Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Month I Thought I Had Cancer

There is this post that I wanted to write. I had already composed part of it in my mind, and even started writing it last Monday while waiting for the "potentially historic" snowstorm to hit NYC. In my mind (and on this laptop), I was already bragging about my newfound "zen-ness", the fact that I did not care that three feet of snow was about to be dumped upon our city. I was not anxious about the travel ban, or the complete shutdown of the subway, or the fact that I waited in line for half an hour to buy a box of pasta and some hot cocoa. No, I was above all that. I was going to let this storm just roll off my back, so to speak. No refreshing weather.com. No watching Di Blasio insist over and over again that this was going to be snow like we had never seen before. Not me. I was far too enlightened.

But none of that happened.

I do not mean the storm never happened, although that too was true. (It turned out that the so-called "Blizzard of 2015" was just as big a failure as my meditative bliss. We got a foot of snow here. But we got to go sledding, which was awesome!) I mean that some time around Monday afternoon, stuck in the house with not much to do, I went on Facebook. Which led to checking the weather report again. And then, while trying to watch regular Monday night television, there was Di Blasio once again warning us to not, under any circumstances, ever, GO OUTSIDE!!!! 

So yeah, I was a little tense. For nothing. Again.

But all that is besides the point. The reason I had been all excited to live and let live is because of the news I received Monday morning.

Here is the short version. Remember the itchy ears? The ones that prompted a visit to the ENT doc? My ears were fine. But that simple checkup resulted in a sonogram of my thyroid, which when the results finally came back, resulted in the discovery of a few "nodules", which the doctor said were most likely benign but I could do a biopsy on the larger one "just in case". Then the doctor went on a week long vacation. 

Seriously, he did. When he came back I went into his office where he proceeded to stick a long, thin needle into my neck. He sent it to a lab. I went to the dojo to teach kids class.

You know what's fascinating? That the rest of the world just keeps on going. While you are waiting for biopsy results, the rest of the world just keeps on being its normal damn self.   You  ride the subway. Walk the dog. Have sex. Teach karate. It doesn't make sense that all these people are commuting to work. Aren't they all waiting for a phone call too??

To be honest, there was some comfort in that. The doctor may or not call. Tumors will be malignant or benign or entirely inconclusive.  And meanwhile there will still be kids to teach karate to. And lunch to eat. And a daughter to care for. And a husband to love. And it is not so much that I must do these things but that I can. I do not have to just sit there and wait for my phone to ring.

The doctor said he would call on Friday. But he didn't. So I waited at the dojo. Occasionally I would call Matthew to tell him something completely unrelated to cancer, and I would start the conversation with "He didn't call yet. Do you know where the laundry detergent is?" "He didn't call yet. Do you want the other half of my tuna melt."

I wanted to be all "whatever happens, happens." But I wasn't. It was a looooong day. When I was finally done teaching my classes, I called the doctor's office but he had already left for the day. 

I suppose I should pause this dramatic story to tell you that thyroid cancer is both very rare, and very treatable. It is slow to progress, rarely spreads, and can usually be "cured" just by removing part or all of the thyroid. I actually know a couple of people who have no thyroids. You take medicine for the rest of your life. I am not trying to belittle what they went through, I am sure it was still pretty awful. It is still cancer. It is still surgery. There are risks. Sometimes it takes a long time to get the medicine levels right. All I am saying is that if you absolutely have to have cancer, thyroid is one of the better ones to have. 

On Sunday night, while everyone else was planning their snow days, I was thinking. "Oh crap. My ENT doc is 75 years old (literally). There is no way he is going to come to work if we get 30 inches of snow. He may stay home all week just to be safe! And I do not have his home number!"

When you are waiting to find out if you have cancer, it helps to keep a sense of humor. Matthew and I had a running series of jokes that involved the most insensitive way the doctor could break the news. They included things like "Good news Jennifer. You do not need to take any more tests. You have CANCER!" and "Raise your hand if you do not have cancer....not so fast, Jennifer."

You get the point.

I called his office around 9:30 Monday morning. Our conversation went like this. 
Him: "Good news. Your nodule thing is a benign gobbledygook-medical term-something goiter." Me: "Um can you just say NOT CANCER?" 

