Invocations

I feel like it’s too much to ask
to do all the right things
like floss and wear sunscreen and recycle
and pay bills on time
and not eat too many croissants
and not drive when you could walk
and show up on time

The long list of requirements
weighs on me
like the 10 commandments etched in stone
times 1,000 and strapped
onto my back
as if I am Moses’ sherpa

Yes, I know
I could put down
the freaking tablets
and give my aching shoulders
a rest
but I also know there would be
Consequences
because that’s how it works

Not to mention the rules
that aren’t even covered
in the 1,000 commandments
like don’t show up to a party empty-handed
and always send a card
and put something in the plate when it’s passed to you

Then there are the Big Rules
(not necessarily covered in the…

View original post 109 more words

This is the part of my car that is no longer attached.

I still have the driver’s side mirror that came on my Honda Odyssey, but it’s currently sitting on the floor of the back seat. Maybe a little Gorilla Glue will take care of that?

But let me rewind to the earlier excitement in my day.

Zeke stayed home from school today after receiving a diagnosis of flu b yesterday at the doctor’s office, where I took him at 8:30am because he had a high fever and seemed utterly miserable. There are many times when a parent wonders whether to take the kid to the pediatrician or just wait it out, but this was not one of those times. So I drove him to the doctor, dropped him off at home, drove to the pharmacy, discovered the pharmacy doesn’t open until 10am on Sundays, drove home to eat the breakfast sandwich that Randy got for me on his way home earlier in the morning when he realized he had shown up a day early for his volunteer shift at the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and drove back to the pharmacy at 10.

Anyone who is a parent knows that this diagnosis on a Sunday requires immediate canceling and shuffling of plans. Zeke couldn’t go to church. Randy had to cancel his mandolin lesson because I had somewhere else I had to be and we didn’t want to require Zoe to babysit while Zeke was sick. I did some frequent checking in from the place I had to be. I had to find someone to replace me at a job I was scheduled to do and then pay them. And on and boringly but necessarily on. The ripple effect of a child’s fever and the instructions to be at least temporarily quarantined are far-reaching.

I had to take Zeke out, however, to pick up Zoe from school. It was pouring rain and I didn’t want her to have to walk the mile and a half home. Zeke was contentedly reading the latest Dog Man book in the car while we made the quick trip. On the way home, we were turning left from Walter Reed onto 9th Road South. This is a street lined on both sides with garden apartments. The two-way street has service roads on each side, which are also narrow parking lots for residents. As I turned left, another minivan was turning the wrong way down the street and suddenly pulling out toward me. I honked and swerved out of the way, but not wide enough to prevent her from hitting me. Somehow, most of the damage was to her car, although mine was scraped up, nothing was hanging off of it.

Thankfully the kids were ok and I got out of the car to talk with the other driver. She did not speak English. I tried for a while to ask about insurance or the police and she responded but not in any sentences I could quite understand. I had no idea what to do. I gave her my insurance information and my phone number. She gave me nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t ask for her phone number. I guess I wasn’t sure if she could provide it, although she had two phones with her in her hand. I don’t know why she had two phones. One didn’t seem to be working. I knew I should call the police, but I was also worried about my kids sitting there in the car, in the rain and cold, especially with Zeke having the flu. I kept thinking I could get arrested for leaving the scene of an accident but I didn’t know how the police would communicate with the other driver and I just really wanted my kids to be home.

Meanwhile, a gentleman with a mustache pulled up on the service road on one side and asked if we were ok. I explained the situation and he got out of the car and said, “I know a little bit about these things.” Not sure what things he meant, but ok. He looked at my car and looked at her car. He asked me, “what do you want to do? Your car seems ok.” I told him I just wanted to go home, but I wasn’t sure what to do because I couldn’t get any information from the other driver. He went up to her and said, rather close to her face, “She’s going to forgive you! This is why America is a great place! This is clearly your fault but she’s not going to call the police.”

This patriotic bystander seemed like he might have been an immigrant as well. He spoke English with a slight accent. The other driver did not really respond. I have no idea if she understood him or not.

I was, understandably, flustered by the whole thing. So I left, without getting any information from the other driver, or the witness, or the other car. I did not remember to do any of those things that you’re supposed to do.

