Morning karate class kicked my butt on Tuesday.
After a summer of on-again, off-again attendance, due to travel, heat, and general lethargy, returning to our small a.m. group of a few adults, another homeschooling boy, and my crew felt great. It’s a more intimate and somewhat more casual class, and I have treasured friends with whom to spar, grapple, and gab. I knew I’d be out of step after such scanty attendance, and I dreaded the remembering phase that inevitably follows even a week-long absence. I knew my older would pick up where we left off. His memory for the physical far exceeds mine. I knew my younger, Bryce, would scramble with me, searching his brain for the moves that came so easily so recently. So is our wiring.
Sure enough, somewhere between Basic Combination (series of three movements) 9 and 10, my brain ground to a halt, three combinations transforming into three different combinations in my mind. Bryce, always a bit closer to me during class than I like, was grinding gears much earlier than I. It was going to be a struggle today.
Then came forms. Forms (or katas, as they are called in Japanese forms) are longer sequences of twenty or more actions that can be continuously improved but never perfected. No danger of perfection here. I like forms. When I can empty my mind, they’re meditative. Done continuously (over 100 moves in sequence), they’re fine exercise. Good stuff, those forms. But today, there was a twist. “If you make a mistake,” our instructor told us, “drop down and do a push up. Then return to the form, catching up to where the group is. If you make another mistake, do two push ups then return to the group.”
Yikes. That’s not a bad exercise, since re-entering a sequence at a random spot takes more mastery than starting from the top and going straight through. It’s a logistical, neurological nightmare for Bryce, however. Staying with the group is hard enough for him, what with the visual distraction of other bodies doing moves while he’s trying to think and maintain his place. The looking around kills him every time. Add to that the penalty of push ups. Let’s just say that Bryce has odd-looking push ups. I spent years averting my gaze when he performed them (and we’re all supposed to be able to do 50, and not the on your knees kind). He’s a lean, stalk-like child now, all knees, elbows, and winging scapulae. Between the lax ligaments and some lingering hypotonia, even maintaining the starting position for push ups challenges him. I keep vowing to work with him on that, but it’s yet to happen. I didn’t dare glance his way as we prepared to start.
Begin. The rhythm of one of my favorite elements of karate begins. I don’t want to make a mistake because I don’t want to lose this flow. It’s been awhile, and I remind myself that mistakes are inevitable. Exhaling on each move, my mind and body return to the place where there is flow.
I don’t know when Bryce first dropped a beat, but it was either in the first or second of the five forms. He did his push up, then stage whispered to me, “I’m just so dizzy.”
We both leave the floor, him holding his head, eyes wide, panic written all over him. I’m irritated by the break in my flow, but mostly manage to swallow that and usher him to a chair. I know he’s physically fine, aside from the mad adrenaline rush that likely began when he heard the directions for the activity. He sits. I bow back onto the floor, breathe, and try to return to the flow.
But I can’t. My mind is on Bryce, wondering when the kid will ever catch a break. Wondering when I will. The neglected practice of forms and push ups looms large in my mind, and the noise in my head forces out the nuances of the moves, the parts that make it a step better and are still only in my head and not yet in my muscle. My instructor — a kind, wise man of few words — coaches me on tightening my moves. My hands are dropping to my sides or flailing out. My concentration is shot. I’m excused for a drink of water. He knows my head has long left the floor. Upon returning, I approached our instructor for a postmortem. He noted that he’d seen Bryce freeze as soon as the instructions were given. I scrambled for some words to explain why it the exercise freaked him, stammering something about his wiring just not making those quick switches possible, at least not now. This kind, wise man of few words nodded, and we returned to work.
Eventually, Bryce returned to the floor, ready to try again. We’d moved on to other forms, and he was willing to start again. As the lesson proceeded, I found my groove, kinda, and Bryce found his, kinda. That was kinda good.
Still, I left the class with a knot in my stomach. Some of the knot was guilt. We should have attended more classes, despite our travels and busyness. I should have practiced with the boys at home. I should have worked on his push ups as I’d planned months earlier, returning him to the on-the-knees style and gradually building up his strength and endurance. I should have returned him to physical therapy for more core work. The list quickly became long, overwhelming, and depressing.
The hardest question in my mind was how and when to advocate for my son. I regularly rejoice that as a homeschooling parent I’m saved from the IEP experience. I don’t quite know what to ask for at karate. Certainly to test to the next level (black belt), he should be held to the same requirements as anyone else. No question there. But in class are there supports that would make a difference, or should he just buck up? It’s hard to explain the special needs of a kid that is so bright, so articulate, and so, well, typical looking (aside from his resemblance to a stick insect, a condition both of my children had at age 10 and seems to be outgrown). Generally, when needed, I offer the data pertinent to the situation, if any, and hope for a knowing nod.
Today, we returned to our morning karate class. While the items to practice were the same, the method was different, and my younger came out feeling strong and capable, not because of false praise or lowered expectations but simply because he was far more on top of his game. Hmm. Perhaps on the spot advocating with bits of information that are specific to the task at hand is the right approach. Perhaps he just had an “on” day in class. Having two days stew over the issue in my mind, I’d come up with little but dropped most of my “shoulds” from Tuesday. (Except the push ups. We really need to make time for those each day.) I can’t go back, only forward, and, guilt and remorse don’t get me anywhere. As for me? I was a bit better, too. There’s still plenty of room for improvement.
For those of you who need to advocate for your child outside of the school system, how do you do it? Do you do it at all?