The doctor recommended I have my "not cancer" checked periodically to make sure it is not growing, impacting my thyroid levels, or being otherwise annoying. Sometimes these things go away, sometimes they stay the same, and sometimes they poke at you in uncomfortable ways and have to eventually be removed. 

Whatever, I am off to jiu-jitsu. Life affirming jiu-jitsu, where someone can grab me, toss me around and wrap my gi around my...thyroid. Hmm.... 

Fuckit, its not cancerous! Choke away!

Last month, somewhere between the sonogram and the biopsy, I took my daughter to Madison Square Garden to see the Fresh Beat Band in concert. Most of the adults looked as if they were barely holding on to their sanity, but every few rows there was a mom bobbing her head as if she were reliving her NKOTB youth. And three rows in front of us was superdad. Superdad had two young daughters and he was dancing with them as if he were tying to win a million dollars. And smiling. And laughing. And clearly having the time of his life.

I loved that concert. I danced with my little girl and sang along to Marina and Kiki and Twist and Shout (not only do I know their names but I know ALL the lyrics) and at one point even got a little choked up. (To be fair the song was "This little light of mine". Who can stay dry eyed listening to children singing about letting their light shine??) Maya is seven. There are only so many more years where she will actually want to go to a concert with her mother. And while looking around the theater at all those families I realized that I was really, really happy to be a mommy.

I know all the cliches. Life is short. You never know when your time will be up. You never know what surprise is going to come around the corner. So we gotta enjoy the moments. Not sweat the small things. Let go of those things we cannot control.

For one hour on that Saturday evening, I managed to do just that. 
And then the "blizzard" came.

Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly, thoroughly, one hundred percent thankful to not have cancer. I could not be happier. Other people are not so lucky. But I guess I expected to wake up transformed. To no longer care if the subway stops between stations or the car gets stuck in traffic. To not care if we get 6 inches of snow or two feet. To be happy in my warm apartment, on my cozy couch with my wonderful family and to never ever worry about stupid minor things again.

Hence my smug "I don't care about you Di Blasio" blog post. The one that never happened because it turned out that actually I was a little worried about the travel ban. Because it turned out that even with completely benign test results I was still just me.

I am sure there are plenty of people who have moments in life that truly and magically change how they see the world. The rest of us, we actually have to work at it. 

So what did I learn from the month I thought I had cancer? That being in the moment requires actually being in the moment. That if you want to stop obsessively Googling medical facts you have to actually put your phone away. That yes it is true that life will throw you curveballs, things that you cannot prepare for and cannot control. And yes, you will get through them. But if you want to actually enjoy the time when things are good you have to make a conscious choice to do so. It takes work. 

Or at least it does for me. I have to treat mindfulness the same way I treat rear naked chokes. I have to train at it. 

But that's ok. I am good at training.

By the way, we are expecting more snow here in NYC. I do not know how much. I didn't check the weather reports.

Ok, I lied. I checked. Once. I checked once. But only so I could know what to wear to jiu-jitsu tomorrow. 


Friday, January 23, 2015

Belly Breathe

On Thursday mornings I volunteer in a first grade classroom at my daughter's school. It is an ICT class, which stands for "Integrated Co Teaching", and basically means the class has two head teachers, plus an aide. The students are a mixed population of special ed kids, or more accurately kids who have an IEP (individual education plan) and have been identified to need some extra help, and general ed kids. Every public school classroom has a variety of learners in it, but this ICT class also includes a boy who cries frequently and most of the time would rather lie underneath his desk than sit at it. It is a tough environment for these teachers and they are all absolutely fantastic.

Yesterday one of them showed the class a short video from Sesame Street, that starred Elmo and a rapper named Common singing about "belly breathing". You may have seen it on my Facebook page but I shared the link at the end of this post just in case.

This is not the first time I have seen the idea of deep breathing and meditation presented to children. When Maya was in kindergarten a woman would come to their classroom periodically to teach the kids things like closing their eyes and counting to ten when they were mad and taking deep breaths to relax. She was from a program called Mind Up but Maya referred to her as the "calming down lady." 

Just this morning, on Nick Jr., there was a clip between shows where some little boxes were singing about breathing. It seems to be the new thing. Sophia the princess, Jake the pirate, Sponge Bob, that annoying Peppa Pig...and mindfulness.

