Too Soon, Man
Napkins As Roses & Turd Rocks On Tables...

The (Belt) Loop

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. 



You're doing a great job, Mom. Sorry about your hard day yesterday. I can't wait to hear about your trip to legoland. =)


I have been down this road with my son as well. the rigid thoughts and the public meltdowns are the worst right? we are 7 years into our diagnosis of Aspergers/Autism. if it wasn't for my ability to bribe, I would never have left my house in those seven years. we do what we have to do.. you're doing a great job and I think that we all judge ourselves too much. (I won't touch the looks from other people, must watch blood pressure)


haha, at first I thought "the Riddler was siting by them?" Lesko is one weird guy. I always loved the Loop post too.


I know you didn't post this looking to be justified, but to me what you did makes perfect sense. Black belt will be an awesome achievement, rewarding him with a trip to Legoland for that sounds fine! Even though he wanted to quit, he's still putting in all the work for it.
One of the most mind f-ing things about parenting is the constant feeling that you're messing everything up or making the wrong decision. I really wish confidence was easier to come by in parenting, you're not alone.


I'm not a parent but it seems to me: happy kid = right thing


Go Noah! I dare say, in the not too distant past, even Legoland would have proved ineffective and prompted even more despair. Because then, not only had he screwed up karate FOREVER, but he would NEVER get to Legoland.


I'm a fan of bribery, when used for the right reasons, or even to save ones sanity. He was stuck in his head on an endless loop of I failed. Shrug. I think a trip to Legoland as an incentive makes perfect sense.

Hell, I plan a trip for myself every year in May, just as an incentive to make it through tax season alive. We all do it for ourselves so it can't be bad to occasionally do the same thing for our kids.

Jessica V.

I'm in a very similar loop re: tae kwan do with my almost 8 year old. We started martial arts for many of the same reasons that I think you did. My son has ADHD and this seemed like a good extra-curricular activity that would help his focus, boost his esteem and give him reachable goals to work toward. And, now he wants to quit - every lesson is preceded by whining, bargaining and crying (from both of us!), and every excuse in the book as to why he doesn't like it. We are waffling with it too - I don't want him to quit (and not just because the instructor is pretty hot!). My son is not in any other sports, is really good at TKD and enjoys the sessions when he's there (although he REFUSES to admit that it is anything other than torture). But - I also hate forcing him. So we are taking it day-by-day - he just got his purple belt and is on a high, so he seems OK for now. Fortunately, we live in California so a Legoland incentive is pretty doable if we need it! Thanks for sharing - good to know that there are others in the same boat.


Definitely did the right thing. As a child (okay, maybe still sometimes...) I would make a decision that made me unhappy but somehow in my mind I COULD.NOT. back out off. No matter what anyone said. I needed an excuse to back away from the decision but would reject them right and left anyway. And be miserable. Sounds like that's kind of where Noah was, and you found the excuse he needed to allow himself to be happy. Good job.

Also? I had a total "8 degrees of Amalah" moment just now. I used to work at a performing arts venue (not terribly far from you, but across the river...) and one of my friends and coworkers was lifelong friends with the child of Mr. Lesko (of the question mark suits). Lesko agreed to come out and help promote one of our events. And he was sitting near you! I've now almost shared coffee with Amalah. Heh.


I am glad to know that this world of "7-year-old" is not easier for anyone else. I am constantly blaming myself for the jealousy he feels about his baby brother and the lack of motivation in all things! Add in the quirky-rigidity-based-spectrum-though not really-sensory-crap and it gets even murkier. My son quit karate when he was 5 because he didn't think the big kid class (*yes they switch them early at the school we used*) was as fun but now he begs to go back. We just really can not afford it but I am tempted at times.

Long post short - bribery works and you done good, mama.


We work every day for two weeks for a paycheck...and then do it all over again. That's incentive. We go to college every day for four years for a diploma. That's incentive. We eat our dinner because we want dessert. That's incentive. I see no difference in encouraging something that is (was) difficult for Noah by using a reward at the end; that's LIFE. We live and work because we're incentivized by the rewards that hard work affords. He doesn't have a job now, no real "rewards" for hard efforts, other than maybe a weekly allowance, right? This is his First Big Thing: do something not-fun-at-least-not-in-my-head-right-now, and then get the reward. Don't do it, don't get the reward (at least not that way). You don't HAVE to go to college for four years to get a degree if you don't want to; you can go two. You can work at a job that makes you happier for that paycheck, if you want. You can eat all desserts all day long, but you'll start to feel bad very soon. I actually think this is a GOOD thing you did, a tactic that was deployed exactly when it should have been. Good job! And ps., people scream sometimes, like Noah did; that's part of life too. Meaning, those onlookers can get over it! Sometimes we get frustrated and are misunderstood and hungry and a little overwhelmed and tired, so we scream and cry. It happens, it will happen, and the onlookers don't know you at all. Warmest hugs, A. :-)


Sounds like the right thing to me. (But damn parenting is hard sometimes.)


