Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dear Parent, Don't Do That

To the Parents of the Small Child in My Karate Class:
Which small child? The one who, on her first day, burst into tears at the very thought of stepping on the floor. The one who is now one of the leaders in my class of 3 year olds. The one who could not, for the life of him, stand in one place for more than 5 seconds. Look at him, he is about to get his blue belt. The one who has been in our dojo since he was four and is now one of the sharpest brown belts I have ever seen. The one who is peeking wide eyed through the window when she thinks no one is paying attention. I see you, little one. Come join us. It will be ok. In fact, it will be better than ok, you will love it. 

I get it. To most of you, our dojo is just some after school class you are signing your kid up for. Something to do while you are waiting for the snow to melt, for soccer season to start up again, for your vacation time to accumulate. I know how it goes. I signed my child up for gymnastics in January. She loved gymnastics. But it cost a lot of money, and once the sun finally came out again she decided she would rather spend Wednesdays running around the playground with her friends. So we stopped bringing her to the gym.

I am a parent. But I am also your child's teacher. So let me tell you some things that might not occur to you as you are stuffing your child's gi into his backpack (don't forget the belt!!) and rushing out the door. 

Remember when you signed him up. Remember how you explained to me what condition he was diagnosed with, what medicine he was on. Remember how hard his first few classes were. What you don't know is that five minutes into that first class I vowed to help him succeed at karate. I worked very very hard at this. Sometimes I even went home after all my classes were done and thought about your child, about what worked that day and what didn't. And every class he got a little bit better. I was so proud of your boy. And then, when it was time to sign up for his next month of classes, he was gone, just like that. Maybe it was the money, maybe it was the schedule. Maybe your nanny had quit, you needed child care, and actually you had no intention of continuing after that first month. I don't know why he is not in my class anymore. All I know is that we were a good team, your boy and I, and now, we aren't a team anymore. 

Don't do that. Don't sign your kid up for a month of classes, have him learn to love it, have me learn to love him and then just quit. It is unfair. To both of us. 

Also, don't send me an email explaining why your kid no longer wants to take karate anymore. As in, you won't be seeing Billy in class anymore because he says it is too hard. He is bored. He feels left out. How the hell am I supposed to address these problems if you don't bring him to class??? I have been doing this teaching thing for a really LONG time. Trust me, your kid is not the first one who finds pushups difficult. Give me the chance to fix the problem. 

Speaking of which, if your kid is having a hard day and gets upset, do NOT, under any circumstances, take him home. If she is afraid of sparring today, do not take her home. If he is throwing a screaming, thrashing tantrum in the corner of the dojo, DO NOT TAKE HIM HOME. How is he supposed to overcome whatever is bugging him if he is sitting in his living room?? Leave him there on the floor. I will handle it. I will take care of him. Most of the time he will be throwing punches before you have even ordered your coffee from the corner bodega. Screaming four year olds are what I do. They are my job. And I am really good at my job.

Finally, if you are really having financial difficulties please talk to us. We want your kid to train. We want you on the floor. We will try our best to work with you. Seriously. We have been you. We too have wondered how exactly we are going to pay all our bills with nothing in the bank. But if money is not an issue for you, please pay us, and pay us on time. We are not Verizon. Your karate tuition supports our family. Your lack of tuition hurts our family. It is as simple as that. Please do not try to haggle with us over the one class your child missed. Please do not use the fact that you have known us for years and watched my child grow up as an excuse to request special favors. It is exactly because you have known us for so long that you should know better.  Have you been here in August? No, you were on vacation. Along with everyone else. It is only $20 for you but we have over a 150 students. You do the math.

In other words, there is a difference between I can't pay and I don't want to pay. You know which one you are. Pretending otherwise is insulting to those people who really are struggling. 

But most of all, please try to be there sometimes. I know life is hard. I know you are busy. But your child is amazing! They are getting really good at this. They really love it. I am so very proud of them. You would be proud of them too. So try to poke your head in every so often and watch them. Don't just send the nanny. It will be worth it, I promise.