I think teaching young children how to calm their minds and bodies is a fantastic thing. In fact, I often end my kids karate classes with a minute or two of "meditation", although it is usually explained as a lesson in "being still and doing nothing", rather than a way to combat stress.Still, as someone who occasionally suffers from panic attacks and anxiety, I can certainly get on board the deep breathing train. 

But...

Focusing on your breath can be useful for a whole slew of ailments, from stiff sore muscles and headaches, to stress and depression. This kind of meditation is a skill that I certainly need to work on, as do most adults I know. Life can be really, really stressful. But why do our children need this? What are today's youth so stressed out about anyway?

Young children get easily overwhelmed, and child therapists have long advocated deep breathing as a way to combat sobbing fits, tantrums and normal childhood fears. But why are we teaching this stuff in schools now? Perhaps it is because our kids are being expected to sit still for a completely unreasonable amount of time each day. Maybe it is because kindergarteners are expected to perform like second graders and second graders like middle schoolers. Or that recess is twenty minutes long and in the winter often includes little more than standing behind their chairs and wiggling to a couple of songs before being herded back to their classrooms for more sitting. Maybe it is because gym is once a week at best, and half the year is spent preparing for some kind of test. Or maybe its that our children's food, which is supposed to come from the fields and the earth and a warm oven, instead often comes from a plastic wrapper or a frozen tray or the drive through on the way to swim team practice. Maybe it is parents who watch too much news and read too many Facebook posts. Maybe our kids need belly breathing exercises because Ebola Newtown flu season measles at Disneyworld Nigeria Isis Russia that autistic boy that rape case that missing plane the fire trucks down the street and did I mention how important the grade on your third grade reading test is?????

Sweet Jesus I need me some more Elmo videos!

Or maybe it is because we need to prepare our kids for a life of 9 hour work days in an office doing some mundane mind-sucking task while chatting with the guys, refreshing your fantasy baseball stats and counting the days till your next vacation. But that is a whole other blog post.

Ironically, this week has been a particularly stressful one for me, a week where for the most part I completely failed at all attempts of "breathing and letting go." When you are a grownup, like I pretend to be anyway, sometimes life just throws random, completely unexpected things at you. Since I am a person who likes to plan for everything, it is these unplanned surprises that hit me the hardest. The things that come out of nowhere and take a long time to resolve. A sudden death of a family member. The loss of a job. Waiting for a doctor to call with test results. All of these things that are out of my control scare the living crap out of me.

Kids are more resilient. They are braver than us. They worry less. They can surrender control because they do not yet care if they have it or not. They don't look before they leap and that is exactly what makes childhood so beautiful.

We do need to teach our kids some coping skills for the scary monsters that lurk underneath the bed. For tummy aches and broken bones and bad dreams. There will be stress and some of it will be unexpected, because life is both beautiful and brutal, or as Glennon of Momastery.com would say, brutiful.  But school is not supposed to be one of the stressors in a child's life. School is supposed to be a place of wonder and discovery and friendship and success. If it isn't, than we, as a society are doing it WRONG. Plain and simple.

We are doing it wrong.

So lets teach our kids how to breath deeply because damn it, it feels really good to do so. Because it makes you slow down and be in the world and that is a good thing. And yeah, because at some point they might need it. 

But not today. They don't need it today. 
The sun is out here in NYC. 
Can't we just let them run around?

Want to learn how to "belly breathe"? Let Elmo teach you. He's just as good as that yoga teacher you pay $200 a month for.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH8TWHv0UkU.



Monday, January 12, 2015

Opening the Mirror

If you were anywhere near my Facebook account this weekend you may have noticed that we did some karate. There are multiple photographic records of this event. If you missed them, because you were doing something more valuable with your time than scrolling through Facebook, here is by far the most interesting of the bunch:



This cool pic was created by a friend of Sensei Jennifer Rennie, a fellow Kenshikai karateka. It shows the magic that is created when 40+ people in gis show up to work out on a Sunday morning. (Apparently some really high level practitioners can hang from the ceiling like bats!)

Ok obviously what this photo really shows is some pretty slick photo editing software. But the actual event, known as "Kagami Biraki", was kind of special.