So we went home and Zeke and Zoe and I played a board game and Zeke and I watched a movie and I folded laundry. I had left my phone upstairs and missed two calls from “unknown number” and two accompanying voicemails from a man saying he was calling this number because “a lady named Betsy hit his car and needed to repair it” or something to that effect. He did not leave his name or number, but a phone number that I later realized belonged to MY insurance company, that I had given the driver (presumably his wife?).

Then I remembered to call my insurance company. I felt ridiculous not having all the information I was supposed to have, but the guy on the phone was super nice about it. I’m guessing things like this happen more often than I realize.

After Randy got home I had to pick up Zoe from martial arts. It occurred to me that I might be able to find the car that had hit me if it was parked close to where the woman was inexplicably pulling out the wrong way. So in the dark and in the rain I had Zoe jump out of the car to take a picture of the license plate of the offending van.

Then I took Zoe to Giant because she needed yellow and blue sprinkles for a cupcake competition she’s doing at school in one of her classes. Giant has many things but yellow and blue sprinkles are not among them. We decided to head to Michael’s to check out its extensive inventory of dessert decorating accessories. I began backing out of my parking space in the garage at Giant when a massive cement pillar interfered with my exit by knocking the driver’s side mirror clean off of my car. I picked it up and put it in the back seat.

When we got to Michael’s and got out of the car, Zoe asked if she could give me a hug.

While Zoe located blue and yellow sprinkles and decided to make candy letters to spell out her school’s motto, I went to the bathroom, where I discovered I was getting my period (sorry for TMI but it’s germane to the rest of the story, I promise).

We checked out and I remembered to use some of the coupons that Michael’s sends me rather aggressively, and saved $5 on Zoe’s $15 worth of baking supplies, thinking that savings would come in handy when I had to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get my mirror reattached to my car.

Back in the car I texted Randy that I had a) knocked the mirror off the van b) gotten my period in the store c) received a $5 discount. Randy replied that that was a weird reason for a discount, which made me laugh and laugh and laugh. And I showed Zoe and she laughed with me.

Oh, and did I mention that my mom is having heart surgery tomorrow?

Oy.

In 2020 I want to figure out how to

  1. Use my Instant Pot that everyone swears will change my life but I’ve thus far been scared to operate
  2. Not take it personally when my kids are in terrible moods
  3. Cultivate a daily meditation practice
  4. Read tarot
  5. Handle it when people serving our family in stores or restaurants refer to my daughter as “he” because she has short hair
  6. Make any money from my crazy art
  7. Get rid of a TON of the stuff in my house
  8. Get my children to ride their bicycles
  9. Eat out less while magically discovering what foods everyone in my family will eat without me having to cook everything
  10. Say no

Invocations

How you organize your life
is up to you

Your choices may bewilder me
but that’s on me

I may not understand what you smoke or why

how you learned to shoot

where you put your trust

who you worship

everything you are willing to sacrifice

But you offered me orange juice
and crackers

You made me laugh

You did not give up
(on me)

You never
turned me away

You may question my trips
through the drive-thru

My vague idea of bedtime

Nearly everything I allow my kids to do
and where I draw the line

You may think my priorities are sadly misguided

and that it’s embarrassing
that my heart so often shows up
naked
on my sleeve

You may judge me by my
worst day, my stupidest
mistake

Fair enough

I confess I don’t have a clue
what motivates you
why you don’t care
as much as…

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For the past several years, each day of November I have posted on Facebook about what I am thankful for. Or, I have posted every few days a few things I am thankful for. I find it challenging to stick to doing any given task every single day beyond the basics required for hygiene and decent parenting, even if it is a task I want to do and set out for myself.

In recent weeks (maybe months?) I have found myself more anxious and stressed than usual (which is saying a lot). I have struggled to focus my attention on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I am getting plenty of sleep. I am walking a lot. But my brain is just on overdrive all the time. It feels chaotic in my head.

I am contemplating the causes of this (not that hard to figure out, really) and working on solutions (harder). One thing I know I need to do is express gratitude. I am absolving myself from any requirements of eloquence or grace or even complete sentences. I just want to put some things out into the universe.