I know, I KNOW. There are no words.
His name is Edwin.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On Motherhood

Every year, on Mothers Day, Facebook is flooded with posts from grateful sons and daughters, bragging about all the amazing qualities of their respective moms. Thank god for social media. It used to be that you had to actually call your mother on the second Sunday in May, or even worse, meet her for an overpriced brunch somewhere. Now you can post a heartwarming photo and a few choice words and you have fulfilled your obligation.

Not that I have any problem with Mothers Day, or my mom, for that matter. In fact, I am one of the lucky ones. I adore my mother; we get along perfectly. She lives close by. Most importantly, she is still alive. For many people, this particular holiday is nothing but a terrible reminder of what they have lost. If you are one of them, know that I am thinking of you.

Of course, there are also the blog posts from the childless women, the ones who feel compelled to defend their decision to not become mothers. And I understand the impulse, after all, if there is ever a day to make a woman feel defensive about her life choices, it is Mothers Day.  So by all means, stay out late, have a glass of wine without having to hire a babysitter, and celebrate a life free from tantrums and poopy diapers. (Well, mostly. There is still old age to look forward to.)

The thing is, some of us really love being moms. I mean, yes, there are some trying moments. Like the time my daughter's "mommy clingy" toddler phase coincided perfectly with our week-long beach vacation. Mommy is going to go for a swim now. "MAAAAAAMAAAAA!" Mommy is going to go for a little walk down the beach...alone. "MAAAAMAAAAAAAA!" Mommy is going to try to take a nap now. "WAAAANNNNT MAAAMMMAAAA!" Mommy is going to slit her wrists now.

That was a great vacation!

We mamas try sooo hard to do it right. And mostly, we succeed. But occasionally other parts of life gets in the way. Earlier this year, I had a biopsy on a lump in my thyroid and had the fun experience of WAITING FOR THE CANCER TEST RESULTS TO COME BACK. (An experience that can really only be written in capital letters.) I thought I was handling the whole thing quite well, teaching my karate classes, taking care of Maya. Until the day she didn't want to go to the playground after school and I started screaming at her. I would like to say she had some fault in this incident, that she asked for ice cream or lost her backpack or any minor childhood infraction that would make my standing in the middle of Grand Street shouting "I DON'T WANT TO JUST GO HOME AND SIT IN THE HOUSE!" like a 2 year old even a little bit ok. But no, that gem was all me. 

Sometimes the best thing to do is just be honest. As in "Mommy is so very sorry she yelled at you. I am a little worried about something and it is making me very sad and cranky. You did nothing wrong, I am just having a really bad day. I love you." Later that evening I called my husband. "Hi honey. Remember how strong and positive and just completely okay I have been about all this. Well, funny thing actually. Turns out I am NOT OKAY!!! I AM SO NOT OKAY!!"

Thankfully, the tumor was benign and I could go back to freaking out about more mundane things like head lice.

Oh, the head lice! That moment when you look into your daughter's beautiful blond hair and see little black things MOVING!!! I cringe just thinking about it. And the laundry. And the combing. The never ending combing. 

But all those hours spent poking at my daughters scalp with a fine toothed metal comb are nothing, NOTHING compared to how much I absolutely adore being a mother. How much I love the 10 seconds every morning between the creaking of her loft bed ladder and the pop of her bedroom door opening. Or how great it feels when she accomplishes something new. Or how cute she looks with sand on her nose, her hair dripping wet from the ocean. Her feet are stinky and sometimes she rolls her eyes like a 14 year old, but god do I love this little girl.

Last Friday I went out with my own mother. She is 75 and everything about her screams Grandma, from her love of baking to the constant stream of gifts she bestows upon my 7 year old. It was too early for lunch so we ended up just sitting on a bench in the shade, talking about life. (It was very Forrest Gump.)

At one point, after discussing my dad and his stubborn ways, I said "The older I get the more I realize that life is just a constant struggle between trying to change the things you don't like about yourself and your situation, and trying to accept the things that are unchangeable." (Somewhere, someone who has gone through AA is emphatically nodding her head.) The thing is, these things are constantly shifting. Sometimes you work really hard to change something, only to eventually realize that you should have been letting it go instead. Other times you choose to accept something simply because the road to change is too long and too hard and you would rather just sit down in the shade for awhile and rest.