Wikipedia, the deeply wise source of all useful information, says: "Kagami Biraki (鏡開き) is a Japanese traditional ceremony which literally translates to "Opening the Mirror" (from an abstinence) or, also, "Breaking of the Mochi." It traditionally falls on January 11 (odd numbers are associated with being good luck in Japan) It refers to the opening of a Kagami mochi, or to the opening of a cask of Sake at a party or ceremony." For a great description of how this ceremony plays out in many martial arts dojos, you can read this article: http://fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=156, which coincidentally was written many years ago by a very high level Seido Karate practitioner with whom I used to occasionally train.

Actually, it is not really a coincidence. The practice of Kagami Biraki, which most of us just refer to as "New Years Training", occurs in most traditional Japanese dojos here in NYC. I write a lot of blog posts about how all of us, no matter what patch we wear, are doing the same karate. (It is kind of my thing.) But specifically if you practice Oyama, Kyokushin, Seido or Kenshikai you are doing the EXACT same karate, derived from the exact same lineage. And I can guarantee that if your dojo had a Kagami Biraki training yesterday, you and I participated in very similar events. (With the same sore muscles as a result!)

So yeah, we are all one world. And that, in my opinion, is pretty cool.
But that is not really what I wanted to write about today.

I have been training for 26 years, which means I have probably attended at least 20 Kagami Biraki events. Most of them were pretty similar. I wake up early, have some coffee, grumble about the cold, complain about having to put on my gi so early on a Sunday, whine about my stiff sore muscles, and then get ten minutes into training and realize that there is no place I would rather be. 

Ok, that is a bit exaggerated. Sometimes the above happens. Other times I get ten minutes into training and go "Hey this is not so bad. This is almost fun. And in just another 40 minutes I can go eat pancakes!"

Since I am one of the higher ranking people in our style of karate, I am often lined up in the front row, facing the rest of the students. I am sure this is meant to be inspirational in some way. It mostly just means that if I slack off, everyone will see me and wonder why that Kyoshi Jennifer is so lazy. 

This vantage point also means that I can see everyone else, and about halfway through yesterday's workout I noticed that one of our students, a very nice white belt woman who was literally in her first week of classes, was having some trouble figuring out the combinations. So I left my spot in the front and went over to work out next to her, talking her through the moves and encouraging her to keep going. Then, since I was already back there, I moved over to stand between two of our blue belts, and did some kicks with them. And then I lay down between my daughter and one of our top brown belt kids and made them do knuckle pushups with me, yelling at them to not give up. When I next positioned myself between our top advanced brown belt students, one of the Shuseki-Shihans (heads of our organization) walked by and I smiled at him and said "Now they are motivating me."

It was true. Those last two students didn't need my help any more than the black belts did. They are both strong, athletic karateka who never give up. Being next to them gave me energy. 

Eventually I made my way back to the front for the last section (about 100 knee kicks),  the workout ended, and I had some time to reflect. I had not intended on making a statement in any way. Honestly, I just saw one of our students struggling and did not want her first Kagami Biraki to be a negative experience. The rest of it just kind of happened. But in retrospect, I realized that I was very pleased with how it turned out. Instead of in the front row where I normally am, I ended up right in the middle of the pack, punching and kicking right next to our lower belts, doing this Kagami Biraki thing together. And that, I realize, is exactly where I should be. It is who I am in the dojo. It is the kind of "Kyoshi" I want to be.

At the same time this was going on, my husband remained in the front row, pushing himself to go as hard and as fast as he can, motivating others in the room to do so as well. Showing his students that if he could keep going, so could they. When I asked him later if he had planned to do that he said "No, it just made sense at the time." 

It was two very different kinds of leadership, and it suited us perfectly.

In my opinion, being a Kyoshi, particularly in this organization we call Kenshikai, should mean different things to different people. Perhaps you are a teacher, like myself and Matthew and a few of the other 5th degrees in our style. Perhaps you are the highest ranking female in your dojo and consider yourself a role model to all the ladies who join. Perhaps you are the right hand of your instructor, advising him or her, supporting them in every endeavor.  But regardless of what you decide it means, you are more than just another student. Yet sometimes, like during Kagami Biraki, you are also exactly just another student, doing the same knee kicks, punches, and pushups as everyone else.  You are a part of the team.

