For weeks, my kiddo had been searching for a place to take karate lessons. I schlepped him to trial classes in pretty much every studio within a 15-mile radius. No joy.
“Too noisy. Find another one, Mom.”
“Too many kids.”
“Not enough kids my age.”
“Too drill sergeant-y.”
“Too crazy. No rules.”
Goldilocks had it easy. “Find another one, mom” was the rally cry. I wasn’t sure we were going to find any place he felt good about, and I really didn’t think there were any options left.
“But there aren’t other ones nearby, kiddo,” said me. “There has to be another one,” he insisted. He’s persistent like this. He had expectations that I wasn’t sure any class or teacher would be able to live up to. But I had to look. He just knew there was another studio out there.
There was. It was 45 minutes away.
So we trekked south. To another town. To start a free two-week trial that I was convinced wouldn’t last two days.
The second we walked in the door, I knew there was no way this would be a permanent situation. It was everything I knew my child hated: crowded, noisy, and chaotic. There wasn’t a clear surface in the room – every wall was either a floor to ceiling mirror or it was plastered with motivational posters, instructions, weapons, belts or commemorative plaques. Too many distractions. Too many people. It was too much.
I was mulling over whether or not to make a hasty U-turn when I heard our names over the din. “McKinneys?” The voice was bigger than the woman wielding it. A petite, smiling woman extended her hand, and my kiddo grasped it, and grinned at her. She nodded a greeting at me and led him to the gym floor. My doubts and I sat in the viewing area with the mish mash of parents, grandparents and siblings.
I watched them go through drill after drill in a corner of the room, ticking through the checklist, filling myself with dread.
The music is too loud, he won’t like it. How many mirrors can one room have? It’s too bright in here. The teacher has to yell instructions over the music – he hates yelling. Wait. Are they doing calisthenics? How is that karate? Do they really need the music so loud? He’s going to get a headache. I’m getting a headache. Oh, no. There are younger kids in here. And much older kids too. He won’t feel like he fits in. He’s going to hate this.
At the end of class, the young woman returned my child to me and we stood awkwardly in an aisle as streams of families flowed in and out of the room. After weeks of trying out different classes, I knew what was coming, and I steeled myself for the sales pitch.
Here it comes. She’ll tell me how much classes cost, and ask if we want to join. He’ll look at me and shrug, and I’ll tell her we’ll talk about it at home. When we get in the car, I’ll ask him and he’ll say ‘not this one.’ Then I’ll probably forget to call her back and she’ll call me every day for the next three weeks and … my stomach hurt just thinking about it.
But she didn’t speak to me. She didn’t even look at me. She kneeled, and spoke to her sweaty pupil.
“Mr. McKinney, you listened very well and followed instructions the first time. That’s really important in this class.”
He nodded, and stood up straighter.
“I liked that you said yes ma’am and no ma’am, too, without being reminded. That showed me that you’re respectful, which is also very important.” She smiled.
He smiled back.
“I think you would be a good student to have in class.”
He stood even a little taller, and one corner of his mouth turned up in a modest smile.
She continued. “I hope you’ll want to come back. Would you like to come back next week?”
I held my breath, expecting to hear the same answer I’d heard week after week.
But he didn’t hesitate. “Yes. Mom, can we?”
After I got over the initial shock, I felt foolish for letting my doubts and negativity blind me to what he had been looking for all along. I had been looking at my child through the wrong lens, thinking him picky and distractible rather than discerning. I suddenly recalled watching him each morning as he walked into elementary school – every day, he held the door open for teachers and classmates. And nearly every day, nobody said a word to him. He was looking for a place where he felt like his hard work would be noticed. He wanted to be seen and chosen (by someone other than his parents).
I will never forget that first trial class. His teacher noticed him, respected him, blessed him immensely, and made him feel cared about and important. He studied with them for another year and a half, until we moved away.
I want to leave behind the doubts and impatience that lead me to frustration. Instead, I want to be like his karate teacher. I want to choose to treat people with respect and kindness. I want to be like my persistent, positive kid, who knew in his heart if we kept trying we’d find a place he belonged.
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, blessings and curses.” – Deuteronomy 30:19