the line. One by one the kids ALL broke wood. My heart pounded in my chest for my little man.
One try. No.
Two tries. No.
Three tries. YES!!!! YES!!!! (This iPhone pic is small, but look at his face.) He was so proud and excited.
JD ran out to me after class. “I did it!” he said.
When we got home he colored his wood—and asked me to help. “I would be honored,” I said.
Last night GF Carlo hung it on his wall.
“That’s a symbol of how tough you are. That’s a symbol of never quitting, giving in and up and running away. We see our commitments through, kiddo.”
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