The little dark-haired boy bows off the karate mat and pulls his dad into the circle to play. The dad, a shy man who speaks with a foreign lilt, holds the boy’s younger brother in his arms and struggles to balance the child while simultaneously being dragged back onto the padded floor.
A. recently started taking bi-weekly karate lessons. Each class consists of karate instruction, a game and a talk on a character trait. These little talks are worth the monthly tuition price.
“We’re going to play a game where you’ll need to exhibit self-control,” A.’s karate instructor explains. “Can anyone tell me what self-control is?”
“Doing what your mom says?” one offers. His answer lifts up as a question.
“Doing what you should,” another says with more confidence.
“Not hitting your brother?” A few parents watching from the chairs chuckle at this. I don’t because I know the truth behind the statement. It’s my son who gives it.
“Yes to all of those,” she smiles. “Self-control is the ability to control your own behavior. When we play this game, you’ll have to use self-control to make sure no one gets hurt. Understand?” she asks looking the kids in the eyes. “We’re going to be playing dodge ball.” All the kids cheer.
I tap the dad holding the infant on the shoulder. “Excuse me.” Tap. Tap. “Can I please hold your baby?” Because you’re playing dodge ball. With a baby.
He looks at me with an odd expression. I’ve seen him twice a week for the last month but we haven’t really talked.
I don’t think that’s important. What is will be his introduction to the American tradition of dodge ball. With a baby.
“The baby?” I ask again and hold out my arms.
If he’s thinking it’s not a good idea to hand his baby to a stranger, he changes his mind when the first ball flies past. He quickly hands me the child then uses both free hands to protect his head from an incoming.