Mommy guilt...or just the idea that you are raising human beings and the worry that each and every action and reaction makes a permanent home in the development of your children...GAHHH! I feel ya - and I think things sound great and Noah happy :)


Congrats! Well done.


Oof. It's the second guessing that's the hardest part - well, that and the enormous amount of weight we over-thinking parents place on every single one of our decisions. (Wait, that came out like an insult. It was commiseration. Tell me you got that?)

Also: bribes come before the desired behavior. Rewards/incentives come after the desired behavior. They have to EARN them. (I have to tell myself that all the damn time when I find myself promising, oh, everything.)


I only go to work if I am bribed/incentivised to do so with money!


That's some adorable big brother worship going on there, by the way. Sounds like he was really seeking a reason to get back to it. I think you just provided one, that's all. :)



Thank you for sharing your moments of doubt and when things go wrong and awkward. It gives me some hope for myself as a Mom of a baby who is fast hurtling into big boy land. And I think a trip to Legoland is completely appropriate as a reward for earning a black belt.

ms martyr

Parenting would be so much easier if it fell into the, "There are no right or wrong answers" category.
Only time will tell whether decisions made turn out to be right or wrong. All you can do is try your best. I think it's a big plus that Noah is happy again.


OMG I so know how this feels. My son has sensory issues and we have hit the point in karate when he needs to wear a helmet and boxing gloves. Yeah.


You are a damn good mom! No one in this world, or any other world, knows what Noah needs better than you. The feelings of accomplishment, pride and confidence he gets from succeeding at karate are so vital. My son begs to quit taekwon do just cause he'd rather stay at home and watch cartoons on a particular evening. We know they love it and need it and it's good for them. So we might bribe them with new Skylanders (I did). I think incentives are very useful in keeping them on track toward their goals. Especially when they're so young and have difficulty wrapping their brains around the concept of how long it will take to reach the goal. Don't doubt yourself, he'll thank you!


You are doing a great job, so hush your fuss, woman. You gave him an out and he took it and that is perfectly acceptable and commendable, even. He's seven, not thirty-seven. Give yourself a break! Have fun at Legoland, because I have no doubt Noah will get there :)

But seriously, that second picture of Ike staring up at Noah all worshipfully just about broke my uterus, so I *will* waggle my finger at you about that, you awful woman. ;)


So I know you have mentioned this a while ago....and I am not trying to cut ya down or anything...but do you ever feel like your special kid takes away from the other two? Like the two that aren't so....challenging....aren't getting enough from you because the eldest takes SO. DANG. MUCH. EFFORT?


You said it, YOU. So repeat after me. "This is not the hill I wish to die on." And who doesn't want to go to Legoland? Hell, if I got a blackbelt I'd sure as hell take myself to Legoland.


Dear Lord. My child is three and not all that quirky. Please don't tell me I'm not supposed to use rewards (as I call them) to encourage her to put in a little extra effort to get past something. I don't want her to expect a reward for everything she does, but sometimes extra effort gets extra credit.

Also - its not a parenting fail just because it didn't work. They are little people, not machines that respond entirely predictably. Parenting is about trial and error.

Angela N

I still get stuck in loops myself, even as an adult. I hate to admit that I'm wrong, hate to admit I made a mistake, even if it means I have to live with my bad decision. I think Noah really did want to stick with Karate, so the bribe was the perfect thing to do. If he really, truly wanted to quit, then your bribe wouldn't have been so effective. AND he wouldn't have said he was so glad to be back in karate! :-)


Sometimes, the end really does justify the means. Breaking the loop seems to me more important than bribery... erm, I mean, incentivizing. Of course, I incentivize myself into finishing projects I loathe with the promise of copious amounts of chocolate, so I may not be the best judge of this.


I just want to put it out there that maybe you can't flambe' (is that even a thing, I don't know) or play the moonlight sonata, but is that particularly relevant to you now? I picked up the flute as a grade schooler and liked it, and then my parents became obsessed with "that was my thing and there shall be no other things". I dabbled in some cheerleading but I was forced to quit in high school because it was getting in the way of my musical activities... or so said my parents. And while I wasn't interested in tossing it all away for a spot on the varsity squad, it wasn't particularly awesome of my parents to force me out of the most physically active thing I did at the time because it was the only physical thing I did and I was a girl who needed it. The worst part ended up being that I never developed other interests and had no idea what to go to college for except music. While I don't regret that, I also wished I'd had more experiences that might have led to a more lucrative career path. So sometimes you let them quit and sometimes you take them to Legoland. Just don't think that them quitting is a sign of bad parenting. Not that I'm saying that should have been the course here but for future thinking it can be good to walk out of one door and into another.


