If it’s Wednesday, it means my boys are complaining. They don’t want to go to Karate. Actually, it’s not really Karate. The class they go to is a martial arts blend, but when they started taking lessons five years ago, somehow saying, “Put on your shoes, it’s time to go to your Degerberg Academy Martial Arts Blend,” seemed a little much.
The boys are getting ready for their green belts and about a month ago their sensei asked me, “Are you ready for the war?”
“The war that’s going to break out when one of them gets promoted and the other one doesn’t.”
My son Ethan practices Karate at home. My son Kyle, does not. It’s not like Ethan is practicing every day, but he does, every once in a while, do a jab-cross or a crescent kick—hopefully not too close to Grandma’s torchiere lamp.
I told Kyle what the sensei said and naturally he got upset. I still don’t know if I did the right thing. As twins, there’s this subliminal level of competition and I certainly don’t want to encourage it, but I was trying to prevent a big disappointment. And, well, okay, I didn’t really want to drive them to two different classes. (Green belts mean advancement from Kids II to Kids III.)
What I did want is to motivate Kyle to practice. The sensei is strict. Sometimes, he yells. I don’t mind this too much; it’s more real world. A departure from all the womanly caring-nurturing they’re surrounded with on a daily basis. And the sensei doesn’t like tears, which sometimes come when they don’t get an expected or hoped for promotion.
They have come far in their lessons, but the classes are getting harder now. Hence the noise about quitting. So, I tell them they can quit after they get their green belts. I tell them I’m not going to let them quit just because it got hard and the going got tough. As soon as they’re wearing their green belts, I say, they can make a decision to quit or continue.
Evil mommy. I know as soon as they’ve accomplished this, they’ll choose to continue. Especially because Kids III means sticks. I see the Kali sticks behind the counter at the front desk of the Degerberg Academy and I shudder. I think— dental bills. This was the very reason we didn’t particularly encourage hockey.
But if they do choose to quit, I want them to go out on top, not to leave in discouragement. It’s a lesson my parents taught me. Once you quit something, it just gets easier and easier to quit the next thing as soon as it gets hard. As much as I cursed my clarinet growing up, I’m grateful for it now. It taught me the rewards of tenacity. Hard work and perseverance don’t scare me. It was such a potent lesson: One I want to share with my children. I’m hoping martial arts will be the method. Although, the idea of growing my own protection, two black belts to walk the city streets with me, has crossed my mind.
So, I corner Kyle and we practice. He works on crescent kicks and I notice he can’t raise his leg very high. Hmmm. Their doctor had mentioned both of them needed to stretch more because their muscles were too tight. Maybe, I tell him, if we stretch every day (I’m a Yoga Mom too, by the way), he’ll get his kicks higher. Maybe he’s just tighter than Ethan—the same way Daddy’s less flexible than Mommy—Uh you know, with his muscles.
This works. Kyle stretches and practices and over the course of the month improves. Vastly.
As we drive to class on the day of promotions, I try to prep them for whatever will happen.
I don’t know if you’ll get your green belts today, that’s up to the sensei. Try to stay relaxed and focused. If you make a mistake, just shake it off and keep going. Don’t let it ruin the rest of the test. You guys have been working really hard, so just be open. If you don’t get it today, you can try again next month. Oh, and if you feel like crying, do you remember what you should do?
Look up at the ceiling—and think of something funny.
Now we start thinking of jokes. It relieves the tension.
In class, they shine. I watch with my hand over my heart. There are a few mistakes. I don’t know what the outcome will be. We line up, me standing behind them, before the ceremony starts. I whisper, “I don’t know what’s going to happen here today, but you guys rocked out there.” They nod. They know. They’re nervous.
The award ceremony is long. Other kids step forward for an intermediary stripe. Then the moment of truth. The sensei calls them forward for their belts. They beam. I sigh.
“I can really call you my Doublemint twins now,” he says, “since you’ll be wearing green.”
I see their faces in the mirror. Pure joy.
I am so proud.
I look up at the ceiling—and try to think of something funny.