I am thankful that

  1. Zeke has finally made two friends in his first grade class and I’ve finally managed to contact one of the moms and have actually arranged a playdate for next weekend. I am both relieved and excited.
  2. My sister has been coaching me in how to say no. You might think this would be simple for me, but you would be wrong. I am rehearsing these lines in my head and planning to use them soon. In fact, earlier today I offered to do something for a group I am in and then I thought about my lines and I rescinded my offer! It felt good.
  3. Several people I care about are dealing with life-threatening illnesses or taking care of loved ones with life-threatening illnesses right now. This is not what I am thankful for. What I am thankful for is that these people all have access to excellent medical care, and more importantly that they are surrounded by family and friends who are providing unwavering love and support. AND that some of these people are willing and able to share what they’re going through online so that the wider community of people who care about them can know what’s going on and offer continuous love and comfort and encouragement. It’s so unnecessary to suffer alone.
  4. Tonight I watched Zoe help Zeke with some martial arts techniques with confidence and patience I have never before witnessed in that situation. It would seem that becoming a black belt and taking a recently added leadership class at EvolveAll have really made a positive difference. She was kind and enthusiastic in instructing him and he was receptive to her teaching and demonstrated immediate improvement. I was proud of both of them.

    (I was going to try to write 30 thankful things here because there are 30 days in November but as the words seem to be just spilling out of me I’ll go for 10 tonight and do the other 20 later).
  5. I have a new client that I am so thrilled to be working for and whose work is making an enormous impact on our country with the potential to seriously change things for the better in the next year. This client completely fell into my lap unexpectedly and I am thankful for the referral from someone I worked with years ago and for the new relationship.
  6. My husband is keeping up with the impeachment hearings so he can explain everything to me. He is more attuned and seemingly better able to understand political news and analysis than I am and he loves to discuss it and doesn’t mind answering my questions. And I am thankful that (hopefully) some people are finally going to be called to account for their unethical behavior. There’s so much more they should be called to account for, but I guess we have to start somewhere.
  7. There are so many extraordinary books in the world and I get to read some of them. I have read (or listened to) some absolutely stunning books in recent months, including The Dutch House; Olive, Again; The Miseducation of Cameron Post; Normal People; Every Note Played; The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl; Children of Blood and Bone; Unsheltered; Sing, Unburied, Sing; Evvie Drake Starts Over; Starworld; Little Fires Everywhere; How Not to Die Alone; City of Girls; and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. This is not an exhaustive list. But a good one.
  8. We have a washing machine and dryer and a dishwasher in our house. These are the kind of conveniences we often take for granted, but they are actually huge. We do so much laundry in our house. I am so grateful that I don’t have to take it all to a laundromat. We have nice clothes. We have warm clothes. We have plenty of choices of what to wear every day. We can be as clean and as cute as we want to be.
  9. I have choices. I am so fortunate to have plenty of options in my life. At times it may seem like too many, but what a luxury to have too many choices. What to eat, where to go, what kind of work to do, who to spend time with, how to raise our kids, what kind of vacation to take, what camp to send our kids to, how to entertain ourselves. We have immense amounts of freedom and privilege in how we conduct our lives.
  10. I play soccer with a phenomenal group of women. I love my team and I love playing with them on Monday nights and I am pretty happy with the fact that I have become a better player over the past eight seasons. And we have new jerseys for the spring season! Stay tuned for pictures come April.

    It’s time to put Zeke to bed. I am thankful that he still loves to read and snuggle with me.

At a picnic table
at a pumpkin patch
playground with goats
and apple cider donuts
my kids and I and a friend
sat eating hot dogs and nachos

I was surprised to smell smoke
and looked around to see who was smoking
in the pavilion where people were eating
and where we were surrounded
by hay

At the table next to us were
four Muslim women
all wearing hijabs and long robes

They were drinking tea out of
delicate china demitasses
decorated with flowers

The tea was in a tall red and black checked thermos
that looked like a man in a hat with earflaps would fill
with black coffee to take on an early morning outing

The women were laughing
and one of them was smoking
I have never seen
a woman in a hijab
smoking a cigarette
She looked so relieved 

This is the essay Zoe wrote as part of her requirements to earn her black belt at EvolveAll, a phenomenal accomplishment that she achieved today.