Parenting is just like that. It is like sitting down at a pottery wheel determined to make a vase. So you push and pull and you add water and you smooth the sides up and down and you spin the wheel slower and faster and all the time you have this image in your head of exactly what this beautiful vase is going to look like. And then, after all that work, you pull the damn thing off the wheel and it is a bowl. You have made a bowl. 

But, what do I know, I have never done pottery.

I do know that I love being a mom. I think my daughter is amazing. There are plenty of things I would love to change about myself, but this, this incredible job of raising a child, is not one of them. So I will continue to do the best I can, all the while knowing that in the end my Maya will ultimately just become who she is meant to be. 


Happy Mothers Day!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Who is Keenan Cornelius?

In this week's edition of Men Who Say Stupid Things, I give you Ralek Gracie, president of Metamoris. http://www.mmafighting.com/2015/4/12/8316949/metamoris-interested-in-ronda-rousey-but-claims-financial-realities.

When asked whether the popular PPV grappling tournament was planning on signing more females, he replied with this brilliant gem: "It's absolutely not a joke who ends up on the card. With every match, there has to be a unique story and there has to be an element that will bring out people from all walks of life in a lot of ways. Even though we know the core audience and what they're interested in, we have to constantly be on the boundaries. We have to be constantly pushing the edge of what our viewership is, otherwise we won't survive. All we're doing is reinvesting all of our money into these athletes. We're spinning a wheel. We have to keep the wheel moving. I just don't think there's women who are really going to bring it on that level."

He then went on to state: ""We had that one match (speaking about Mackensie Dern and Michell Nicolini in Metamoris 2) and it was cool, but that was more of, 'That's cool and that was interesting and I want to see that again if the girls are cute.' "

Sigh.
Two of the best female grapplers in the world compete, exhibit superior jiu-jitsu skills, and you would do it again "If the girls are cute"?

I get it. Metamoris is a business. They are about making money. They want fights that people will pay to see. They want big name UFC guys on their card so they can get more MMA fans to watch. Not the MMA fans who know about martial arts, but the ones in the back of the bar talking about their knockout skills and how they would like to "mount" Meisha Tate. They want those guys. So yeah you get Chael Sonnen on your card cause everyone knows his name. And then, since you are fully aware of your actual paying audience, you go ahead and sign up Keenan Cornelius.

Who the hell is Keenan Cornelius?

Go ahead, go to the sports bar down the block on Saturday night, ask around, and then report back to me the number of blank stares you get. UFC fans have no idea who he is, anymore than they know who the Miyao brothers are or who Gabi Garcia is, or how many Gracie brothers it takes to change a lightbulb. Do you know who has heard of Keenan Cornelius? The same people who actually buy Metamoris. Grapplers. 
Who IS this handsome man???
Most of the people who pay to watch your product are the same ones who pay for memberships to BJJ gyms and dojos all across the world. They know all about the silly worm guard, they know what a Berimbolo is, and they may even know where Mr. Cornelius used to train and why he left.  They also know who Michelle Nicolini is and would be just as happy to watch her attempt to choke someone out as some guy. Because good jiu-jitsu is good jiu-jitsu.

Relek Gracie may be trying to gain new fans for his PPV events, but he is also fully aware of who the current ones are. Hence, Keenan Cornelius. So why not have a female black belt match? It certainly won't lose you fans and may even gain you a few more ladies who train.

We are not afterthoughts. We are not cute little dolls who occasionally break a sweat but mostly just look sexy in gi pants and a suggestively open top. We are athletes who put in hours on the mats working our escapes and sweeps and submissions. We tape up our fingers and our toes, we sweat, we bleed, we cry and yes, we even let our hair get all messy and WE DON'T CARE BECAUSE WE ARE GRAPPLERS!

There are little girls out there right now tying on their belts for jiu-jitsu class. They train just like the boys and they deserve some real role models to watch. 

