Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sensei Says

When I took Primo to his five year check-up (see: Pee in a Cup) the doc asked him what he likes to do.

“Draw,” he said.

“OK, but what about something active?” the doc asked.

Primo looked at me. I looked at the doc.

“He runs around,” I replied, “you know -- plays.”

“He’s got to do something,” he advised, “swimming, soccer, something physical. To get oxygen to his brain.”

This seemed slightly over-dramatic, somewhat of a scare tactic. Your kid’s brain is gasping for breath. Sign him up for Little League! But I love my doc, I trust my doc, and, in truth, I had been feeling guilty about the child’s lack of extra curricular interests.

“Oh,” I remembered, “karate! I’m going to sign him up!”

“Karate,” said the doc, “Great.”

In fact, I’ve been planning for a long time to get Primo enrolled in a martial art. First off, it’s winter and there was absolutely nothing to do after school every day except go home and watch TV, which certainly doesn’t oxygenate the brain. Second, I thought it might build his confidence and help him feel more empowered in the face of a world which the kid reasonably enough finds pretty frightening. Third, there’s a bully at his school and I figured karate would be good bully-proofing insurance. Because if there’s a bully in Kindergarten, well then, I can’t imagine what’s waiting in the fifth grade.

So I found a karate school not far from our place which is running a holiday special where you pay one price and the whole family can take classes as much as they want for a month. They offer a class right after school for 3 and 4 year-olds and one directly after that for 5 and 6 year-olds, so I figured I could take BOTH Sec and Primo, back to back. Perfect!

Primo was not happy to hear of these plans because he has an innate resistance to new activities, but when I told him it would make him like a ninja and empower him against the bully, he got interested. I explained to the kids that Seconda would do her class first while Primo and I watched from a viewing/ waiting area on the side of the room. Then they’d switch.

So Sec took off her shoes and got ready to rumble. Unfortunately, her enthusiasm waned when the class actually started and she found out she had to go it alone, without me or Primo next to her. I coaxed her and bribed her and negotiated with her but she was just too freaked out, and so I conceded to let her hang out with me and Primo until it was his turn to take class with the 5 and 6 year-olds. The which, incidentally, was being taught by a visiting Sensei. Now, I’m no karate expert but it did appear that having the Sansei visit from New Jersey was something like an honor. I got that because the other Sensei said, “Let’s all be at our best and show Sensei Mark what we are capable of!”

At that point, Seconda was ready. More than ready, in fact. Literally unstoppable. I tried to restrain her from running onto the mat area after her brother but she slipped through my grasp and bolted onto the floor and stood next to Primo, who was absolutely delighted to have her by his side. Seriously. His eyes lit up when he saw her and his whole body instantly relaxed as he took her hand. Sibling solidarity!

I, meanwhile, was having visible palpitations about how my toddler had broken the rules of the dojo, under the watch of a New Jersey Sensei of all things! I stood to go retrieve her but a mom next to me put her hand on my arm and said, “Its OK. Just leave her.”

So I watched as that pint-sized pipsqueak yelled “YES SENSEI!” and did jumping jacks, and push-ups right along side her brother. She was pretty impressive – a regular Seconda-san, for the first five minutes.

Now I don’t know about other karate classes but this one is like a Sesame Street version of boot camp. By which I mean, the Senseis are super nice, very approachable, and they even try to be funny sometimes, but they are definitely putting the kids through their paces. They are definitely in charge. There is no back and forth, or asking the student for input of suggestions. Also, it is very loud. And it sounds like this







So in the middle of the “Kay-Yah”s and feet thumping, I heard a squeaky little voice say something undecipherable. The New Jersey Visiting Sensei stopped shouting. Instead he replied:

“What? Can we play a game?”

The squeaky voice said something else.

“Can we play Snow White?”

The kids were just standing there, in dragon pose, waiting for further instruction while the Sensei leaned over to hear Seconda-san invite him on a trip to Fairytale Village.

“I don’t know. Maybe at the end of class,” he replied. And then, “TEN PUSH-UPS! LET’S GO!”

I was, in a word, mortified.

I wondered when exactly might be the right moment to extract my wunderkind from this class. And then I heard a yell:


Now, asking the Sensei to play Snow White was bad but urinating on his feet was positively unforgivable. So I jumped up and beckoned Seconda over, ushering her speedily to the restroom. When she was done, she was raring to get back into the class. This time, though, I held firm. Which led to 15 full minutes of artery-popping screams, and since the place is a storefront, there was no place to go but outside which I knew I’d be tortured for later by Primo who I’d promised to watch.

It was the kind of crying where other parents stare at you and you know it’s bad because these are people who have kids but they still haven’t ever heard anything like what is coming out of your hellion’s mouth. And people actually started feeling SORRY for her.

Don’t you just love that? When your child is torturing you and you’re trying to be responsible and stop them from being naughty and then you get the dirty looks like, “what are you doing to that poor angel to make her cry like that?”

One mom said, “Oh, she’s crying so hard, her toes are red!”

Like I didn’t notice. I sustained HEARING LOSS after that meltdown. Not to mention took at least a year off my life. But finally, Primo’s class ended and he even earned a white belt signed by the visiting Sensei for exemplary performance.

When Sec saw that belt she went even crazier with covetousness, until the Sensei actually came over and handed her one of her own.

“I am NEVER bringing you back here,” I hissed as I wrapped the belt around her waist.

If you want to judge how firmly I stand by my word, consider the fact that the story I just told you is not even the worst of what transpired at Karate class. That story comes later, when I brought Seconda-san BACK to Karate school this past week.

And for that, dear readers, you will have to wait.