By Zoe Rosso

When I was four, a friend from preschool invited me to her birthday party at her Taekwondo studio. Afterwards I said to my mom, “I want to do that!” We found Creative Martial Arts down the street from our house, next to CVS. I did a two-week trial there, a tiny five-year-old with curly hair, and immediately loved it. It was a tiny space, but the community there was amazing. I remember sitting next to my friends Ellie, Matthew, Samantha, learning how to do a side kick. It looked so hard! I didn’t know how the instructors could do it so well. Now, side kick is one of my favorite kicks.       

 A couple years later CMA moved locations and became EvolveAll. I got my blue stripe belt there. I also had two birthday parties there, my seventh and my eighth. I clearly remember at my eighth birthday when my mom along with my friends’ parents ran around trying to play green big ball, and somehow they beat us? The new studio was so much bigger than CMA. There was a turf room that always had kids playing in it, and a huge mat.

My favorite and most clear memory from EvolveAll one is when I got my green solid belt. I heard my name called by Mr. Herill. I ran up to him. I heard everyone yell “3,2,1!” and kicked, but the board didn’t break, and after many tries I was still unsuccessful at breaking my board. Master Emerson took me aside into the turf room to try some more. And I was still unsuccessful. I remember being so frustrated with myself, but I would not cry. I needed to stay strong if I wanted that green solid! I went back into the crowded main room and tried once again with Mr. Christian to break my board, this time by myself in front of everybody there. I could hear people cheering my name, they wanted me to break it. I just couldn’t! I tried so much more in the turf room. I remember Master Emerson saying, “If you don’t break this today I can’t give you your green solid.” That thought was what motivated me to try as hard as I could to break this board. We went back in to watch the remainder of the growth ceremony. I still hadn’t cried even though I wanted to. I was close to giving up, I was tired. I just wanted to go home, but not nearly as much as I wanted my next belt. After the growth ceremony was over, and everyone but the staff and a few families had gone home, I tried again. My parents, the Zoellers, the Gookins, Samantha and her mom, Master Emerson, and a few other people were standing and watching me with their fingers crossed. Mr. Christian was holding my board. Just the strength and support from a few very important people in my life, were enough for me to finally let out that one last “HIYAH” and kick right through the board. I remember everyone yelling and cheering for me. Mr. Christian was jumping up and down, and my mom lifted me up into the air and she was probably crying. I was so happy, overwhelmed and excited all at the same time. Afterwards, we went to lunch at Zoe’s Kitchen. My mom asked me how I felt. Instead of saying embarrassed, upset, sore, or anything like that, I said to her, “I feel awesome!” and smiled. This moment has stayed with me through the past three years. If something gets hard, or I just don’t feel like I am capable of doing something, I remember that moment. If I have perseverance and resilience, then I can do anything and the feeling of completing it is amazing. Whether its breaking a board, learning a form, or getting a kick down. This also helps me work through other things in my life, like math, and especially science. 

 Another challenge for me was sparring. I started when I was around eight. I got a full bag of gear for my birthday and I was eager to start my first class. At EvolveAll one, I was sparring against teenagers like Sydney and Arnab. Since then, at EvolveAll two and three, sparring has changed a lot. Now, we warm up, condition, maybe do grappling or partner work or go over drills, and then do free sparring. It used to be where we would warm up and then go straight into sparring. We had to wear helmets, gloves, and several other pieces of gear, and then we would start to spar. From there we would rotate after every round to our right, so we had to spar against everybody. I always enjoy it now and I have learned a lot. For example, I feel much better about my kicks. I used to be too scared to kick someone, but I kick harder and higher now. I also am more confident, instead of just letting myself get hit, I counter or move away.            

One thing I am grateful for in my journey at Evolve All is the friends I have made over the past seven years. Some of them have been there since the beginning, like Quinn, Kira, Ellie, Matthew.  I love watching them grow and move up. I know that they have my back and will always support me. It is amazing that this sport brings so many people of different ages together. For example, I am friends with Kira, who’s 10, and she is just like my friends who are my age. And Sophie, who’s 16, but it isn’t any different. She is now my great mentor and friend. She is a great teacher but she is still fun. I also like that we can teach each other easily. I’m not afraid to ask my friends for help, and they always are willing to help me. I love the community with the staff as well. All the instructors are so nice and welcoming, and great teachers. What makes the teachers so good is they are fun, but work you hard. They make you feel comfortable. They aren’t afraid to laugh and make jokes and have fun with you in class, but they know how to control the class and teach it well and effectively. 