Of course, we can always just spend our money elsewhere. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Problem With This Guy

There is an article floating around the Internet this week about why marriage "no longer works" for the current crop of twenty-somethings. Here it is http://www.app.com/story/life/family/relationships/2015/04/06/reasons-marriage-just-work-anymore/25349495/

It is not a terrible article, really. He makes some good points about the importance of actual human connection; talking rather than texting, enjoying the moment instead of just posting pics of it. He also complains about the lack of exciting sex in a marriage and the stress of accumulating bills as if he is the first person to experience this. And then he pretty much blames social media for the failure of relationships. 

He is not totally clueless. But the problem I see over and over with this guy's generation is this constant sense of being wronged. As if the world is out to get them. As if their struggles are always something that has been inflicted on them, instead of a result of the choices they have made. As if they were the first human beings ever to have stress. 

Yes it is true that things cost more nowadays. But this? "This strain causes separation between us. It halts us from being able to live life. We're too busy paying bills to enjoy our youth. Forget going to dinner, you have to pay the mortgage. You'll have to skip out on an anniversary gift this year because those student loans are due at the end of the month. Vacations? Not happening."

Whine whine whine. Wait, you mean you can't afford to do whatever you want, whenever you want?? Welcome to adult life, buddy! Yes, you have to pay bills and sometimes you would rather go to Aruba. So you make choices. You have times of the month where you go out and other times where you cook Ramen noodles at home in your bathrobe. It called adulthood. And yeah if your version of "living life" can be encapsulated into buying dinner, buying gifts and buying vacation, you are certainly not going to be happy all the time. How about you "enjoy your youth" by going for a nice walk in the park with your wife instead of whining about all the bills you have to pay. Walking is free. Or how about you find a passion that is not simply a cliche of adult life? Go play chess or learn how to paint or take Judo or play your guitar on a bench somewhere. Go invent something new. Isn't your generation supposed to be all about going against the status quo? Well then stop trying so hard to be "normal."

And the sex thing? "Everywhere you look, there's pictures of men and women we know half naked — some look better than your husband or wife. So it becomes desirable. It's in your face every single day and changes your mindset." 

Seriously?? You see photos of pretty people on Facebook and suddenly sex with your wife is not so exciting? Did you not know there were other people in the world before the Internet existed? Women with boobs and asses and legs? Do you think you are the first man in the world to have to avoid temptation? You poor, poor baby. It turns out that there is a bit more to a sexual relationship than the thrill of someone new. There is learning about each other and growing with each other. There is being so comfortable with someone that you can try anything. There is sex that is more than just physical. There is sex that is about both of you feeling sad, sex that is celebratory, sex that is angry, and the sleepy, cozy sex that occurs first thing in the morning. And yes, there are days where you have to schedule it around work and child care, and yes even days when you aren't in the mood. Again, welcome to adulthood. Shut up!

But the thing that annoyed me most about this guy's article is the social media thing. I am SOOO sick of people blaming Facebook for their misery. Facebook is a choice. Let me say it again, in case you were too busy updating your status to hear me. 
FACEBOOK
IS 

CHOICE!
Social media has exactly as much power over your life as you give it, and not an inch more. It is not something being done to you. It is not something the world has inflicted upon you. You have to actually log in to the website to use it. 

If all those photos of your friends on the beach are making you feel bad, stop looking at them. 
If you are tired of all your conversations involving a touch screen, then make a phone call, or even better, go meet a friend for coffee somewhere.
If you feel like you are missing the moment, PUT YOUR DAMN PHONE AWAY!
No one is forcing you to post photos of your dinner.
No one is forcing you to "check-in" everywhere you go.
Your plane tickets do not come with a minimum status update requirement and it may come as a shock to you but it is actually possible to go on vacation and not document it on Facebook. 

Listen Anthony, I am sorry you are not happy with your life. But don't blame it on your "generation." Don't blame it on the world we live in now. If you don't like things, stop whining and do something about it. All those things you want; a fulfilling career, a happy relationship, enjoyable leisure time, ALL of them require getting off your butt and actually DOING something. 