I vividly remember your previous Loop post. It so clearly explained Noah's rigid thinking but also his ability (with your patience and help, of course) to overcome it. Don't doubt yourself. You're an awesome mom and you'll soon link back to this post when talking about your family trip to Legoland.


I think this actually turned out to be a great thing. When he gets his black belt he will be SO proud of himself. And then to top it off with one of the greatest trips of his life to Lego freaking land?! That is not bad parenting. I think if he really didn't want to continue he wouldn't be happy and relaxed right now. He's still be upset but would force himself to keep going just to get to go to Lego land. Or he'd just flat out refuse. You're kind of awesome. The end.


There are no easy answers in this parenting gig. If he truly hated it and didn't want to do it, no incentive would motivate him to be there. As the parents, you understood his reasons for wanting to quit would have probably led him to regret that decision down the line. I don't see anything wrong with the incentive for earning a black belt. That is a major accomplishment that takes a lot of dedication and hard work.

My girls are in Taekwondo and there was a time when my (very shy) 7 year old was called out by the very loud, very stern instructor and wanted to quit. We had the same deal, you need to tell Grand Master and Master (both quite scary to her) and also tell them why. Needless to say, she is still there.


I can't get over how much Noah is looking like Jason.



Made me LOL. Kids are hard, and some are especially hard. There's often no "right" course, just a bunch of semi-crappy options, and you have to pick the one that feels least-crappy to you.

Denice Johnson

You did the right thing because a 7.5 year old is actually not really capable of deciding whether or not they should quit an activity. Their opinions and feelings should most certainly be considered by the parents but it is ultimately your job to decide based on many different factors.

My niece (who is now 21) was allowed to quit dance when she was 6. She didn't have a good reason - she just didn't feel like going. My sister didn't push because meh, who cares. My niece has always regretted quitting - especially when ALL of her friends continued to dance well into their teens.

My son wanted to quit hockey when he was Noah's age but we asked him to continue because we didn't feel he had given it enough of a chance. We also felt that he was making the decision based on not liking to get up at 630am on Sundays for practice (which, while logical, is not a good REASON to quit). He continued to play until he was 11 and then we had a talk with him. He was then old enough to really know how he felt about it. He also knew what he would rather be doing with his time (acting classes). And so, we let him stop playing hockey.

This is my very long winded way of saying that you were right to cajole him into sticking with it. He wasn't wanting to withdraw for the 'right' reasons and in your heart you knew he would miss it. You were right and so what if it took the promise of Legoland to get him there. I'd put this one in the 'wins' column.


Here's the thing. We celebrate achievements in life. Do I pay my kid for a good report card? No, but I take her out to her favorite restaurant and make a fuss over her, and next week when the co-op preschool votes me into my new board position, we are doing the same dang thing for me. Legoland is just an extension of that. It's something you were likely to do at some point anyway, and now he gets to earn it. It's a win, all the way around.
I will admit that I kept thinking, give it time, give it some time, particularly when Jason came in. Someone I trust says she makes most of her parenting mistakes when she feels like she has to solve everything *right now,* and it's proving true for me, too. But y'know, Noah and past history and I wasn't there, plus now you get to Legoland!


This shit is hard. We will question damn near everything. Wonder, worry, berate, eat All The Chocolate. No one seems to ever admit that we're making it all up as we go. Previously done things might not work for the same kid again, let alone the next one or the next one, or if you're especially hippyish, the ninth one. He felt better. He acted better. He seemed like a load had been lifted and you were responsible for it. If that responsibility is the result of tiny pieces of plastic that fit into one another to create elaborate works of imaginative art, go forth and piece together some motherfucking art.


Sounds like you came out ahead, so you're a good mom.

Also, if you come to the Legoland in the MOA, you have a friend (that's me, even though I've never commented before) in St. Paul who would be happy to help wrangle and guide and such. Assuming we're still friends seven belts from now.


Incentive-shmentive. Whenever my kids achieve a big goal, regardless of whether it is reading a big book all by herself or a dance recital or whatever, we celebrate. Sometimes the celebration is ice cream, and sometimes it is a LOT bigger. Getting his black belt is a BIG deal, and it should be recognized as such. In business, you get bonuses when you perform well. Admittedly, you came at this to encourage him to stay in karate, but it is possible you would have settled on something like this anyway, even if he hadn't hit a bump. (All of this is meant to be supportive of your decisions, BTW. I always worry about how tone translates when I'm commenting.)


You did the right thing for your kid, you the person who knows him best. So what that it took some attempts to get got there and that is awesome.

