Little Imitators

The first installment of my “frustrated parent” blog. FYI, most of the time it will be frustration aimed at me or my kids or both…but not this time.

A few months back I took our 5-year-old son to his first martial arts class.  He was bursting with excitement, so much so that it was near impossible for him to keep some measure of control over his faculties.  It was priceless.  I managed to get the door open just wide enough for him to squeeze himself through. He hopped his socks and shoes off.  Then he was through the inner door in a flash.

He was so excited that he began to whisper in that “oh-so-subtle” way that children do, by which I mean that he could be heard three rooms away.  I quickly did my best to get his attention and pass along a few brief instructions. 1) follow your teachers’ instructions, 2) practice listening instead of speaking, and 3) remember to have fun.  I would like to believe that he heard at least one of those instructions but that may be delusional.

He quickly made his way through the waiting area and out onto the mat, full of excitement, ready to learn something new (and probably pretending he was Spiderman).

I retreated to the waiting area to sit alongside a bevy of parents and grandparents and settle in for the show.  The space was…lets say “cozy”…but adjacent to the workout area, which meant that we had a fairly decent view of our kids.  As I waited for his lesson to begin, I let my eyes wander around the room and noticed a rather large sign near the door where we had made our grand entrance mere moments earlier.  It was not a subtle sign.  In fact, it was a rather eye-catching sign, with giant lettering that was painted in a metallic, electric blue. It listed a number of expectations that the masters at this particular dojo have for the children who learn from them.

The instructions were all centered around the dual concepts of discipline and respect.  A few of them were, “Children who study here will do their homework as soon as they get home.  They will wait their turn to speak.  They will practice waiting patiently.  Children at this dojo will refer to adults as ‘sir’ and ‘mam'”, and so on.  I found this particular sign to be rather reassuring, as I knew relatively little about that establishment, and hoped that it signified a real holistic concern for our kids–to make them positive members of their families and prepare them for being positive contributors to society at large when they reach adulthood.

It wasn’t long before the lesson began.  The instructors took great care to be reassuring but firm with each of their students.  For the entirety of the hour’s lesson, they were side-by-side with the kids, showing them exactly what they wanted.  They performed a series of punches, kicks, stances, and stretches.  The instructors patiently modeled what they wanted and the children did their best to imitate the grace of their instructors. I was very impressed and excited for what this place could mean for my son.

About half of the way through the lesson a conversation started up between two adult males in the waiting area.  I think that they were reliving the glory days of their youths in some fashion, but I know that their voices were carrying out onto the mats.  The instructors noticed.  The kids noticed.  Fortunately, I had the periodic ring of another parent’s phone set at decibel-level-“I’m mostly deaf” to distract me from their incessant babbling.

Eventually, I became so exasperated that I threw my head back to stare at the ceiling and let out an explosive sigh.  When I finally lowered my eyes I noticed a relatively benign sign located directly above my chair, at the portion of the waiting room nearest the mats.  The sign had instructions for adults, but only three: no cell-phones, no talking, and no children playing in the waiting area.

I must admit that my first instinct upon seeing that sign was to stand up and draw everyone’s attention to the rules and begin to pummel this room of parents into submission.  However, that was quickly suppressed by a rather bleak realization.  These people were paying someone else to teach their kids things like respect, obeying the rules, courtesy, obedience, self-control, and discipline.  Yet, these kids were only at the dojo for 1-2 hours a week; the other 100+ hours they were at home with their parents, the same parents that couldn’t be bothered with simple courtesy rules at a public place and couldn’t care any less about what their kids were doing out on those mats!

They are throwing their money away if they think their kids will learn enough discipline and respect in 2 hours to override the disrespect and discourtesy demonstrated by their parents.  Now, I know that parenting is terribly hard (I almost capitalized ‘terribly’ here) and it is possible that some in the room were just tired or having an off day.  But I have a strong suspicion that the hypocrisy of the moment lies in each of our homes to varying degrees…but I can certainly speak for myself and nod in the affirmative.

Hypocrisy as a parent is unavoidable on some level, but it is an extremely unsettling reality nonetheless.  The harsh truth is that little children are grade-A imitators.  My boys observe and mimic everything I do and say; EVERYTHING.  They try to joke like me, lounge like me, do projects around the house like me, laugh like me, play games like me, kiss their mother like me, marry their mother like me.  It is comical, infuriating, and a daunting responsibility.  But I know that it isn’t something I can avoid.  They will model themselves after me, it is unavoidable.  I know this because I am an imitation of my father.  Sometimes it is a poor imitation and sometimes it is an exact copy, but I am an imitation of my father.

All this to say that I wish to leave you with 2 parting thoughts:

1. Forget gun control, civil liberties, and immigration reform…if you want this to be a better country then start being good parents.  God, it is hard to parent.  There are so many days I don’t want to be one.  But…I am the model that these little people have, and you parents out there are models for your own as well so at least try.

2.  Get your heads out of your phones and tablets and SEE your children; actually SEE them.  Who knows, it may get easier to deal with them if they feel that they matter…

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