At EvolveAll one, I would always watch the black belts with amazement. In my eyes, they were bigger, older, more talented people who could do anything, and I was just a little kid who was a yellow solid. My mom would always ask me if I could see myself becoming a black belt. My answer? No way! That’s a big kid thing. I knew I would eventually get there, but it just seemed so far away that I never thought about it. If someone told me that in four years I would be writing this essay and becoming a black belt, I would not have believed it. So, when the time came that I needed to start thinking about the prospect of getting that black belt, I knew I had to step it up. I scheduled a couple private lessons, and we found out that Matthew Gookin was also doing private lessons to help him get ready to earn his black belt. We decided to schedule some lessons with him so we could practice together. These private lessons were helpful for me. I enjoyed having the extra time to practice and I think this was where the biggest part of the switch happened. I went from looking up at the higher belts and not being able to imagine myself being with them, to seeing my friends move up. At EA2, I saw people like Grant and Quinn, who I knew were my age, earn their black belts. Seeing them get achieve that, I realized that I could too. And I was just that much closer to doing it. I started to feel different. I felt better about being closer, and I could see myself improving. I was proud of myself for working hard and learning the form well.

Mr. Christian always talks about the “switch” that people have in their martial arts journey. For me, my switch was at EA2. I took a break from martial arts for about eight months because it was my last year of elementary school, so of course I had to fit in everything before I left. I was doing Girls on the Run, soccer, and gymnastics. I came back in September. A few months after we came back, I went to my second black belt test, and earned two stripes. From then on, I realized how close I was to getting my black belt.

Even though I was improving, I still didn’t feel ready. Something just felt off. Maybe I was scared, maybe I wanted more practice, maybe I thought I needed more practice teaching, or I just needed more time. When the black belt test came around, I talked to Master Emerson. I told him I didn’t feel ready. He understood. At the end of the test, I met with all the black belts. Master Emerson said that the reason I wasn’t moving up that time was that even though all the black belts thought I was ready, I didn’t feel ready, which is one of the most important things you need to move up. If you don’t feel confident, or ready, then you won’t have enough courage or the right mindset to become a black belt. This time though, I knew I was ready. I felt good, and strong. I feel ready. I got this.

When I was taking Biology 101 the first semester of my freshman year at William and Mary, and I realized I was failing, I went to see the professor. I told him I didn’t understand why I was failing–I’d never received lower than a B in my life, with the exception of some rough spots in Calculus and Chemistry in 11th grade. I had certainly never failed a class.

I had also never had to study that much. It turned out college classes were just a wee bit more rigorous than what I was used to in high school. The Biology professor asked if I was an English major. I said yes, but I didn’t understand how that was relevant. “You have to know the parts of the cell,” he explained. “You have to identify each part and where it goes and explain what it does. You can’t just understand the idea of a cell or describe the meaning of a cell.”

I realized I needed to get my act together to pass, which I did by a hair, with a D minus. I also avoided taking any further biology classes until my last semester of senior year, when I enrolled in “Insects in Society” to fulfill the science requirement I needed to graduate.

Between college and now my abilities to pay close attention, to adapt and apply focus to a variety of tasks, and certainly to take new challenges seriously, have all improved. Thankfully I have learned a few things since I was 18. But in most cases I couldn’t pinpoint where or when I figured out how to step up my game. I just evolved.

In recent years I have been privileged to watch my daughter’s transformation in martial arts from someone who understands the idea of the techniques and gets the concept of martial arts to someone who literally embodies the precision, power, persistence, grace, and strength of a martial artist.

Zoe began taking martial arts classes the same week she started kindergarten. She was energetic and determined and cute. She was not especially powerful, focused, or coordinated. Not that that matters so much when you’re five. Emerson Doyle, who owns the studio that was Creative Martial Arts when Zoe started there and which later became EvolveAll, has always emphasized that martial arts is for life. Studying martial arts is about each individual’s journey to grow, learn, and yes, evolve. The staff at EvolveAll has high but age-appropriate expectations.

