Alternately Titled: What I Would Do With the $100 Million Jackpot
Jedi Knight has been taking karate since September. I chose this particular dojo, out of several choices, because its flexibility is awesome. He can go any day of the week because the general beginners' class is offered at the same time each day. He can go four times monthly, and if I up my monthly payment, he could go as often as he wanted. It has been good for him. He has learned some discipline and focus. He is getting better all the time. Some of the instructors I like better than others, though admittedly I don't get to stay and watch him as often as I like, so I'm not always sure how his classes go down.
What I had not counted on was the karate being quite as . . . well. . . self-important as the folks running the dojo make it seem. I appreciate that it is serious to them. That it is not a game or a costume party. But what I'm not crazy about is the secretary who makes me feel like a pariah when I ask questions about the way things work regarding advancement, etc. I sometimes feel like every other parent in the place kind of gets what is going on and I don't. My questions are often met with a combination of incredulity-condescension-and "well, duh!" I'm still trying to get a read on the place because JK likes it. Quite a lot.
A bit more background and then we'll address my current situation at karate. I am a hyper-modest girl. I'm not sure how this happened. My mom didn't necessarily really push this, although there was a pretty strong level of embarrassment regarding anything related to body stuff. For whatever reason, I entered puberty very reluctantly and slowly. I was angry when my friends threw over books, Barbies and school for boys, clothes and hair. By age 10 I was practically barricading myself in the bathroom when it came time for bathing or showering. If I took too long, somebody would always bang on the door threatening to use the butter knife to break in if I didn't hurry. Bra-shopping (at least six months too late) and menarche (at least a year too early) were nightmares of mortification, in which I never wanted to look my mother in the eye again.
Enter seventh grade gym class.
Until we toured the school, it had never occurred to me that we might be required to shower in a group. I was shocked and horrified. My public pool experience was pretty limited and the before pool showering we did was always in the little outside showers. Which word is stronger than mortification? Like you probably did, I learned to change my clothes without ever actually taking my other clothes off. I learned to shower wearing underwear and just wrapping myself in a towel. My feet were always very clean. . . .
I observed a couple of things. First of all, the only girls comfortable wandering the locker room in bra and panties were the cute/popular/boyfriended girls. I was not one of these. Unfortunately, most of my friends were, and it is safe to say that the girls in my locker aisle (which we could choose) were probably the most with-it group of our class start to finish. It is a group I somehow always managed to be on the fringe of and would end up rooming with at college some years later. Some of these women are still my close friends and I love them dearly, though I'm never really quite sure how they were my group to begin with. (Oh, man, this is a whole new set of hang-ups today. I need a new label called "Living in 1987.")
Ah hem. Back to the topic. My second observation from my locker room days is that the only girls comfortable showering uninhibited in front of everyone were the girls who already carried very bad reputations before we turned 13. I still remember this one girl . . . .
Okay, let's not go there.
Our gym teacher complained that somebody stunk. I thought it was a stupid accusation: I didn't smell anyone, and none of us were working hard enough to actually sweat. Still, she stood with the clipboard to watch each of us shower. For a grade. She later uncloseted as a lesbian.
College was awkward with the same pretty friends and their low inhibitions. Why is it easier to put on makeup in just a bra then it is just to put on a shirt, for crying out loud?? Now I live with four men, but my modesty principles have not loosened up much. Even when my kids were babies I didn't let them in the shower, or even the bathroom with me. I would lock them into the bouncy seat just outside the door and jealously guard my private time. My modesty. When my midwife and I went over the birth plan for my first baby, I mentioned my modesty hang ups and, bless dear Happy Barnes (my midwife's actual name), she was so careful while I labored. At the public pool we regularly attend now I always use the family restroom, even when I only have my three year-old with me. The sight of women changing in front of one another and their daughters and their young sons is really pretty horrible to me. Nursing was perpetually awkward for me and I was never really comfortable doing so in front of other people.