I am not Japanese. But if were to draw my own meaning from the phrase "opening the mirror", it would be this: When you open a mirror, you see yourself. You see who you are. The practice of Kagami Biraki; the hard training, the sweat on the floor, the never quitting, the family that is created when we all train together; this is who I am.  This year, in 2015, I hope to make that reflection someone I am proud to look upon.

Happy New Year to all of you, no matter where you train.
Be strong. Be kind. Be joyful.
Make yourself proud this year.
Osu.  




Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Less Google, More Arm Bars

I'm going to jump right to the finale. The moral of this little tale is that doctors don't know anything. 

Here is the short version. About three weeks ago I developed an itchy ear problem. I ignored it for awhile but eventually it got too annoying so I walked the two blocks to the lovely urgent care place in my neighborhood. There is never anyone in there so after about ten minutes I was on my way out with some antibiotic drops for an ear infection. Fast forward three days where now not only are my ears itchy but they are now hurting and feel like someone is constantly pouring water into them. Same clinic, different doctor. New prescription, this time for antifungal ear drops. Fast forward one week to where I now have slightly less itchy ears and a very itchy rash on my belly. Same clinic, different doctor. Hmmm, you seem to have an allergic reaction to something. (No shit, lady.) What, well it is hard to tell. You should stop using the drops and go see an ENT doc. Cut to me pouring some vinegar in my ears. (Seriously, I did that. You can blame Google.) Fast forward to a 78 year old ENT guy using a tiny vacuum in my ears and handing me a prescription for yet another ear drop which he says is mostly vinegar anyway. Followed by me sitting in a radiology office having a sonogram on my thyroid "just in case", although the doctor is pretty certain there is nothing to worry about. (Like 90 percent certain. Seriously, that is the number. WebMD told me that and it never lies.) And then I am lying in bed at midnight with an itchy back and suddenly wondering if perhaps the problem is actually the old humidifier that I pulled out of my closet about three weeks ago and is currently pumping moist, moldy steam all around my bedroom. 

Or CANCEBOLAIDS! It could always be cancebolaids!

It is New Years Eve day. Time for resolutions, those silly promises you make to yourself that you are certainly going to break by January 15th. In general, I don't do that. Mostly because I like my life. I am not all that motivated to make a list of everything that I am doing wrong because in fact I am pretty damn awesome! So in 2015 I vow to teach more karate classes, to enroll more students, to practice more katas, to roll with more people, to cuddle with my daughter, hang out with my family, kiss my wonderful husband and to eat and drink exactly the same way I have been all year. Because for the most part, I make good choices. Healthy choices. So yeah, I'm gonna keep doing that.

Ok there are a few things I would like to do differently. I would like to stop obsessively checking Google Maps to make sure there is no traffic that I might get stuck in. I would like to stop wondering if the subway is going to stop between stations and just enjoy the music in my earbuds. I would like to truly believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with me all the way until the exact moment a doctor tells me otherwise, since that exact moment will probably never happen.  I would like to stop using the internet to look up scary things and reserve it for only those searches that are truly useful. Like how to get mold out of a humidifier. Or what Snooki had for lunch yesterday. I would like to stop assuming that the reason Matthew is not answering his phone is that he is lying dead in the middle of the BQE. (It seems perfectly logical at the time.)

So in other words, I would like to let go a little and just live. You know, be all zen and shit. 

Aside from that, I'm all good. Bring it on 2015, I'm ready!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope your year is awesome!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jewish

Tonight I had my annual conversation with one of the Bedford Avenue Jews. If you have been reading this blog for awhile you may remember this from two years ago: http://mamommyarchives.blogspot.com/2012/12/how-athiest-celebrates-holidays.html. But just in case you were not around then, here is how it went tonight:

Him: Hello, are you Jewish?
Me: No. Well actually my mom was raised Jewish. And my grandmother was Jewish. But no, I do not practice Judiasm.
Him: Well actually if your mom is Jewish than you are Jewish. You do not need to practice.
Me: Well..ok...my daughter wants to light a menorah. Can I have one of those free ones you are handing out?
Him: Sure. You can teach your daughter about it.

