I have a little Taekwondo school. And a few weeks ago a mom and dad walked in with two little boys. One was a round, noisy and silly five year old the other a skinny and silent nine year old named James.
We did lots of kicking and punching drills and both boys did just fine. The youngest one laughed and squirmed and fell down when he tried to kick. But James never made a sound, he barely made eye contact and his expression was completely stoic, as though he’d checked out. He tried to do what I said but there was no joy or goofiness in the boy. His eyes were vacant.
Because I can be very immature I can generally get a nine year old to laugh…but not this kid.
Both boys came back for two more classes then signed up. My daughter was, Lexie, was teaching while I talked to their mom. She told me the story. They adopted James a month ago. His mom was a junkie and died from an over dose. She used to shoot up in front of James. When James did something wrong (which I couldn’t imagine because he was so meek) they whipped him with a switch with stickers on it. Tore the boy up. And because she was a junkie she didn’t get him to school on a regular basis or learn to read. As a result he’d failed two grades and didn’t have friends.
He spent some time in a foster home before being adopted.
Since he’d been with his new family he hadn’t smiled or laughed or cried, even over his mom’s death. He’d been sweet and polite and obedient but that was it. We finished talking then I went out on the floor to work with the kids.
After a few minutes I said “Who wants to grapple?”
I had six little boys that day and they nearly exploded and yelled “we do!!” Grappling is simply wrestling but they start from their knees. And all little boys love to grapple.
“Everybody sit down chris cross apple sauce.”
I used my ring announcer voice, “First up we have Jason and Hunter.” They are both tiny six year old boys.
They knelt in the center of the ring, shook hands and said, “Good luck sir.”
Then I said my typical silly stuff. “Remember men, no biting, no licking and no hair pulling. Begin!”
For two minutes they rolled around, pinning each other, squirming free then starting all over. The other boys cheered and coached.
Then I said, “Next up new kid James and Martin!” They faced each other. “James have you ever grappled before?” He shook his head and looked down. “Have you ever wrestled around with a friend or your dog?” He shook his head. Maybe he’d never had a friend?
“Ok, just do what those guys did. Try to push Martin down and pin him. Ok?”
He just nodded and I said, “Begin!”
The two boys latched on to each other, pushing and pulling, trying to get the other to go down first. James’ new parents leaned forward in their seats watching intently.
Then James went down and the other boy tried to hold him there. And that’s when it happened. I suddenly realized James was giggling and smiling…because he was playing. I looked back at his parents to make sure they saw what I was looking at. His new mom was nearly in tears.
After class I high fived the guys but James ducked under my hand and gave me a sideways hug. And he smiled again, as though the breaker switch had been flipped. Smiling was ok. And playing was awesome.