Almost thirteen years ago a doctor placed our newborn baby boy in Dave's arms. He welled up (he denies this) and looked up at me with love in his eyes and said one word….
I smiled gently; I was too tired and emotional to say the words running through my head…
"Over my dead body."
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good football game and have even attended a few at high school, college and professional level. I just could not bear the thought of a bunch of burly boys piling up on my beautiful new baby.
Soon, it became clear that organized sports were not going to be part of Ryan's life and dreams of high school sports gave way to dreams of things like speaking and developing skills that come naturally to most people. Ryan was formally diagnosed with autism when he was three years old although we had known since he was about one that something was not right.
Fast forward ten years and a new ambition. My friend had enrolled her sons in a local dojo and she mentioned to me that there were several children enrolled that had disabilities similar to Ryan's. We thought that Ryan might benefit from the discipline that karate afforded. I met the Sensei and toured the school and I had to agree, it seemed a good fit.
When I enrolled Ryan he received a white belt with his Gi (karate uniform), the Sensei told me boys like Ryan would often take as long as six months to receive their first colored belt (yellow) whereas the average kid would take only a few weeks.
Two weeks later he had a yellow belt. This is how it has been. The discipline has been wonderful for Ryan and has greatly improved his confidence and his ability to focus. He has achieved far more than we were lead to believe he could.
Ok, so here we are two years later. A few weeks ago Ryan hops into the car after his lesson and tells me he needs new karate gear. I immediately put Dave in charge of this. I take Ryan on Tuesdays but I can't stay for the lesson. Dave takes him to the Saturday lesson and has more time to deal with this kind of thing.
The following Saturday I mention to Dave that Ryan needs some gear and he should check with the teacher. When he comes home he told me he ordered it and it would be in the following Saturday. For another week I live in blissful ignorance. When the gear comes in Dave takes Ryan aside to show him how to use it. There was a padded helmet thing, what looked to me like boxing gloves, shin guards and some protective gear that boys need.
The light dawned. I turned to my husband, "is someone going to be hitting my son?" I was really and truly appalled.
"Not if he's any good," was the unconcerned response. Am I really married to a man who would send my baby into hand to hand combat? Is he really this nonchalant about this?
I am here to tell you that yes, he is.
It would seem that with his blue belt came something called sparring. "You mean they hit each other?" Dave just gave me that amazed look he gets with me sometimes, "It's karate," he explained, "what did you think they did."
Of course I know that people in karate hit, I've seen a Bruce Lee movie (and hated it) but I conveniently blocked that out (I have that ability) and assumed that for Ryan his lessons would consist of more exercise type of stuff. I was obviously deluding myself on a large scale (another ability of mine).
"Don't worry," says his father, "he's really pretty good."
Don't worry? This is my son we're talking about. My baby. The love and light of my life. We just paid money to throw him into the ring with a bunch of hooligans.
"He's so little," I complained. "He is nearly as tall as you and he is definitely strong enough for this" was the calm reply.
I detest when he is calm and logical when I am trying to go off the deep end.
Well I've calmed down. A bit. I've had to since Ryan is thrilled with his new gear and the fact that he is actually good at something that other boys his age may think is cool. He fits in. He's happy. He is aware that he is different from other boys his age and it worries him so this has been amazing for him.
He even went so far as to prayerfully thank God for making him good at karate during our morning offering.
He's growing up and in a very small way, a little bit away from me, the mom who would have pulled him out of that school and signed him up for stamp collecting class. He is moving toward the man he will someday be and thanks to his father he is making this step with confidence and a sense of self he hasn't had before. I'm so proud of him.
That doesn't mean I have to like it.