“When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”
– Erma Bombeck
There are many reasons for my sporadic posting, (for the six people who do take the time to read), and one of them is that I have produced my very own tiny human in the last two years. Exciting, I know, and much, much harder than a shodan grading. Giving birth puts many things into much-needed perspective. 21 hours of labour will do that.
Anyway, now I juggle two titles: Sensei, and Mom. And like all mothers before me, I am going to offer unsolicited wisdom, as revenge for all the unwanted advice I got from family, friends and complete strangers in the queue at Checkers (because nothing inspires condescending advice from randoms like a baby bump. The same fuckers won’t offer you a chair to sit on, but they will ask about whether you plan to have natural birth or not. Rude.)
First Lesson: I Am A Woman, Not An Island
Learning to accept help has probably been one of the most valuable lessons of the last two and a bit years. Because from the moment everyone knew (especially the dojo), the offers of help began to pour in. From my husband, who took over my teaching load when I was too tired to stand, to the bags of ginger sweets from friends for the 3 months of all-day nausea, to every dojo mom who has bounced Hunter to sleep, to the teens and kids who play with him so that I can teach/grade/event manage. I have learned to accept offers of help, because people really do want to help and its important to let them, and especially when its a chance to let someone learn a valuable skill, like letting a teen handle admin tasks. It is especially great when people volunteer to take Hunter off my hands so that I can focus on teaching, because at the end of the day, I really do love teaching and it matters to me that I can still do it, and do it well, and not sacrifice it entirely on the altar of motherhood.
Second Lesson: Motherhood is Mine to Disrupt
I admit I was warned, but I didn’t really know that so much of parenting would just outright suck and be boring. The waiting, the nappy blowouts, the sleep regressions, the food struggles, the fear when my child is sick and his temperature is spiking. The endless worry about milestones, and the inevitable comparisons, made by both myself and others. “He looks a bit thin”, and “are you sure you’re feeding him enough?” and “shouldn’t he be doing X by now?”
And it is still scandalous to admit all this, because “what about all the people that will be too put off to have children?” Well, good, because they aren’t tough enough for this gig. Also, apparently upon becoming mothers, we are all supposed to turn into these earth goddesses who are also so good at cleaning, and breastfeeding, and sleep training, and cooking and a million other things. (Ali Wong puts it better in her stand-up special Hard Knock Wife.) Voetsek to all that, I say. I truly love teaching karate, and I love my son and my husband, and everything else can fit into that. I refuse to give up teaching, and I am incredibly lucky that I have a husband who more than does his half – he does some of my work too. We try to keep to a routine, but sometimes there are interruptions, and that’s fine. No, I am not a perfect mother, but no one is, and I’m doing my best, and that’s all anyone can ask. And if that’s not good enough, then fight me.
Lesson Three: Stronger than Before
I went through my blog the other day (procrastination) and came across all these godawful, whiny blogposts, and I must have deleted dozens of them, because nothing teaches one strength like parenting. Things that used to knock me on my ass barely register now. People are mean? Whatever. Sleep-deprived and suffering a chest infection? Show must go on.
“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws,” said Barbara Kingsolver, and this is why we can still do what we need to do, even when sick, even on two or three hours sleep. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since December 2017, when I was 5 months pregnant and got up two or three times a night, because pregnancy reduces even the best bladders. (Oh, and the incredibly vivid dreams, yes, can’t forget those). The longest I’ve slept is 5 hours. My son’s chronotype is ‘ferret on meth’, and since he doesn’t sleep, neither do I. But somehow, I’ve gotten used to it, and the bags under my eyes match my black belt. (I still don’t like it when people point out how tired I am. Bitch, I know. Offer to take this child for two hours, or something. Bring me a Red Bull, my one vice.)
When I turned 30, I started running out of fucks. Now, I have zero, not even one, left to give. Either help, admire, or get out of my way. Sensei Mom has too much to do.
Lesson four: Empathy (Sorry, Mom) and Gratitude for Days
I am now suddenly and completely retroactively sorry for being the brat I was, and how I put my poor parents through hell. According to my mother, I didn’t sleep either, and I couldn’t understand growing up why she delighted in telling everyone about it. I get it now. I realise that she was just looking for a bit of sympathy, and maybe for someone to offer to take me off her hands for a bit. Luckily, I have a big family, an incredible husband, a dojo family, and a part-time nanny, and I would be completely sunk on my own. I could write an Oscar acceptance speech trying to thank everyone, but I fear I am already running long here. I am consistently in awe of parents who go at it on their own, for any number of reasons, especially as families shrink and/or splinter all over the world.
Entering the sisterhood of motherhood has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. Because even though there are judgy moms who have an opinion on everything and everyone (Karens), there are also welcoming moms, who have taught me tricks and commiserated and let me rant and be pathetic every now and then. There have been moms in shopping centres with an extra wet wipe, or complete strangers in a train station in Okinawa who gave us a fan to cool Hunter down. The whatsapps late at night with mom friends, who are also either in the trenches, or enjoying the rare hour when everyone is sleeping and its time for pointless instagram scrolling, or reading, or Netflix bingeing. My relationships with my mom and stepmom have become richer, because I get it now, and they still have something to teach me, even if parenting has changed dramatically in 30 years.
Lesson Five: Everything Has Changed (And You Get Used To It)
The hardest thing, sometimes, is mourning the person I used to be – when I had the luxury of time to run for two or three hours, and then shower and nap afterwards. When I didn’t need an organising committee to make time for a nap. When I could go to every training session, and every gashuku, start to finish. Teaching kata to kids is not the same as real training (because I need to work on Saipai, a kata that is currently not on speaking terms with me, understandably) and it has been hard to swallow my pride and accept that my karate just kinda sucks now. Funakoshi said that karate is like a pot of water, and we need to keep it hot to keep it boiling, and I haven’t been able to keep up that heat.
My san dan journey has been set back a few years, because while I did train while pregnant, and was back in my gi two weeks after giving birth, I have to face the fact that I lost time. I lost lots of time. I have to fight hard to carve out training and running time. Every time I try to train, my son suddenly becomes clingy, and I must step off the mat, because its not fair to disrupt the whole class for the sake of my training. My own health, while important, must take third or fifth or tenth priority, some days. This is how women get worked out of the system, because karate and the patriarchy and generally everyone else doesn’t wait for you, and it is implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) understood that one is like, super grateful to be a mom and will happily surrender her entire journey to motherhood. Karate is for men, isn’t it? Isn’t that why there are only men at the top? We are slowly changing that, but being on this side of motherhood, I can see why so many of us just quit, or slowly disappear. I understand.
But, karate is long, and life is short, and as Hunter gets older and more independent, I am slowly clawing back time to train. A wise Sensei Mom once told me that before I know it, he’ll be big and training alongside me, and I’ll have plenty of time again. And I try to remember that, especially on the days when time feels like it is dragging, and I’ll be wiping butts forever.
Overall, hopefully, importantly, I hope this has all helped me become a better instructor. There aren’t a lot of Sensei Moms, but we are out there, and if we can keep at it, and show the girls coming up behind us that motherhood can be enriching, not limiting, and that they can be tough and soft, and breastfeed while kicking ass, then every Sensei Mom has earned a different kind of black belt.
“Being a mom has made me so tired. And so happy.”
– Tina Fey