And while I love to be supportive, I really came to comment because of Matthew Lesko. His family is friends with a family I grew up with. I was a bridesmaid in my friend's wedding and he was there. In the question mark suit -- I suppose there is such a thing as a dressy question mark suit. Because I also live a few neighborhoods away from him, I see him out driving in his question mark covered car (was that in the parking lot outside of where you ate? oh my lands I hope so.....). And I often see him running along Beach Drive as I am driving. Yes, there are question mark running clothes. He leaves me without words. But apparently not without questions.


my oldest son took Tae Kwon Do for about 5 years and got very close to getting his black belt, but that involved a lot more work and writing a paper. I knew he would be unhappy later if he didn't do it. I offered him up to $1500 for a computer and he worked very hard and got it done when he was 15. incentives can be a great thing.


you totally did the right thing, for sure


Excellent parenting. Excellent kid stuff. All around winner!


this story makes me happy on several different levels:
1. you make me feel normal and like a decent parent because i do the same things
2. noah rocks and you all rock
3. the pics of baby in karate belt are beyond priceless. frame that shit woman!

Liz Tea Bee

You had to break his loop. You couldn't let him be victim of his own rigidity. If the karate was actually making him miserable you would have handled it very differently.

I also think it's important that you didn't make this decision while he was melting down in the coffee shop. You and Jason discussed and decided that this was the best way to handle it.

Liz Tea Bee

You had to break his loop. You couldn't let him be victim of his own rigidity. If the karate was actually making him miserable you would have handled it very differently.

I also think it's important that you didn't make this decision while he was melting down in the coffee shop. You and Jason discussed and decided that this was the best way to handle it.


Awwww. Sometimes I think that kids are specially designed to make us eat our words and see all our shades of grey.

So glad he's back in karate. And, I must also mention: my baby brother went through a meltdown over a very similar issue, and just couldn't get out when he was about Noah's age. That was almost 20 years ago, and I still remember the familial chaos. My anti-bribing parents bribed the crap out of him to keep him in. He's a third-degree blackbelt today, a karate instructor, and the absolute goddam pride of my heart---I can't even begin to tell you how much he needed to keep doing karate, and how unbelievably glad we all are that he did.

That's the challenge of martial arts for kiddos. There comes a point where you're going to face a frustration or a challenge that is just...beyond what you know how to deal with. Sometimes, you need a little help and a jumpstart to get back on the wagon and remember how much you love it. Our karate school teaches the kids a motto: "What is a blackbelt? A blackbelt is a white belt who never stopped trying."

So, from this blue belt to your little ninja, let me extend a giant high-five and a bow and a "Good work, buddy!" (and to you, too, Mom). Even the grownups are learning, and we just have to keep trying and figuring it out, too. And that's ok!


The fact that he is happy now is a good sign. The fact that he wasn't really happy about quitting is also a good sign. And I know that you will let him quit if karate is making him unhappy. I remember getting caught in those loops - you screw something up and get so worked up and then you feel like you've gone too far and can't admit you were wrong and the only option is to just quit or walk away. I regret it every time I did that as a child and young adult. Those loops suck.


Go Noah! What a trooper!


I learn so much from you, Amy. I love your solution, I think it was just right.


During my first year of piano lessons, I came in one day so excited because I'd practiced and practiced. When I proudly played the song (which was about a circus, how do I remember that?) my piano teacher gently told me I'd mixed up treble and bass clef (it was my first song with both).

I sobbed and sobbed. I was so embarrassed I had messed up. My mom and teacher consoled me as I swore I'd quit on the spot. They somehow convinced to to keep going. Now I'm a teacher with my own music degree so I think they were probably right.


He's 7 - an incentive makes PERFECT sense. You aren't rewarding behavior like good manners that are expected . you are setting a goal that once he achieves .. he can reap other rewards. I mean - isn't it kind of like one of those corporate bonuses??????


You did the right thing. None of us get the "patience is a virtue" thing as kids. He's going to be so proud of himself at the end of this! (And I bet you cashmoney that olypmic athletes were bribed by their parents at some stage..or many!)


I think it can be hard for kids who don't have the experience that life teaches you about the reward of putting a lot of effort into something over months or even years. I think that it's okay to bribe and cajool in the short term to help him get over a temporary hump if you are pretty sure in the long term he's really still loving karate.

Ladyotyk- funny you should mentiont his, Gabby Douglas the gymnast who won the gold in gymnastics said she had wanted to quit months before the olympics becuase she felt so stressed and homesick (she trains away from home) and her mother wouldn't let her and told her she'd regret quitting for the rest of her life.

I have a friend who did gymnastics and diving and her mom bribed her with a pet kitten if she did a certain dive that was scaring her I think it was this one, talk about scary not to hit your head on the board! ultimately she did the dive, got a kitten and kept doing diving and got a scholarship to college.


Oh and hey you might have wanted to go to legoland anyway, since chances are Ezra and Ike would die of little boy happiness to go there.

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