Stop complaining that the world owes you a favor. 
Go out there and change the world instead. 

Of course you might have to get off of Twitter to do so.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Zombies and Chocolate

For my daughter, Easter Sunday means candy. So this morning she climbed out of bed at 7 like it was Christmas, found her Easter basket on the table, and unpacked some art supplies and a chocolate bunny which she tried to convince me was a fine thing to eat for breakfast. (The bunny, not the crayons.)

She also wanted to dye and hide eggs, something we have done since Maya was two. It is a task that is complicated by the fact that we own a dog who likes to play too. She (the dog, not Maya) will find and eat whole eggs, shell and all, so we need to pick hiding spots that are low enough for a kid to see but high enough that Chloe can't immediately snatch them. 

We are not Christians. (We are not Jews either, although I do like to occasionally snack on matzo. ) But I have a kid who likes to question things so I am often asked to explain the meaning of one holiday or another. "So there was this Jesus guy who tried to get people to be good to each other. And some people didn't like him so they killed him. But then something magical happened and on Easter Sunday he rose from the dead. Yes, like a zombie."

(You should have heard me completely botch the story of Hannukah.)

To a non believer, the story of Easter is an odd and somewhat violent, fairy tale. But the ever-wise Glennon of Momastery.com has managed to extract a lesson that even the most militant of atheists can appreciate.  

"Because no matter how dark it is now: you will rise again. That’s the way of the world. That’s the message of Easter.
Friday = Life Hurts Like Bloody Hell.
Sunday = BUT LOVE WINS"

I don't believe in the Easter Bunny and I don't believe that a man can rise from the dead, no matter how long and luxurious his hair was. But I am a fan of this rising thing. Go ahead nail me to a cross. I will get up anyway. Take that, haters!

Glennon's  entire post can be found here: http://momastery.com/blog/2015/04/03/easter-story/
It is mostly about her marriage, but you can just cut and paste in whatever thing you may be struggling with. The message is the same.

Happy Easter/Passover/Eat a Cadbury Cream Egg for Breakfast Day
Happy Spring!

Happy Rising.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fun

See that bear over there? Look how much fun he is having rolling in the grass! Have you ever seen bear cubs wrestle? They look just like 5 year olds at the playground, tumbling all over each other, not a care in the world. I am not saying that the cute bear over there wouldn't eat my foot if he got the chance. But look at him! He is like a newborn baby sucking his thumb, only furry! With claws.

This time, two years ago, two fantastic karatekas named Russell and Desi, were testing for their 5th degree black belts. One year ago, Matthew and I were doing the same. And since it is mid-March again, today we begin another black belt promotion. 

There are no higher ranking candidates this time, just a few shodans and nidans from the Brooklyn dojo, and two advanced brown belts, one from the Brooklyn school and one from ours.

There is no shortage of martial arts media on the Internet. If you are so inclined, you can browse through hundreds of Facebook memes that quote the old masters. You can read technical articles on how to kick harder. You can watch inspirational videos full of powerful knockouts. Everyone who trains brags about the hard of it all, the challenges, the wars, the blood, sweat and tears. Each one of us has a sparring tale. (Or two. Or ten.) We are all, myself included, supremely proud of the horror stories, the times we almost gave up but didn't. It is what made us who we are today.

There is no better place to showcase all this struggle than at black belt promotion. Challenging combinations. Tons of pushups. Performing beautiful kata that flows like a river. Giving a speech in front of a roomful of black belts. Over two hours of sparring. It is hard, and it is supposed to be. The hard makes that moment you get your belt tied on all that much sweeter.

But it is also supposed to be fun. Kyoshi Desi, one of the men who received his Kyoshi rank two years ago, is fast and strong and extremely focused. He is also always smiling. Kyoshi Russell, the other candidate, is a very talented student and teacher who will learn from and train with almost anyone. He just loves training, period. 

Our advanced brown belt student is named Adri. He is young and athletic and strong. He knows his Kenshikai material like the back of his fist. (Uraken!) His kata is beautiful and when he spars it is like watching a very cunning spider spin a web. But what is equally important, in my opinion anyway, is that he truly LOVES karate. He loves to train, he loves to teach, he loves the dojo with a passion not that different from what a mother feels for her child.  Every time he steps onto the floor, you can tell he is having the time of his life.  

