Kids need constant protection.
It’s exhausting. When they’re little, it’s easy — you just do it for them. You slap spongy corner protectors around the coffee-table edges and stick plastic doohickies over all the electrical outlets. You drop the crib mattress to the lowest setting so they can’t climb out. You are in complete control, and they are your sweet, little
As they get older, though, you have to switch gears and nurture them by using heart-to-heart talks, which sound like lectures and which don’t exactly go over so well with teens because let’s face it, parents are lame oldsters who fall asleep on the couch at 9 p.m. on a Friday night and never went to keggers or accidentally left their underwear somewhere other than their butt and were never under 40 so… what the heck do we know?
So, you do what every good parent does: Scare the shit out them.
In this very specific case, by forcing my teenage daughters to take a self-defense class. As frightening as it is to think about turning your innocent kids loose in the big, bad world —without being anywhere nearby to lower their crib mattress and protect them — it’s even scarier to divulge to two teenage girls that they are getting out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday. Two weeks in a row.
They were not pleased. Turns out they had plenty of bitter, teen company.
In some sort of mom meme (a momme?), the mothers of No. 1’s good friends freaked out at the same time that I did about the possibility of our first-born daughters heading off to college without knowing how to properly drive a dude’s nose up through his brain (ya know, if he deserves it). We all ended up sitting near each other at bright and shiny 8 a.m. to learn along with our daughters how to deal with the threats and creepers who lurk everywhere.
Our instructor was none other than Middle-Aged Mr. Clean. A brawny, imposing yet very affable dude, he shared stories — including how an 80-something grandma, the least likely suspect in the house, attacked him with a butter knife — that just go to show, you can’t trust anyone ever. You need to be on guard. Always.
Open your own drink at parties. Think it’s OK to leave the door to the house unlocked because you have a garage door opener? Think again. Take a selfie if you’re on a date with someone you don’t know and send it to a friend, just in case. We learned all kinds of stuff, like how to make a proper fist and perform a hammer strike and escape choke holds and wriggle out of a bear hug. We learned enough moves to moonlight as MMA wrestlers. Boy, fights with my brother when I was growing up would have turned out sooooo much differently had I known all this decades ago.
Just when I thought we’d picked up all the defensive maneuvers we could possibly need, we learned more, practicing again and again until we were sore and tired. As I bent over to examine my knee, which was raw from ramming a red pad in the imaginary groin over and over, our instructor told us we could relax.
Um, no, I don’t think I’m going to relax ever again.
Part of class — I think this was my favorite — involved yelling. From the diaphragm yelling that would send any wannabe perp running back to his mommy. With every thrust and jab and block, you shout.
The teens, interestingly, seemed to have a difficult time with this, which is quite contrary to what I’ve seen in my own home. I, however, have no problem with being loud. No problem at all. At one point No. 1 leaned over to her friends and said, “Yeah, that’s how she yells at the dogs.”
No matter how many hours are spent learning and practicing how to defend yourself, I don’t think it’s even possible to feel completely prepared to go into a room and have people attack you, even if it’s just pretend. It is disconcerting. Very disconcerting.
I will admit, my body was tense beneath all the assorted protective gear I’d strapped on, yet I still laughed when I caught my first glimpse of an “aggressor.” He was suited up in enough padding to look like Ralphie’s little brother Randy from “A Christmas Story” — only wearing a helmet and then like someone turned a growth ray on him to crank him up over 6 feet tall AND THEN cloned him two times. When I realized I had to get past three, ginormous squishy aggressors, my heart started to pound.
Full of fear and adrenaline and mortifying dread as I realized my panties started riding down at the exact worst time, I faced three, separate attack scenarios that left me breathless and also kind of confused: If my underwear starts falling down does that mean I’m getting chubby or is it just that it’s super stretched out and if it’s that stretched out, is this from being fat or from being lazy and not hand-washing and air-drying like the care instructions say? Of course I was hoping for the latter. TBD.
“I thought I was going to pee myself,” I said, pulling off my helmet when I got back in the classroom.
“You know, probably no one would want to mess with you after that,” one of the moms pointed out.
“True,” I agreed. “Plus, I’d be pretty slippery.”
We all decided that could be a pretty good defensive move, too.
I was feeling fairly triumphant, and maybe just a wee bit like Wonder Woman after what I’d gone through — until they rolled the tape.
Yes, each of us was videotaped as we were put through our paces. While I’d felt like I was delivering punishing blows, the actual video of me showed something different. It was reminiscent of cartoon kid fights when one kid starts windmilling his arms frantically and threatening, “Better watch out! If you get in the way and you get hit, it’s not my fault.” I was not the least bit intimidating. Some minor redemption, though, happened in the final seconds, when I’d managed to topple my attacker and then — I don’t know if I was feeling triumphant or just bitchy — but as he lay on the ground, I landed a pretty spectacular parting kick, but in a spot where there were no pads.
“Yeah, that one really hurt,” he said.
I felt both bad-ass and just plain bad. Poor guy. Sorry, again.
In the car ride home, the girls and I talked about what we’d experienced.
“It’s just really disturbing that we live in a world that’s so awful that we have to know how to do this,” No. 1 said.
Yes. But, the thing is, you avoid situations that could put you at risk, I explained. You stay alert and smart. The likelihood of having to actually employ what we learned is very, very small.
“But,” I said, “didn’t it feel empowering to know how to defend yourself and that you can do it? Didn’t it feel good to land some strong blows?”
Because unlike their mother, the video showed that both my girls knew exactly what they were doing.
“Yeah,” No. 1 admitted.
“You know what else?” I asked. “When you go back to school Monday and everyone asks how your weekend was, you totally get to say, ‘Oh, I kicked some ass.'”
And that is absolutely, positively the truth.