Master Emerson and his team of instructors have consistently encouraged and motivated Zoe and her classmates. They are patient and kind but also unwavering in their demands that students push themselves and do their best.

I have always appreciated how in martial arts, unlike in many other settings, Zoe struggled–and sometimes failed–to pass a particular test or master a specific technique in a given time period, but never gave up. EvolveAll’s instructors have always made it clear that you will always get another chance. You have to work, and nothing is handed to you, but you will always get another chance.

For a long time I watched Zoe practicing martial arts and, while of course I was proud of the hard work she was doing with her body and mind, I wondered if she was going to really get it. Even though every parent knows they’re not supposed to compare their kids to other kids, when you’re sitting there watching other kids seemingly excel at a difficult task with ease, it can be hard not to wonder why it’s hard for your kid. Sometimes I felt like Zoe was performing a dance–which was beautiful–based on martial arts, rather than actual martial arts. I remember for the first few years she was practicing, Mr. Christian would constantly remind her to kick higher–above her belt. I remember watching her during class and seeing her mind wander as she got distracted or played with her hair or her belt or just gazed out the window. I would try to get her attention with my mind and look intently at her, motioning that she needed to look at the instructors and pay attention. I’m sure I said it out loud more than once. Probably not that helpful.

Christian and Emerson talk about “the switch” that students make at some point in their martial arts practice. The moment where they truly get it, where they lock in to how to master their bodies and their minds–at least for 45 minutes at a time–when they start to understand the black belt mindset. For a long time, I didn’t have any idea when Zoe would reach that point. She didn’t either.

At every growth ceremony when we watched students completing their black belt requirements, I would ask Zoe if she could see herself in their position someday. She would always shake her head no.

From the beginning, when she was in kindergarten, she said her goal was to become a black belt, but she couldn’t quite picture how that would actually happen.

When Zoe was nine, she earned her red solid belt, which is the final step before black belt at EvolveAll. For all the lower belt ranks, there are a series of specific, concrete requirements for students to advance to the next belt level. Once you’re a red solid, however, the process becomes exasperatingly intangible. Instructors are looking for the blackbelt mindset. They’re looking for “the switch.” And you really can’t predict when it’s going to happen.

I was worried at one point when Zoe’s friend Ellie, who she had been in class with for years, earned her black belt, and Zoe didn’t. Ellie was two years older than Zoe, and significantly bigger and stronger. It was clear that Ellie had made the switch, but I was afraid Zoe would be upset or feel like she’d been left behind. Instead, Zoe seemed to be genuinely thrilled for Ellie, and definitely nowhere close to ready to follow her. I had to trust Zoe’s knowledge of herself, which can be hard. It’s always tough to know how much to push your kid and when to back off. I’ve had to remind myself many times of Emerson’s mantra that martial arts is for life, and there is no rush, no race for Zoe to finish. There is conditioning, community, and challenge, and that is plenty.

Then, a couple years ago, Zoe started to envision her path. She made becoming a black belt her goal, not just for someday, but for that year, and then the next year. She stopped asking if she could skip class when she was tired. She started going to more classes. She asked me to take her to the studio for extra practice when a test was coming up. She started helping teach the lower belt classes. At first she was not good at teaching and had no confidence in her ability. Then she got better and gained confidence. She stopped being afraid of sparring and embraced it. She started winning some of her grappling matches. Meanwhile, she grew several inches and learned to kick higher than I thought possible.

Every growth period includes a black belt pre-test, which all red solids and black belts are invited to participate in. Master Emerson works these kids hard during these tests. It is intense. Over 90 minutes they do hundreds of exercises and demonstrate techniques and grapple and spar. At the end of the test, all of the current black belts gather with the instructors to discuss which red solids are ready to move up, and prepare to become black belts.

At the test this past June, all the current black belts and the instructors thought Zoe was ready. But Zoe did not think Zoe was ready. So Master Emerson said she needed to wait. If Zoe didn’t believe she could become a black belt, she shouldn’t become a black belt. Yet.