And so on.
Two years ago I was angry and defiant. I took that damn free menorah because I was daring him to say no. I was daring him to call me a Jew so I could angrily say that NO I was most certainly NOT Jewish because I do not believe in God. I do not practice ANY religion. And just because my mom was raised in a Jewish home does not mean I am a Jew. But yes I want those candles because my little girl likes to light candles!!

This year?
Well to be honest. When that guy asked it I was Jewish I said no. Because I am not. But when I told him my mother was, I did not say it angrily. And when I told him I wanted to light the menorah with my daughter I did not say it defiantly.  Because when I took the free Bedford Avenue menorah tonight there was a part of me that wanted to be in with that guy, to be in his club. I am not Jewish. Not really. But there was a part of me that kind of wanted to be.

And then I went home and Maya and I lit the candles to symbolize the second night of Hannukah. And as I completely botched the explanation for why we were doing that (I could only mumble something about 8 nights of magic oil), I wished that after taking the free menorah I had asked the dude for a summary. Like, hey can you tell me a five minute version of the story of Hannukah so I can share it with my daughter. Because it turns out that I really have no idea what all those candles are all about. And, um, I kind of want to.

I could blame on the two glasses of wine I had for dinner.
Or my period. 
I could blame it on sleep deprivation.

But no, I am going to blame it on Facebook. Because last night, right before taking my usual Tuesday night karate class, I read two articles. One was from a woman who lost her six year old to the horrible shooting in Sandy Hook. And the second, was about what went on in Pakistan yesterday. Children. Gunned down in a school by the Taliban. Just to make a point. 

Children.
More dead children.

So I wanted to be Jewish tonight.
I wanted to be anything.
Because I need to live in a world where there is hope. Where cops don't just kill unarmed people and gunmen do not go into first grade classrooms and terrorists do not shoot children in the head, well, not ever. 

But this is not the world I live in. And no matter how hard I try to be loving and giving and to do good, to do the best I can, sometimes the hate and the fear out there is so overwhelming that all I can do is light some candles, even if I have no idea why I am doing it. (8 days? The oil lasted 8 days?)

So tonight, on this second night of Hannukah, (I think) I am Jewish. Maybe tomorrow I will be Catholic. Most likely I will go back to being an atheist but it is December, goddamn it and I need something.

Anything.


"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."
Plato

Happy Hannukah Jews. 
Your candles are really pretty.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Birth of Racism

When I tell you I live in Williamsburg, you probably picture hipsters in skinny jeans and fancy hats pouring out of the L train at midnight. And you would be right. They are wandering down Bedford Ave right now, with their Oslo coffee cups and wire rimmed glasses. Well not now, at 8:30am on a Sunday. Now, they are all asleep. It is the other Williamsburg that is awake this early, the ones with children, the ones who are all bundled up and headed for the playground at 8:00. We have coffee too. Only we made ours at home, in a giant coffeepot that is set to start brewing at 6, and we carry our own reusable mugs because we will need refills. Multiple refills.

The hipsters and the mommies are not the only tenants of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. If you go south of Grand Street you will come across Hispanic families who have been in the neighborhood far longer than I have. And if you keep going down Bedford, past Division Ave., you will find yourself in the world of the Hasidim. 

The Hasidic families spend a lot of time in their own small community. They do not go to my daughter's school, or our local playground. We never see them at any of the restaurants that we frequent. But I often see the women coming out of the local pool, which has a daily women only swim session. Occasionally a very large group appears with many small children at the indoor playspace that is three blocks from out house. And sometimes in the summer, we see them down by the water on Grand Street, where we go to watch the sunset. 

If you ask my daughter about the Hasidim, she will say that they are "mean". She will tell you that their children "stare at her and make faces." She will say that she "does not like them."

I am very thankful to have grown up in one of the most diverse places in the world and I have tried very hard to raise a child who is accepting of everyone, even those who are different from herself. She is in a dual language program at school where many of her friends are native Spanish speakers. I answer her questions about race and religion with as much honestly and compassion as I can. I have Orthodox Jewish relatives and Maya has been to their home for Hannukah. She has never heard my husband nor I speak badly of the Hasidim.

But Maya is seven. Once, maybe two years ago, we came upon a Hasidic family down by the river. There were four children, of varying ages. And they stared at her. They whispered and giggled. They did not try to play with her or talk to her or interact with her in any way. They just stared. And at no point did either of their parents tell them to stop. 

