Making mama-bear waves.

It’s been an exhausting week. Halloween week always is around here.

My 9-year-old is a highly sensitive child. She’s been one since the day she was born, and her sensitivity levels were one the major reasons we decided to homeschool in the first place. She’s always been anxious in crowds, and loud noises freak her out, and she simply cannot handle disturbing visual stimuli well at all. We keep television viewing to a minimum, and we maintain a soothing household, and for the most part, she does fine. But Halloween season is always particularly difficult, because everywhere we go, she sees things that are — quite frankly — deeply disturbing. Halloween decor has really changed since the days of Casper the Friendly Ghost.

During the month of October, I rarely take my daughter into any stores at all because of the decorations, the scare-factor amplified even further on most of the stuff with audio tracks of horrifying screaming and gibberish that send her into full-blown panic attacks. Even grocery stores tend to drape the cereal aisle in fake cobwebbing and then glue terrier-sized fake spiders onto it all. In October, she keeps her nose tucked way down in a book whenever we’re in the car, because she just can’t handle all the TABLEAUX OF HORROR displayed on half the front lawns we drive by.

The Catch-22 in this situation is, of course, the fact that she loves Halloween. She loves dressing up in (non-scary) costumes, she loves going to Halloween parties, and she loves trick-or-treating. Of course. So, I spend the month of October mostly getting her through all of this, and by the end of the month, I’m often exhausted from the effort this requires, and from the fact that she comes to visit me a lot more than usual in the middle of the night.

So, now that I’ve explained all that to you, I’m going to tell you what happened on Saturday afternoon at the Halloween party held by the karate dojo the girls attend, and I want your honest opinion about what happened, and how I handled it. Because I probably got some people “in trouble” and I probably now have a “reputation” around there as “one of THOSE moms.” And I’m okay with that, I guess. But I’m curious what your opinions will be about this, so here goes:

The dojo hosts a Halloween party every year, and the girls really liked it last year, so we signed up for it again this year, and I gritted my mental teeth and donned my Getting-My-Sensitive-Kid-Through-Yet-Another-Halloween-Party hat, and we went. And right off the bat, I’ll admit that there are a few adults there that just irritate the living hell out of me. They have kids who attend the dojo, but they also take classes themselves, and they’re a tight group of people, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but they do often act a bit… well… juvenile. At this party, they were all dressed up and acting like adolescents more than responsible adults. One of the men was dressed as a teeny-bopper cheerleader, which was… well… kinda… GROSS. Especially at a party designed primarily for young children. Others were dressed more appropriately, but were acting like they were at a frat party, running around wildly, jumping on furniture, throwing food at each other. I watched them and realized that if any of the children at the party behaved like that, they’d be reprimanded. And the double standard really bothered me.

So, I was already irritated. But I let it all go for the most part, because this party wasn’t about me. This party was about my kids and my job was to work my 9-year-old through her anxiety, which took some effort. Because, first of all, the party was dark. They’d turned off all the overhead lighting and everything was eerily lit by spooky jack-o-lantern plastic lamps and purple spider web light strings stuck to the walls. My 9-year-old really struggled with this at first, but she soon realized that she could escape the dark room by walking up the short hallway to the front waiting area. There’s a large picture window there that let in a decent amount of sunlight. So, when she began to feel anxious she’d simply leave the main party room and go stand in the light near the window for a few minutes. I realized quickly that she’d found a way to self-comfort. I allowed her to do this, and I’d just follow along and stand with her and let her talk to me if she wanted to. She’d say things like: “It’s much easier to see what I’m eating up here,” and I’d chuckle a little and agree with her. There is such a thing as saving face. I get it.

[Interesting side note: most of the times we traveled up the hall to stand near the window, we’d find two other children — always the same two kids–  sort of hovering in the light as well. How much do you want to bet they’re highly sensitive children as well? And that they, too, had found a way to cope with the unnerving visual situation happening in the back area?]