The next black belt pre-test rolled around this October. This time, Zoe knew exactly who she was and what she could do and she did it. After Master Emerson announced that she would be one of three red solids who were selected to prepare to become black belts this time around, all the girls in the class mobbed Zoe in a sweaty group hug. Mister Christian walked off the mat and gave me a hug, because he has seen how much time I’ve spent watching Zoe practice and had countless conversations with me about what she needed to do to reach her goals and how we could help her, and now she was there. Or almost there.

One week from tomorrow, Zoe will attempt to complete the requirements to earn her black belt in martial arts.

She will break five boards using five different techniques. She will grapple and spar with her friend and mentor Sophie, who has been patiently helping her train, insisting that Zoe use more power, more power, more power. She will read from the essay she’s written about her journey from white belt to black belt. Once she has successfully conquered these challenges, she will take off her red solid belt and hang it around her neck. Sophie will take off her own black belt and tie it around Zoe’s waist. Zoe will receive an actual sword. And she will chop fruit with it. I will probably cry.

Most importantly, Zoe will know that she worked toward this moment for seven years. Just like she was in kindergarten, she is energetic, determined, and cute. But a lot has happened since then. Now Zoe is strong and powerful, persistent and resilient, generous and graceful. Of course I will be proud. But I’m already proud, not because of what she’s about to do, but because of who she is and what she has learned about herself.

When we arrived
after an eight-hour drive
he ran in circles around the car
and the yard
eager to move his body

Inside he found some toys
in the back room
with his six-year-old sixth sense
and set up games for himself to play

He paged through a craft book
sticking post-it notes to 
every activity he wanted to try

He admired the sewing machine and 
said he wanted to learn to sew
“that’s a useful talent,” he said.

He helped set up a TV and 
its accessories and discussed
power tools with my cousin

Way past usual bedtime
he said he needed something else to eat
so I led him to the pantry
“they have a pantry?” he asked in awe
I pointed out crackers and fruit cups and applesauce
He backed into the pantry and closed the door

A few minutes later he emerged
after my cousin opened the door for him
He had been stuck
but evidently not alarmed
and emerged with a box of Reduced Fat Wheat Thins
which he brought into our bedroom
He ate crackers while reading to me the
nutrition facts and marketing ploys on the box
I tried to explain “less is more.”

Then we read an Elephant and Piggie book
I was Elephant
He was Piggie
We snuggled
and fell asleep

by Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
October 2019

Zeke turned to me this afternoon
from his position sprawled on the couch
watching Spider-Man cartoons
and asked if I knew what he did
when he arrived in his classroom
this morning
on the first day
of first grade.

I asked what
and he said he cried
because he was feeling really shy.

I said I was sorry
that he had been so upset
and asked him what happened
when he started crying
he said the teacher came over
and talked to him
and made him feel better.

I asked what she said or did
to make him feel better
but he didn’t remember.

He said he only cried
for twice the amount of time
it takes him to brush his teeth.

He said there’s no one
he knows sitting at his table
but there is a boy who
speaks another language.

“What language does he speak?”
I asked
Zeke said,
“A language I’ve never heard before.”

At least at recess Zeke got to play with Jack
his best kindergarten buddy
who is in a different class
and moving to Chicago soon anyway
they played hide and seek and Zeke said
Jack is really good at hiding.

Last night at bedtime
Zeke seemed relaxed
although he said he was nervous and excited
then he told me I smelled like cheese
and I said I had brushed my teeth and
washed my hands and face
and hadn’t even eaten any cheese recently
he was not convinced
He was clutching his stuffed owl, named Even
I said, “maybe this owl smells like cheese!”

And he became deeply offended
that I did not
call Even by his name
“Why did you say this owl?” he demanded
“You know his name!”

At which point I realized
he was more upset than he had let on.

I had to leave the room to make sure
Zoe’s first day outfit was in the washing machine
and when I returned
and climbed back up into the top bunk
to resume snuggling with Zeke
he began to weep.

He asked me if I could come in the classroom
with him in the morning
even though he knew he was riding the bus
and I told him no, that wasn’t the plan
and he just cried
and wouldn’t speak
and wouldn’t answer my questions
just burying his face in Even.

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