When she asked me about it later I explained that they were young. I told her that they attended a school where everyone looked like them, in a community where everyone looked like them. I tried to make her understand that these children were not being mean on purpose, that they just did not know any better. They were just interested in her because she looked different. 

But the fact remained that she felt uncomfortable. She was angry and confused. She "did not like the way they looked" at her.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with wanting to live near people who are just like you. But when communities become so isolated (whether it is due to race, or religion, or wealth) that they no longer interact with each other, it is the children who suffer. How can we teach our kids to love everyone, when there is no "everyone" in their lives?

If you ask Maya about the Hasidim now she will explain that they live in a very different world from hers. She will even tell you that she hopes to have a Hasidic friend some day. She will say these things because they are what I taught her. But in her heart she will still remember being pointed at. She will remember the mean faces. And she will remember them until something positive happens that replaces that moment. A different interaction.

That something may never happen. 

So all I can do is teach my child to be nice anyway. That there is a huge difference between the thoughts you have in your head and they way they translate into action. 

In other words, you do not have to like someone to treat them with respect. To value their life anyway. Because they are human. 

**************************************************************************************

For those of you who have been reading my Facebook posts lately, I apologize. Its not that I do not believe in the cause. I have just been stuck in a lot of traffic lately.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

November 20th

I am going to tell you a secret. 
The name of your school does not matter. The patch you wear on your uniform does not matter. The belt you tie around your waist, the color of your gi, the medals on your wall, none of these things matter. 

All that matters is the sweat on the floor.
Period.

I am not saying that you should not be proud of those things. You earned them and they deserve to be celebrated. 
I am not saying that all dojos are the same. They aren't.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that you did one more pushup that night. When you thought you were done, you did one more. 
What matters is that you kept fighting, even though he had you pushed up against the wall and for a moment there you were pretty sure he forgot who you were. He certainly forgot how small you were, yet you kept fighting, or at least you kept your hands up and waited for the bell to ring. You didn't quit.
What matters is that you went to class. When you would really rather be on the couch watching TV, you went to class anyway, dragged your bag up those stairs (dear God why were there so many stairs??), careful to avoid the broken one, and you put on your gi and you trained.
Except for that one time when you didn't. That one Friday when you showed up and there was no one in the room except those three big guys and you shook your head and laughed out loud. And then you put your shoes back on and he stared at you, incredulous. "Where are you going?" he asked, to which you replied simply "Home." And then he laughed too because he could not believe it.

He never let you live that one down. "Remember that time you went home?"
"Well yeah. I know my limits."

People used to come into the dojo and burst into tears. For months after, years even, people would come into the dojo, see his photo on the shinzen, and burst into tears. They would stand there and spill out their regrets. How they always wanted to come back to training. How they wish they had had a chance to say goodbye. How I must be so sad all the time.

I am not so sad all the time. 

I took class yesterday. We did a black belt kata that he used to love and it made me smile. Earlier that day I taught a small boy named Marcus how to throw a roundhouse kick and it reminded me of a story my teacher told me once, about the very first time he taught four year olds.

"I called out line up! And suddenly I looked over and there was this little guy standing there and there was a puddle on the floor. And that was when I realized that teaching kids was going to be different."

He used to call me lady. He called a lot of the women that. When I sparred he would tell me that I loved fire. I took it as a compliment.

I plan on sparring tomorrow.

You do not have to miss someone when they are always around. I don't mean that I see the ghost of my dead teacher on the floor of my dojo. I simply mean that I am still training. I throw punches and kicks and do pushups and when I am not doing that I am shouting at a room full of four year olds to punch harder and kiai louder and how can I possibly do any of that if it weren't for him?

Because it does not matter that he is gone. It matters that we are still here. It matters that you can pick up your bag and climb up those stairs (if your dojo has them) and put on your gi (no matter what damn patch is on it) and step on that floor. Today. Do it today. If your dojo is closed today, do it tomorrow. Just do it.

All that matters is the sweat on the floor.
Period.



(This blog post is in memory of Shuseki-Shihan William Oliver, my karate instructor, who passed away ten years ago today. This Saturday our dojo will be hosting a demonstration in his honor.  This post is especially for those of you who cannot be there to see it.)