Since September, Fluffy’s been taking a four-hour class on Saturdays called Dark Ages. Kids (mostly boys) between the ages of 7 and 14 spend hours clad in capes battling all manner of mythical beasts and creatures with swords and crossbows and sometimes guns–all nerf. I wasn’t aware that trolls and wizards roamed castles and caves with semi-automatic rifles but hey, what do I know? Fluffy’s weapons of choice are swords and a portable machine-gun number called The Berserker that he brings from home each week.
Thomas, the owner of the sword fighting studio, is an older version of E., our (sniff sniff) ex-sitter. He glides through the room in his pony-tail, bare feet and cut-off jeans, part teacher, part pal, part Jedi master. He teaches fencing to the older crowd, equally at home in the world of Épeé and Walmart weaponry, in circles of highly trained and zen-minded athletes and seas of sweaty spectrum kids riding wild regulatory waves. Well, the kids aren’t all on the spectrum. A few clearly are but this class is open to anyone who digs the medieval role-playing scene and let’s face it, most boys just love to smack things with sticks.
Earlier this spring, Fluffy attended the afternoon portion of Thomas’s week-long ‘sword-fighting camp’. It went well enough for us to sign him up for a series of week-long camps this summer, whole days this time. The first in the series started yesterday. That means, this morning I dropped my son off at 9:30 and I didn’t pick him up until 3:30.
Six hours. Six. Today and every day this week.
I’ll let that sink in.
I know many parents drop their kids off at school-like settings for six hours at a stretch but for us, it’s like summitting Mount Everest.
On the outside I looked casual, Bye-bye sweetheart! walking to my car, getting in, starting it up, driving home, but on the inside I was shouting, I JUST DROPPED MY SON OFF FOR THE WHOLE DAY!!!! When I bought an ice tea from the gal at the drive-through I smiled at her like a deranged clown. Yep, just little ole me here, buying’ an ice tea. Got the day to myself. Gonna drive home now, alone, me, on my own, home to do whatever I want. You see, my son, he’s at his camp. Gonna be there aaaaaall week.
Last fall, Dave and I talked to Thomas about Fluffy’s challenges. You see, we’ve had to leave so many classes over the last six years. So many. Aside from the instances where the instructors were inferior or clueless or both, the classes would all go the same way: At first, the novelty carries Fluffy but soon anxiety swells, disruptive behavior ensues as does the instructor’s concerns; Fluffy digs in his heels and refuses to go (we’ll try that class another time, Mom); I vacillate between honoring his desire (he’s not ready, I say to myself) and gently applying what they call in chemistry, the energy of activation. In the end, I go with his gut because I never want him to associate the social with the forced which I imagine wool feel like combat. Get thee to the front lines and LIKE IT! So, in the end, we’d always leave.
This class was different from the start. He loved it. And kept loving it. At the beginning, we hovered, true to our helicopter nature. Then we made sure we had Thomas’s cell number, that he had ours, and initiated phase 2, leaving for an hour or so, checking back periodically and finally, phase 3, we took the leap, left for the duration and Fluffy flew solo.
Thomas is soft-spoken. Usually our exchanges are a Hi, Bye, and Thanks with a wave as he nods and smiles through his kind eyes. Yesterday at pick-up, I took advantage of a private moment and asked him how Fluffy was doing.
“Oh, he’s a genius when it comes to the game. He knows the rules better than I do.”
That is saying something. Thomas’s table-top games make D&D look like CandyLand.
“He corrects me” he continued. “on moves and details, probabilities and anything math-related. And he’s always right.”
What about socially? With the other kids? I asked.
“That’s getting better, much much better, world’s better since the fall when he did a lot of screaming and yelling.”
Yes. The screaming and yelling and the grabbing and throwing, I thought. And not knowing who was who or not noticing when other kids were rolling their eyes at him and giving him a wide path to walk alone. Now he’s Dungeon Master every week. Now he comes home and says, “Ben this and Spencer that and Jack–not the tall Jack, Mom, but the other Jack, the one with the long hair…” This from a guy who never knew any of the kids names or what they looked like. He never really saw them before. He doesn’t have playdates with any of them but he likes being the class with them and I think they like being in class with him. Hey Fluffy! some of them call when he walks through the door.
My boy. He has peeps.
“People underestimate the importance of games as a way for kids to learn how to get along with each other,” Thomas said. “Fluffy’s really enjoys what we do so he’s motivated to work it out with the other kids because if he doesn’t, he can’t play.”
I forget to make sure Thomas had his cell phone and when I poked in my head back in the room, he and the boys were circling the studio, swords in hands, practicing the art of energy ebb and flow.
“Center your energy. Don’t try to block your opponent. You’ll use up all your energy that way. Don’t engage. Just use your energy, bring it in and let it out.” Thomas said, lunging gracefully forward and then pivoting on one foot, folding his torso over to protect his chest. “Look for how you can ride that energy, keep it moving. Expand–move forward. And then contract, pull it back in.” The boys all attempted the moves, focused, quiet. Even Fluffy.
I think one of the things I say with my mouth but only rarely *get* with my gut (at least about aspects of Fluffy’s future I still worry about) is that delayed means delayed, not absent. If you expect me at 6, if everyone else is arriving at 6, if 6 is the normal time that such and such happens across the land and on my way to meet you, I get delayed, don’t worry. Keep something warm for me or serve things that can handle being left out for a while. I’m not missing. I’m just late.
It’s the same for Fluffy. I only have to ride that energy.
He’ll get there.