Thankful Thursday

It’s still Thursday so I still have time to post a thankful thought. 

I am very thankful for some good news my son received today – he found out today that he was accepted into the impacted major of his choice at UCSC (Santa Cruz.).

I am quite sure that college acceptances are something all parents cheer about but I’m cheering especially loud. Until recently, my 28-year-old son never had any intention of going to college. But a few years ago, when he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, he had to give up a job he loved as a mechanic at a car dealership. His body was no long able to keep up the pace.

So he is starting over. 

It isn’t easy for him but he knows he has to learn a new skill in order to support himself and continue to be self-sufficient. And he needs to do it right now before his body begins to give out even more.

Like any parent who is hit with the news that something is wrong with their child, I wanted to fix it for him. I wanted to make it better or make it go away. But I can’t fight Muscular Dystrophy for him. He has to fight that battle on his own.

I cut my writing teeth on articles for the regional parenting publications. They were a new industry. I was a new writer. We grew up together. I had young kids and I often wrote about them. Tonight I was reminded of the first parenting article I ever sold. It was about Ryan and how determined he was fight his own battles in his own way.


“Mom, I want to quit karate.”

With those few words, Ryan, my thirteen-year-old son, declared war.

For two solid years, four times a week, I had willingly driven thirty miles to the nearest karate dojo. In that short amount of time, Ryan exhibited a natural ability that quickly moved him up the ranks. He had earned the first black stripe on his Brown Belt. Only two more tests until he would have his Black Belt. And now, he wanted to quit.

The lessons had been Ryan’s idea, not mine. To me, karate implied violence. To Ryan, they represented power.

“Mom, I’m a wimp. I’m tired of all the bullies picking on me. I need to learn how to defend myself.”

I resisted. My excuses ranged from, “I don’t want you to get hurt. You’ll never practice.” And that parental favorite, “We can’t afford it.”

I didn’t give in until the day he came home with a bloody nose because of a bully who made him kiss the pavement, nose first.

Karate lessons began the very next day.

From the beginning, I sensed something special about the school. His Sensi, (teacher) did more than just teach the kids how to defend themselves against an enemy. He taught survival skills for life.

“Keep your eyes open,” Sensi told them. “Be aware of what’s going on around you. Set goals. Learn the skills needed to meet your goals.”

Once Sensi asked a class of thirty-five kids, “How many of you consider yourselves average?” To his dismay, almost every hand went up.

“Put your hands down,” he yelled. “Never, ever admit that you are average. You have within you the ability to be anything you want, as long as you’re willing to work at it.”

Even sitting on the sidelines, his words touched me, infusing me with a hidden strength. He made me feel like I could do anything. And as adamantly as I’d been against karate in the first place, I suddenly became its biggest advocate.

Ryan never missed a class or a test. With the rest of the students, he performed monthly demonstrations in parades, shopping malls and fairs. When special seminars came around, I always made sure he attended. I bought him books and videos, then quizzed him on the material. In my mind, the more opportunities he took advantage of, the quicker he would advance to that all-important Black Belt.

But along the way, I forgot to ask Ryan what he wanted. So I felt shocked and disappointed when he told me earning a Black Belt no longer mattered to him.

“I’m going to quit,” he said. “It’s no fun anymore. Baseball season starts soon and I’d rather practice baseball than karate.”

“But you’re so close to becoming a Black Belt,” I insisted. “Why give up before you reach your goal? Haven’t you listened to anything Sensi has tried to teach you?”

“Yes, Mom, I have. Sensi said anything is possible if you’re not afraid of hard work. I want to play in the Major Leagues someday. That means I have to devote my time to improving my baseball skills. I’d like to try out for the High School team, and maybe play winter ball, but I need to practice hard if I hope to make the cuts.”

“Couldn’t you stay with karate for just one more year,” I begged, still clinging to the vision of  his Black Belt.

Ryan stood his ground and shook his head. “I learned what I wanted to from karate. I know how to defend myself, even against people bigger than me. I’m not afraid of bullies or a gang with knife, because I know what to do and how to get away.”

His only other comment was, “If getting a Black Belt is so important to you, Mom, maybe you’re the one who should be taking karate instead of me.”

His words shocked me, much like a bucket of cold water jolts your system awake. That’s when I stepped back and took a good look at my son. There had been no whining. He hadn’t raised his voice or lost his temper. He had come to a decision based on the goals he had set for himself. Then he presented the facts to me in a calm and grown-up manner.

No longer my little baby, but not quite a young man, Ryan had taken the first step toward adulthood by taking control of his own life. Which, I think, was exactly what Sensi wanted to teach him all along.  

Nothing’s changed much in the 15 years since I wrote that. Ryan is still fighting his own battles in his own way. And I couldn’t be more proud.
Way to go, Ryan.

Thursday, November 29, 2007|Categories: Family|Tags: , |39 Comments

Sometimes we write

After thinking about it overnight I decided to post a longer version of this. Some of you might find some comfort in knowing more of the story and in knowing you are not alone in your own various struggles.

Sometimes we write to try and explain the unexplainable, like why bad things happen to good people. We tell stories about imaginary kids living imaginary lives that no would really want to live. And when someone asks us why, we have no answers except that was a story that kept talking to us until we shared it with the world. Sometimes we make things up because if we told people they really happened no one would believe us. And sometimes we DO make them up. But sometimes they are real, too real to admit they are true, so we write them down and pretend they happened to someone else, to imaginary characters.

As a parent, from the day they were each born, I tried my best to keep my two children from harm. Sometimes it even worked. For years, every Labor Day, I donated money to the Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy. I started in 1979, the year my son was born. My husband would go off on a hunting trip and I would snuggle with my son on the couch and watch the show. I held my healthy baby in my arms, so grateful, and gladly gave my credit card number to the lady on the phone to help Jerry’s kids. 24 years later, when that same son was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, I felt numb. But I went to work doing my mommy job, guiding him when he wanted guidance and listening to him rant when he wanted to rant. I had wanted to keep him from harm but I couldn’t. And when (for safety issues) he had to leave a job he loved and go back to college for retraining, I wanted to rant and rave at anyone who would listen (and a few who wouldn’t) about the unfairness of it all. Genetics aside, I felt like I had failed as a mom. I hadn’t keep my son safe.

My daughter was born three years later and as different from her brother as two siblings could be. He was the introvert, content in his small circle of friends. She was the extrovert who had to go everywhere with everyone. She never met a stranger and whenever anyone new moved into the neighborhood she was the first one to know all about them. When she was mad, everyone around her knew it because she wore her heart on her sleeve for the world to see. Her emotions went miles high and miles deep. Keeping her safe was a full time job and over the years we have ranted and raved with and at one another. But even when she makes me crazy, I’ve never stopping believing in her ability to do whatever she wanted to do, even when, as she has many times, she stopped believing in herself.

But she’s all grown up and a mommy of her own now and I can’t keep her safe anymore. That’s a hard one for me. Genetics, sometimes a twist or lack of something in your DNA can give you a battle with something like MD. And sometimes it gives you other demons to fight. The kind you can’t see.

So sometimes, we write. We tell stories to help heal a nameless hurting child because we cannot heal our own children.

Thursday, November 9, 2006|Categories: Random|Tags: , , |22 Comments