I watched Plum break a board yesterday. I listened to his instructor every week tell this rag tag group of boys that one day they would have the chance to do so. I watched these squirmy little boys file in after a long week of classes, bodies aching for freedom and instead being called to line up, listen, obey for just one more hour. They struggled, they wiggled, they popped each other with an errant elbow and wandered off to watching parents or sneak some Friday popcorn from their backpacks. Still they mostly managed the moves, they found ways to align their little bodies with that of the instructor and they staved off their hunger for the extra hour each week. Promotion ceremony had arrived and the boards were visible, I was riddled with doubt.
Most of these children barely weigh 50lbs. Reading skills are all over the place, making the book work required a challenge for many. Most never had a pen or pencil, it became habit for them to beeline to me and the baggie I kept in my purse of extras just for this purpose. They are babies. I wanted to line them up at the tables, feed them apples and peanut butter crackers and let them run the gym afterwards. The instructor asked them to be respectful and responsible and to listen. When a boy would show her an ouchie hand, she could be heard asking if he needed an ambulance, okay no, then join your friends please. I wanted to give him a band-aid, also from my purse. It struck me that I saw these children as who they used to be, little tiny boys. She saw their future. She saw the need for disciplined choices in the face of discomfort. I am really great at being a grandma, I would be a horrible DoJo.
Someone asked Mama in an almost mocking manner what she would do if Plum turned into an addict, would it all really be so easy for her? This conversation came on the heels of her encouraging setting safe boundaries, turning off the deep desire to enable, owning that addiction is a family disease. The remark broke her heart, hit every worry that has plagued her from the moment of conception. As we followed her hurt but also her choices, I reminded her that she is already doing the hard stuff. She is practicing now, just like those little boys. The great big horrible daunting choice of what to do when your child shows you that he has an addiction that is out of his control, that he is engaging in illegal behavior, that he is skipping school and is broken with mental illness, that hard choice doesn’t just appear after years and years of easy street. Like those squirmy hungry boys who had to choose to line up and listen when they really didn’t want to, she is making hard choices every day. She is practicing. She is breast feeding her daughter, through mastitis and c-section recovery when it would have been easier to switch to formula and get more sleep. This is not a bash on those who have made that choice, merely casting a light into Mama’s life. She has practiced telling Plum yes he does actually have to stay after school again today, no he cannot leave early. She is practicing by gaining control of her home and creating structure for her entire family. This often means telling everyone no it is not movie time, we are cleaning up. With each success, she is gaining the confidence to move to the next level, she is self-promoting for the next board to break.
God forbid she is ever faced with such horrible choices. I hate that any of us are. I hate that she was mocked in such a hurtful way. The reality of parenting an addicted child is that you no longer get to give snacks when they are hungry, bring extra pencils because they forgot. They must find their own ability to succeed and not be undermined by the parent’s need to nurture. They must have the consequences of not getting their work done and then the reward of doing it themselves. The addict child has to lose the shelter of a loving parent early, the parent has to let go faster or will be forced to let go forever. My soul cannot even consider the thought of my Plum under these circumstances yet my mind knows his genetics put him at risk. So off to class he goes, especially when he doesn’t want to. He always has his own pencil. He is just a baby but the world sees him differently. Thank God for an instructor who sees a child who could kick a board with confidence and break it.
The boys anxiously lined up, watched as the first child was called to meet the instructor by the stack of boards. He clumsily got into his stance, told the board with little assurance that he would break it with his front kick. Then tried over and over. The board didn’t break. I knew this whole event was a mistake. I wanted to call it quits. I looked about the room for this child’s parents, where were they? Why weren’t they saying, no, maybe he isn’t ready? Still it carried on, the instructor encouraging, giving pointers, inspiring. She reminded him of the correct stance, got him fired up. When his kick landed on the board with enough force to split it in two, the room erupted in joy. A collective celebration for this child who then got his stripe of confidence across his belt. Many children were able to land one blow and split the wood, some needed more chances. Plum did it in two. Each boy was on his own journey of self-discovery, conquering more than the board. Their desire to be stronger, to be little ninjas, to be bigger and tougher outweighed their fear and doubt, overcame their hunger and their wiggles.
I watched as these little boys were promoted after they practiced for weeks through hard choices to show that their will could be channeled into their goals. They could do it if they wanted it badly enough. The same goes for parenting, all the day-to-day rough decisions prepare us to set aside our needs and focus on the goal. I realized I am just too tired, too spent doing such hard work. My soul aches for those who have to make these daily hard choices. My desire is to make cookies for all the children and see that they have pencils. God knows we always need grandmas, but we most assuredly need more DoJos. My heart is over-flowing with gratitude for this young woman who inspired a room of ruffians to be their best selves. They all broke the board, she didn’t quit until they did. No one walked away until they achieved the goal. The split some wood with a kick, I feel sure they will all remember that moment, the exact moment when each boy realized he could achieve greatness.
(It should be noted that this class also held ONE LITTLE GIRL, for clarity sake I did not write about her. She deserves a story all her own. She inspired me. Her book work was done before anyone else, she sat up straighter, she listened better, she knew the moves quicker and she won almost every game. She blew the boys away. She broke the board in one kick. She probably weighs 40lbs. She will be the star of another story, many stories I am sure. Also, she always had her own pencil and never got up for popcorn.)