Good luck to all the promotion candidates this week. Work hard. Don't give up. You got this! 

But most of all, have fun. Enjoy it! It is not just supposed to be a war, it is supposed to be a game too.





Friday, February 27, 2015

An Open Letter to My Body

Dear Body,
Let me start this off by saying that I love you. I mean sure, I wouldn't mind being a C cup, or perhaps a few inches taller, but that does not take away from my appreciation for all that you have done for me. You helped me grow and then push out a beautiful baby girl. You were strong enough to get me through multiple sparring classes and karate promotions and training sessions. You are durable and powerful and you look fairly decent in a tank top. And although no one would ever mistake you for a supermodel, you are pulling off this athletic but cute look quite successfully. So for that, I thank you.

We've been through a lot together you and I. Remember that high ranking black belt who used to regularly attend Friday night fight classes? You know the one who would get into his little fight zone where he would just keep punching you, not noticing how small and completely FEMALE you were , or how you were struggling, or that the bell had rung five minutes ago. In truth, he may have been a bit crazy, that guy.


I am sorry for him.

And body, while we are being honest with each other, I am sorry for Wednesday too. I am sorry that I let you roll with that guy.  I know he was only a blue belt, and an average one at that. He was not that much bigger than you. And he was a very friendly, helpful guy. But I still knew, without a doubt in my mind, that if I rolled with him I was going to hurt myself.
You. Us, I was going to hurt us. 

I did it anyway. I felt bad leaving him without a partner to roll with. And I wanted to train more. And to be honest, there was a little part of me that was actually looking forward to a round where I knew I had to protect you. Where no one else was going to do it for me. Isn't that what all this training is about?

It is an interesting feeling going into a BJJ round certain that you are going to get injured. I managed to keep us from being randomly elbowed in the nose, having an arm hyper-extended on an overly aggressive arm bar, and I tapped instantly to a gi choke that was clearly destined to cut our windpipe in half. The whole time I am pretty sure this nice dude thought he was going light. Who knows, maybe he was, for him? In any case, at one point he tried to get the mount, I twisted hard to my side to avoid it and felt a little pop. Then that little pop turned into a dull ache and then a sharp pain that made further twisting impossible. So I stopped rolling, explained that I was nursing an injury, and thanked him for the training session. Then I took a taxi home and you and I curled up with an ice pack.

I am not mad at that dude. It wasn't his fault. The truth is, friend, I am beginning to wonder if we are not cut out for this BJJ thing. If perhaps you are just too damn small. (Sorry, I know that's harsh.) I mean I have been trying to do it right, to use technique and brains and skill. And sometimes I really feel like we are making progress. But at least once a week someone who I know I am better than just totally smashes on top of you. Some days we are just stuck on the bottom and these dudes (and sometimes even the ladies) are so damn heavy and spazzy and speedy and my brain is not good enough yet to counter their strength or their size or their 22 year old athleticism. In truth, sometimes they are terrible at jiu-jitsu, they are all elbows and knees and heavy breathing, yet I still end up stuck on the bottom.

I am sorry about your neck last year. About the MRI and the physical therapy and the constant whining. And I am sorry about your rib on Wednesday. I am sorry I didn't listen to my instincts and sit out of that round, even though he was just another nice guy who never learned how to go slow.  I am sorry I couldn't protect you better. I am sorry about this whole BJJ thing. Especially since I plan to keep doing this torture to you. Indefinitely. 

I know I should have picked Yoga. Or curling. No one ever injures themselves in curling.

So I guess what I am really sorry for is being stubborn as all hell, for knowing that you and I are not so good at this jiu-jitsu thing but insisting on continuing with it anyway. I know that you are not getting any bigger. But maybe someday, the brain part of me will get smart enough where it will no longer matter.

Not today. Or tomorrow.
But someday. 

So here is an ice pack and some more Advil. 
Just bear with me, ok?
With love,
Jenn