I was pleased with my daughter. Because what I saw was that she had made significant progress. She’d found a way to resolve her own anxiety, instead of just collapsing into utter panic like she used to as a younger child. So, she relaxed into the afternoon and was able to watch a group of teens (some dressed in very disturbing costumes) do a demonstration, and then participate in the games and have a few snacks, and the whole bit. All without freaking out. And every 15 minutes or so, she’d take a quick break up in the front room where the light was, and then she’d come back for some more fun.

Fast forward about 45 minutes:

I had stationed myself near the hallway so that I could see my 9-year-old when she went up to the front. The main door is there, and it’s always good to make sure no one is leaving or coming in unexpectedly. I was talking to RegularDad about something, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw my 9-year-old break away from the main party and once again head for the hallway. For the light. For her Comfort Zone. This time, there were two large men lounging near the hallway exit. One of them stood at least 6 feet tall, maybe more, and was a black belt of some degree or other. He’s a creepy-looking guy.

My 9-year-old approached them and tried to slide between them to get into the hallway, but before she could do that, the two of them drew together in front of her to form a solid wall of Very Large People. The black belt was holding a banjo as part of his costume. He lowered the banjo like a sword and used it to further block my daughter’s path. The two of them looked sternly down at her and one of them said:

“We’re under strict orders to take down anyone who tries to leave this room.”

And my daughter’s face… oh my God… her face PALED and her eyes got very large and her whole body shrank away from these two men.

And what I saw instantaneously was that they were just joking with her. That obviously someone had asked them to make sure no kids were messing around unattended up front, and that this was their way of trying to make light of their assigned position. But what they didn’t know was all the stuff I told you at the start of this post. What they didn’t know — couldn’t know — was that in my child’s mind, two very large strangers were keeping her away from the one place in the building she had established as Her Safe Place. My child — my daughter — felt threatened and menaced by two very large, very burly men, (one of whom was an accomplished higher degree black belt) in a place where I took her twice a week to learn karate, a place that was supposed to be a safe environment for children.

All of that happened in the space of maybe 35 seconds.

And every single Mama Bear Instinct in every fiber of my being went into TOTAL SYSTEM OVERLOAD. I took two large steps and as my daughter’s body was still shrinking away from these men, my own body was there in time to back her up.

I looked at those men, who had no idea what they’d just done, what their idea of a joke had cost my child, and inside my head I was ROARING and HOWLING and SCREAMING, but what came out of my mouth was a fumble of words, mild and pleasant, something to the effect of:

“My daughter needs to get through here. It’s okay. She has my permission to do so. I told her she could go through the hall.”

They separated from each other and my daughter shot through the gap and disappeared into the light. I followed her and found her sitting on the floor with her arms wrapped around her knees. She was crying and hiding her face. She thought she’d done something wrong; she thought she was in trouble; she was frightened; she just wanted to stand in the light for a minute.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “They were just trying to make a joke. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Yes I did,” she cried.
“No, you didn’t. You were just going to a safe place. Going to a safe place is never wrong.”
“They said I couldn’t. I’m not supposed to.”
“They were wrong. Honey, listen to me: those men are not in charge of you. Only I am in charge of you, and I told them that you are allowed to be up here.”

We sat together for a few minutes, and then she was ready to go back to the party. No one was guarding the hallway when we went through it. My daughter wiped her tears away and disappeared into the darkness. It was almost time for the pinata.

I stood there for a few minutes, trying to get my act back together. While I was standing there, the woman who runs the office, dressed as a witch, approached me and asked if I was okay. I guess my face looked funny. I sure felt weird. And so incredibly tired of Halloween. I tried to pass it off on that, too. “Oh, this just isn’t my favorite time of the year,” I said to her. She nodded — all understanding — and said… oh, I don’t know what she said, but pretty soon I was telling her the whole damn story, everything I just told you here, and I knew, the whole time I was talking, that she’d tell it to the owner, who is a very nice man, and very gifted with teaching children, a man who never, ever, EVER would have done something like that to a child.  The woman winced a lot as I talked, and she apologized for the whole thing, and I nodded and said that I understood that the men were just trying to be funny, but that the joke had fallen so incredibly flat that it was actually creepy and horrifying. She said she understood. She has a daughter herself, who takes classes at the dojo. She got it.

