Broken Confidence

Simon, 5, loves this little boy. His family is a little bit too Conspicuous Consumption for me, but how can you deny a five-year-old his best friend? Which is why I’m spending an afternoon at his 500$ birthday party at the karate studio.

I discover while mingling with The Mothers over the (very elaborate) food that all the other kids at the party take lessons at the studio. I wonder if it is further evidence of my inept motherhood that I wouldn’t consider spending 90$ per month (plus tests . . . uniforms . . .) for karate lessons for a prekindergartener.

The (um . . . what do you call him?) is gathering all the children to sit on the floor. He breaks some boards. Simon is enthralled. He then invites each child up for a turn. Simon is near the back of the crowd; I know he’ll be one of the last kids up there. Of the twenty or so kids, only two or three are able to break the board. The ones who do it, do it on the first try. If they don’t, the guy orders them to try again. But they’ve had a taste of failure and a little pain, and so they don’t hit nearly as hard on the second or third or fourth try. The guy is relentless: “Try again! Harder!” It is difficult to watch (this is a birthday party) but even harder to anticipate what will happen when Simon gets up there. He is, after all, the only one who has never tried this before. All of my Mother Alarms are sounding. Maybe I could take him to the bathroom and he could miss his turn? Maybe we have to leave right now? But we haven’t had cake yet. There appears to be no escape.

I am angry at this guy for humiliating all of these children who are supposed to be enjoying a party. I am infuriated watching him order them to do again what hurt the first time and what they’ve now lost confidence to do. You know after the first wince that they won’t ever break the board, they’ll just try feebly until the mean guy finally dismisses them. I hate this.

Simon’s turn. My back is rigid and my jaw is set. HIYA! Two halves clatter to the floor.

I’m not sure how someone with grey hair acquires the foolish confidence of a five-year-old, but I imagine it would be a good thing.

25 comments for “Broken Confidence

  1. I want to know the rest of the story. What was your reaction upon witnessing this lumbicide? What was his reaction? What were the other kids’ reactions? Don’t leave me hanging like this, please.

  2. Beautifully titled, and beautifully told. I was totally drawn into your story, and thought I knew where you wanted us to go with it.

    The ending brought me a crack of illumination as sharp as that of the broken board. Thank you for providing this unusual analogy, which I have found very thought-provoking.

  3. Sweet, He broke it.. Then what happened???

    I have also noticed the crazy birthday parties as well. Plus the 3-5 year olds on traveling soccer teams. Crazy world.

  4. Julie, what a wonderful story. It’s so distressing when adults humiliate children in public (or in private, for that matter) in the name of teaching them something, or toughening them up.

    Go Simon!

  5. Finally — a B’nacle story with a happy ending. When he’s a blackbelt someday, you’ll have a lot of fun with this story.

  6. Birthday parties like this confuse me. I was blissfully unaware of real (ie non-TV) parents going nutso for their kids birthday until Téa asked me what I thought about “big birthday parties.” When she said ‘big birthday parties’ I thought she meant a (probably home-made, and therefore imperfect) shaped cake, maybe a scavanger hunt, and if you’re really lucky paper plates and balloons that have a cartoon character on them (my mom never splurged on cartoon character paper plates). So I answered, “they’re okay.” I mean, who would have a problem with sponge-bob on a plate?

    Téa then told me of a party that involved renting one of those jumpy-castles, clowns, and very expensive party favor bags for everyone. It never occured to me that those sorts of things weren’t confined to TV and the exorbitantly wealthy. It still boggles my mind.

    Anyhow, I’m glad he broke the board. I’m also glad that you refrained from standing and shouting “It’s a miracle!” I’m not sure I could have restrained myself, and that may have proved more embarrassing than anything else.

  7. Wow. How did he do it? I can’t imagine a five-year-old breaking a board. My five year old daughter can barely lift a grocery bag with two loaves of bread and salami in it, let alone hit a board hard enough to break it. I wonder if I could break a board! Was it a 2 x 6?

  8. Oh oh, and we just sent him a postcard showing nice little children playing in the sand on a quiet North Sea beach in Belgium… Tell him they break the tiny shovels afterwards. Hiya!

    Super story, Julie!

  9. All the problems with kids’ sports aside, the thrill of watching a five-year-old score his first goal, make his first basket, connect on his first hit, or, in this case, break his first board, is exhilarating.

    Kudos to Simon.

  10. Err, for my friend’s kid, if the kid couldn’t break the board, the instructor did it for him with a wrist flex — though if you knew what you were watching you could see the board break in the wrong direction …

    Téa then told me of a party that involved renting one of those jumpy-castles, clowns, and very expensive party favor bags for everyone. It never occured to me that those sorts of things weren’t confined to TV and the exorbitantly wealthy. It still boggles my mind.

    All sorts of things like that are normal. If you only have one kid, you kind of act out.

  11. I should note that we do that with Rachel, things we would have never even thought of with Heather. But our baby is our baby and she loves it.

    No one does clowns though, it would be like having Gollem at a party ….

    (ok, my wife doesn’t like clowns).

  12. Probably Sensei, although that term gets applied altogether too glibly to some guy who’s 3 days ahead of the kids in learning the stuff.

    I am curious, though. If you read “500$” as “five hundred dollars,” how do you read “$500”?

  13. All,

    Thanks for the comments. This happened three years ago and I had pretty much forgotten about it until I read the great post on youth karate over at MMW. Simon didn’t seem to realize that he had done anything special and no one said much of anything–just moved on to the next activity. I really don’t know why he was able to break it and I thought about that for a long time (as well as my expectations for the situation).

    Tomorrow we’ll celebrate Nathan’s fifth birthday in grandma’s backyard in Utah with all of the cousins.

  14. Good for Simon. I don’t see the point of these expensive birthday parties either. Or spedning a fortune on putting your children in EVERY little thing. It’s good of course for them to have variety, but not for prestige. I feel for the other little boys too. It was certainly for show, wasn’t it? Hmmmm….I certainly wouldn’t be tempted to send my 5 year old there (or older child for that matter) with some karate master who treats them like army recruits.

    We have done birthday parties at the Y. Just fun. Or at home, or scrap the party and they get a special birthday supper and cake and present.

  15. Nice upbeat story. Thanks!

    As far as the elaborate parties and expensive child extracurriculars …

    The scripture about “ever learning, yet never able to come to a knowlege of the truth” rises prominently to mind. Parents and children rush through life at a frenetic pace, so eager to not miss out on a single opportunity.

    Then at the end, they suddenly discover they missed out on so many opportunities that really mattered. They never even noticed.

    Like the dad on the family trip who is so busy taking pictures and keeping everyone on schedule that neither he, nor his family really enjoy each other.

    What’s the point of photos if you only have mediocre-to-negative memories to attach them to?

  16. Hooray for Simon! But isn’t he your bookish one, Julie? I’ll have to mentally update his profile!

  17. “But isn’t he your bookish one, Julie?”

    Yep. He’s the one who crawls into my bed after his brother falls asleep and reads next to me for an hour or two; the one who told me that he “just isn’t a sports dude” when I asked if he wanted to sign up for something this fall (but he later came around).

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