Out in public we cover, cover, cover. Why is it that the moment we step into a changing room it is okay to . . . . and I don't think I'll ever quite get over going to early morning water aerobics with my 70ish grandmother and her friends. I wish I had gone out into the 20 degree morning in my damp hair and clothes rather than be haunted by the elephantine memories of that public dressing room experience.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this is necessarily right or normal and certainly not any kind of an LDS requirement for virtuous living. It is just me.
And because parents do, I have transmitted some of this to my kids. Jedi Knight showers with the door shut and often locked. He is bothered when people enter his room while he is changing. I have urged bathroom privacy for each child. We have decided to be a non-sleepover family and have spoken with all the kids at length about when and for whom it is appropriate to change your clothing.
Back to karate. When we started karate in the summer, they were meeting in a small and temporary dojo while construction was completed on another. Each child wore their "gi" (the white outfit) to karate. We were careful with it--ONLY to and from karate and kept clean and folded. In mid-October, the new dojo opened and we began going there. I noticed that a lot of kids in the class after JK changed at karate. Maybe even a majority. There is some kind of a group changing area with lockers in one area. Because the next class is comprised of teenagers and adults, I assumed they changed at the dojo because they came from school or work and it was convenient.
Not necessarily so, as I was firmly told on Monday. You see, everyone at the dojo is required to wear street clothes, and change there. Everyone. I was told that there are some lingering kids still making the mistake of changing at home because they allowed it over the summer. Not only is JK my modesty-boy, but he is also very resistant to change. I could see him shutting down as strict-secretary-girl was laying down the law. She explained her reasoning--the Gi is not a costume, they stay cleaner, the kids take greater responsibility, etc. etc. She confirmed that even the four and five year olds at his class are changing their clothes, in the group room, prior to class.
I explained to her that he and I had spoken a lot about modesty and that he had been instructed never to change clothes in front of other people. That it was a thing our family valued. She emphasized that she monitored the room carefully while kids were in there and listened for any talk that wasn't related to changing, and that it was a RULE for crying out loud. Seeing my discomfort, the dojo owner remarked that it would be appropriate for him to change in one of the stalls in the men's bathroom. I conceded that this would work.
Now if I can just convince Jedi "I'm-not-really-comfortable-with-this" Knight that he can go for the compromise.
On my way home from the encounter, all of my horrible junior high PE emotions came back to me. I went to college the year of the huge Skyview High scandal that brought hazing in high school sports into the national spotlight and began a discussion about where does "boys will be boys" cross the line into brutalizing sexual harassment. In a classic case of blame the victim, the young man was told that unless he apologized to the team for having sought police involvement in the case, then he was off the team. The perpetrators didn't even get a slap on the wrist.
Recent studies and practices at some high performing middle schools demonstrate that doing PE in the morning (actual PE, not avoid-the-dodge-ball-and-gossip-for-25-minutes) increases academic performance. I'm a believer in this. The dream school I design in my head all of the time is a 6-12. PE and Health would be a major part of the required curriculum. Every year. Equipment. Classes. Martial Arts. Nutrition. Disease. etc. . . . but if something couldn't be done about completely re-envisioning locker rooms, I could never really get behind it. Individual showers. Stalled changing rooms. Gym teachers with more important tasks to fill their time than watching young kids shower to earn points.
We may have averted the karate crisis. I think by the time our next lesson rolls around I will have him talked into a compromise that works for the dojo and for our family.
But what will I do in middle school? When my quirky, smart, small boys who haven't been weaned onto a diet of team sports are confronted with a locker room dilemma which I find pretty offensive? A place that, almost by design, strives to separate the kids into a social stratification that persists for years and erodes self-esteem. Kids can be so cruel, and I've been around teenage kids more than a little bit. I know the kind on which some of them prey. They are the little men I love more than I love my own life. The system, as it stands, forces kids to be at their most vulnerable around one another just when they are getting smart enough to learn exactly whom they should never "strip" in front of.
Oh! I know we can't take away their hurts, but I don't want to throw them to the lions' den either!