Martin is doing taekwondo now. He’s breaking my heart. He’s supposed to be playing ice hockey. We’ve invested more than a year in skating lessons and hundreds of dollars in hockey equipment. It’s no secret that I reproduced primarily to give the world another hockey player. Hockey, hockey, hockey.
Alas, apparently Martin has a will of his own. Weeks ago, we had a (parent-and-school-administrator-arranged) play date with Spencer, one of the cooler kids in Martin’s new class. Spencer is close to earning his taekwondo black belt. He showed me and Martin some of his moves, and a video of him breaking boards with kicks and punches. Spencer’s family also invited Martin to Spencer’s taekwondo-themed birthday party at the local dojang. You can guess what happened next: Martin announced that he no longer wanted hockey lessons. He wanted taekwondo.
The dojang’s introductory package comes with two private, one-on-one lessons, followed by two group classes to decide whether you want to sign up for good. Martin’s first lesson, with a teenaged black belt named Brian, was kind of a disaster; Martin preferred checking himself out in the mirror to following any actual instruction. (Just like two years ago when we tried karate.) The second lesson, also with Brian, went much better; Martin was more focused and worked with Brian on the kicks and punches. (One of the dojang masters remembered Martin from the birthday party and made a point to say hi and encourage him. I think that motivated Martin.)
So it was time to try Martin’s first group class. As the class was 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday, Adrian brought him, and I received this hearsay account:
The class had one master (the one who’d said hi to Martin) and three assistant instructors, probably teenage black belts like Brian. At first, Adrian thought an assistant was specially assigned to Martin. Subsequently he realized that the assistant instructors were for the whole class but, unsurprisingly, spending more time with Martin. As Adrian observed, he texted me that he thought taekwondo could be very good for Martin.
Twenty minutes into the class, the other dojang master asked if he could have a word with Adrian, in the office.
“I was terrified,” Adrian told me, later. “I thought for sure he was going to say, ‘No more,’ or, ‘Just not the right fit for Martin’.”
“And? What did he say?” I asked, not terrified, but not terrified only because Adrian was speaking calmly, indicating no reason to be terrified.
“He said he thought Martin is going to do well there. He said they have a lot of kids like Martin—he didn’t mention ADD or anything like that, but we both knew what he was talking about—and that martial arts help a lot with focus. He contrasted it with sports where kids can get away with just running around, like soccer.”
Or hockey, I thought, before shunning the thought.
Adrian continued, “The master guy said that his ‘day job’ is as a special-education teacher at [S—] School.” That’s one of the local elementary schools.
“This sounds wonderful,” I said.
“I think so.”
“I would have been terrified, too.”
Having a kid with autism, or ADD, or ADHD, or (I imagine) any range of challenges entails constant fear of rejection (and sometimes, rejection realized). Last Friday, I had arranged an evening play date with a boy in Martin’s new class (Lucas, whose mother I’d talked with at the open house). We planned to meet at a playground. Friday morning the boy’s mother texted me that it was supposed to rain and so we should reschedule. She didn’t suggest any particular time to reschedule. Instantly, I was terrified. Had the classmate found out his play date was with Martin and declared himself unwilling to attend? Did he not want to hang out with the weird kid? I texted back and suggested Tuesday afternoon instead. The mom responded sure, and that she would be in touch Tuesday morning.
I wondered whether she really would contact me Tuesday morning.
I hope she would.
I feared she wouldn’t.
She did. Tuesday morning, she texted asking what time we wanted to meet.
The play date was kind of a bust. The other boy (himself kind of immature, with some challenges, though not at Martin’s level) played mostly with a pre-schooler who happened to be at the playground. Martin wanted to swing, as he always does. The other mother and I made scattered attempts to facilitate interaction, fruitlessly.
Still, later she texted me, “Let’s do it again soon!”
Disaster averted. Nevertheless, we’ve suffered enough rejections and setbacks along the way to keep the terror real, and present.