Updated: Jan 9, 2020
On Monday, I took T to his karate class and brought along my one-year-old, D. This is not something I would normally do. In fact, having both kids out in public by myself strikes terror into my heart. That afternoon before leaving the house, I reminded myself of my one and only job, and a constant refrain I use with T to help with behavioral challenges - My job is to keep you safe and healthy. That's it. So we went.
About ten minutes into the class, I watched another parent pull his daughter off the mat, and quietly reprimand her: stand on the line, focus on Master Dan, you need to be disciplined, do you hear me? She listened, nodded, and ran back out onto the mat to move gracefully through the karate kicks. What I had observed of her up to that moment was in fact quite disciplined. Her hair was brushed and her white belt was tied nicely around her waist. She had moved only at the prescribed moments. She had looked towards the teacher the entire time. She hadn't bumped the other kids on accident. She had simply stepped out of the line for a moment, as 3-6-year-olds do.
Meanwhile, upon entering the studio, my son sprinted onto the mat with two pairs of seamless socks on each foot, while the rest of the kids were barefoot. He ran to the back of the studio and started climbing the punching dummies and literally bouncing off walls. We took deep breaths together to prepare his body for class. To get to the green zone, where he could stay calm enough. Once the class started, every minute or so T would zone out, or look towards me, then realize he was supposed to be doing a kick or a punch. He was, hands down, the most uncoordinated kid in the class and barely able to follow the prescribed movements. He looked half martial arts newbie, half drunken dancer at a rave.
Yet he was smiling and proud of himself. He was participating in the class and not hurting himself or anyone else. And in my view, this was a roaring success.
And so 20 minutes into the class, when T started waving at me and mouthing frantically, “I have to go potty,” I wasn't annoyed. I mouthed back, “ask your teacher,” and pointed, smiling. He refused, and continued to squirm. I bowed quickly as I walked onto the mat, and with D on my hip, wove through the class and grabbed T to escort him into the bathroom in the back of the studio. He quickly stripped and peed excitedly, not wanting to miss anything, leaving droplets on the front of his karate whites. So I folded them over a few times at the waist to obscure this faux pas from public vision and out he went. Two minutes later, he was over in the parents area, tearing at his four layers of shirts because he was too hot. I awkwardly helped him pull some clothing off his body with the baby still on my hip. And he ran, determined, back onto the mat.
And I can't help but laugh and wonder what that "discipline" dad next to me was thinking. I imagine that we appeared to be a family operating by the skin of our teeth, disheveled and disorganized, lacking discipline. And yes, on the fancy stuff like combed hair and tidy clothing and standing quietly in lines, we are. Yet, what that dad doesn't know is that at home we have an Excel spreadsheet detailing T's food plan for each snack and meal, with specific times of the day and exactly what form of starch, protein, vegetable, and fruit is on his plate, separated by preferred, semi-preferred, and "exposure" categories. That we do a therapeutic eating protocol six times a day and go to occupational three times a week like clockwork. So that our son can learn to eat enough for his body to grow. That we use visual timers in five-minute intervals and we have laminated pictures with Velcro on charts that move us through the basic tasks of life - putting on socks and shoes, washing hands, brushing teeth, wearing a jacket when it is cold, etc. And no matter what - regardless of Halloween or Christmas or Birthdays - the kids are in bed by 6:00 and 7:00pm respectively. Because right now, in our lives and in T's development, this is the job and this is the discipline. These are the safe and healthies. And sometimes that's all we can manage.
And so during the last karate activity, when the parents stepped out on the mat and held a padded blocker for their children to kick and punch, I held D on my other crouched leg and braced for impact. With D's little legs straddling my thigh, his head resting on my chest, a bottle in one hand, I felt proud that we had made it to the class at all, that T had a smile on his face, that I had been brave enough to leave the house with both kids at 5pm for a half an hour class that was literally around the block.
T ran at me with all his might, kicked the pad awkwardly, fell half the time, ran back to the wall, his pee-laden pants falling off his skinny body, and little D screaming his own little baby version of “hiya!” on my other hip and I thought, we are all safe and healthy. What perfection.