The (Belt) Loop
May 09, 2013
Last week, Noah decided that he wanted to quit karate.
I've always told him it's okay if he wanted to quit karate (usually mid-argument over getting his uniform on and out the door in time for class), but he's always insisted that no, he doesn't want to quit. He wants a black belt.
Well, that's not technically true, I guess. There was one point in kindergarten when he said he wanted to quit, but didn't like our stipulation that sure, you can quit, but you need to go tell your teachers in person. He waffled for a bit, then finally made it into the office, where he quickly changed his mind after 30 seconds of pep talk from a specific instructor. (Who he worships, but kind of in the same way one worships a terrifying, vengeful god.) He kept at it and seemed to be even more dedicated to the black belt goal than ever, after that.
This time, that particular instructor is out on maternity leave, and he had no such qualms about sauntering right in and quitting.
And my bluff was called.
I don't WANT him to quit. Sure, I can think of a million other things I could do with the monthly tuition and all the schlepping back and forth two times a week, every week. (Four times, actually, now that Ezra's involved and on a completely different class schedule.) But he's worked so hard at this and come so far, plus exercise and focus and discipline and (yes) self-defense skills and etc. And he's good at it. He really is.
But if karate wasn't fun and he hated it, what can you do? I hated piano lessons and ballet with the heat of a thousand suns as a kid and finally my parents had enough of my whining and let me quit. I regret quitting both; not that I was particularly skilled at either, but it'd be nice to have something to show for the time I spent doing each, like being able to play something besides Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or walk across a floor without falling on my ungraceful ass. But I don't blame my parents for "letting" me quit — I was completely adamant about the decision.
HOWEVER. In my preemptive defense for the rest of this entry, Noah didn't want to quit because it wasn't fun and he hated it.
He graduated to the "big kid" program a couple months ago and yes, it's much harder and more demanding and it's technically for 8 to 12 years olds, and he's in there at 7.5 because he simply tore through the little kid program at a breakneck pace and never missed a belt test. But that wasn't why he wanted to quit either.
He wanted to quit because he'd gotten the names of two katas (forms) mixed up and was convinced the teachers were teaching him "wrong." He argued with them and stressed about it and wouldn't listen to any explanation. And then he worked himself up into a classic rigid-thinking lather about it, refusing to admit that he'd made a mistake and refusing to see any other course of action other than quitting. It wasn't that he didn't know the forms or couldn't perform them properly — he was just...well, he was stuck in the loop and couldn't get himself out.
We talked. We bargained. Private lessons. A couple weeks off. His instructor demonstrated the forms and explained the differences. We assured him that the name mix-up was understandable and no big deal and not worth quitting over. We called the instructor out on maternity leave on the phone and had her talk to him and promise to come see him do the forms once he felt better about them.
Noah immediately agreed...until we hung up the phone, at which point her god-like influence evaporated and he went right back to being a rigid little ball of anxiety over it.
We eventually left without resolving anything. I told them not to start the cancellation process even as Noah burst out of the office and shouted "I JUST QUIT KARATE!" to no one in particular.
Ezra had just finished his class, so I took all three boys to a coffeeshop for our traditional post-karate snack. And then immediately made the mistake of trying to resume negotiations with Noah. Why? I DON'T KNOW WHY. I'M NOT VERY GOOD AT THIS. STILL.
A very loud, very public tantrum followed, the kind that makes EVERY PERSON AROUND YOU stop and notice and judge you accordingly for not controlling that child, that child who is too old to be acting like that. Or, among the more sympathetic, judge you for making that poor child sob like that, you stage-mothering monster.
(The situation was made even more surreal by the fact that this guy, in all his neon question-marked glory, was sitting two tables away.)
We immediately left, of course. I got a very nice long look at the tile floor on the way out, lest I make eye contact with anyone. Not my finest hour, by a longshot.
I tried to drop the subject at home, though I did send Noah to his room to calm down. When I went to check on him he seemed more open to discussing things again and I got him to agree to help me count his belts. I bet him he had completed more belts than were left in his path to a black belt. He disagreed, claiming that black was too far away and he'd never get there anyway.
I won. Ten belts down, seven to go. He seemed genuinely surprised. I left him to contemplate the math.
Jason came home, was briefed on the day's events, went upstairs...and everything promptly fell to pieces again.
"You weren't kidding," he said sadly. "What do we do?"
We discussed the options. We could let him quit, obviously. We could let him take a break and continue to reason with him in the meantime. We could simply toss him in the car and drag him there.
Or we could bribe him.
Over dinner, we talked about other things. A couple things nicely dovetailed with the issue at hand and I tried some social story Jedi tricks on him. "Hmm, so it sounds like you made a mistake but admitted you were wrong instead of getting upset about it! And everything was still okay! That's great!"
(Noah immediately glowered at me. I know what you're doing, woman, and it's not going to work.)
Finally, we bribed him. We incentivized him, tempted him, made him an offer he could not refuse.
If he makes it to black belt, we will take him to Legoland.
You could practically HEAR the record scratch in Noah's brain as the needle jumped off the track. Redirection? Achieved. Rigidity? Left in the goddamn dust.
He ran upstairs to put his belt back on. "I'M GOING BACK TO KARATE!" he shouted. "QUITTING IS NOT FOR ME AFTER ALL."
Ike followed him, and came back downstairs with one of Noah's older belts. "Hawp?" he asked me.
I woke up at 4:30 this morning, staring at the ceiling and rehashing yesterday's (COPIOUS) parental failings and worrying that we'd done the wrong thing. The bribe — ahem, I mean the INCENTIVE — felt like cheating, and maybe we should have let Noah make the decision, even if we thought (or knew) his reasons were coming from a questionable source.
Noah woke up at 7:00, and sailed through the morning like a weight had been lifted. He was his bubbly, happy self for the first time in...oh.
Since he told me he wanted to quit karate last week. Huh.
"I'm so happy I'm back in karate, " he said with a big sigh, over breakfast. "I'm going to learn the forms and it's okay that I had the names wrong. Mr. W will show them to me and then! I'm back in karate! For good this time!"
I still don't know if we did the right thing or not. But this morning I just lifted my arms over my head.
"WHEEEEE!" I said, and I gave him a high-five.