We left soon afterwards. And we’d been home maybe a half hour when the phone rang. It was the dojo owner. He asked me to tell the story again, and I did, and when I got to the part where the men said they were going to take her down, he started saying oh my God… oh my God… over and over again in a very tired, whispery sort of way. I reiterated the fact that I understood that they were just kidding around, and I made sure he understood I didn’t want anyone to get in trouble over this, but I told him quite simply that the adults who attend his classes need to be more careful and more aware of how they approach the children in the program. These kids know who the black belts are. And the adults have a responsibility to conduct themselves so that no children feel threatened while in their presence. And the bottom line is just this: One day, my daughter will grow up and be a young woman. She will face risks that women the world over have faced for eons. And I enrolled her in a karate program so that in the event that she finds herself threatened by a man, she will have some potential to defend herself. I find it incredibly upsetting that she found herself in a situation that looked too much like that type of scenario for my comfort. In a place where she is supposed to BE SAFE. The owner said he understood, and that was the end of the conversation.

And that’s what happened at the Halloween party yesterday. So, tell me: did I over-react? I was already irritated with some of the adults’ behavior before the whole thing at the hallway happened. How much of that irritation fueled my response? Does it seem more like I was looking to pick a fight? What would you have done, if it had been you? I need to know. Because I’ve made some big giant mama-bear waves over this one, and we still have to see these people and if I was wrong, I need to know. I need to find a way to apologize. Because this is a good karate place, and I don’t want to pull my kids out of it.

Tell me what you think. Tell me what you really, honestly think.


21 Responses to “Making mama-bear waves.”

  1. 1 SabrinaT November 2, 2009 at 1:57 am

    NO! I don’t think you over reacted at all. You are right, and those men should have thought about what they were saying and doing. I hope if they have children, they will “GET IT”. I hope the owner talked to them. They may think there was “no harm done”, and maybe next time they will think about your daughter before they act like buffoones!

    Kudos to your daughter for finding a safe place…..

  2. 2 :)De November 2, 2009 at 7:20 am

    You reacted very appropriately! You stood up for your daughter and demonstrated for her some of the skills that she will have to use in life. I don’t think you owe any apologies.


  3. 3 rae November 2, 2009 at 8:03 am

    I would have done the exact same thing – with much less grace. Then I would have been the one disolving into tears.

  4. 4 GailV November 2, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Nope, you didn’t overreact at all.

    And if this story were being written in my life, I’d have to include a part where my husband decided to take the blackbelts down, and it really WOULD be about overreacting and flashbacks to a parents’ childhood days at the dojo.

    But this? This scenario you’ve described? No, it was handled well and graciously.

  5. 5 RegularMom November 2, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Thanks guys.

    Seriously…. Thanks. 🙂

  6. 6 Katherine November 2, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Darling, the dojo owner has more information about those men than you do. You gave him excellent feedback. You did him a favor, and bravely and well comported, I might add.

    This brought tears to my eyes: “Going to a safe place is never wrong.” I would say, you both went to the safe place. Nice modeling of excellent behavior, Mama Bear. Good job backing up your words and lessons with right action.

    Black belts are on a spiritual quest, as much as physical, yes? That is probably the source of the magic about the owner, yes? Now, he sees more clearly, he still has major training to do with his older students. They owe you and your daughter an apology. And they should thank you for the feedback.

  7. 7 Katherine November 2, 2009 at 11:32 am

    I mean it is a bit ironic, isn’t it? Black belts are suppose to be all about the most gentle and least aggressive path. Right?

  8. 8 RegularMom November 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Yes. Exactly.

    Thanks Katherine. :O)

  9. 9 Ami November 2, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    You did not overreact.

    And you’re not one of “those” moms either… because you did not become shrill, you didn’t call anyone an asshole and as far as I know, you didn’t kick anyone, either.

    You started out doing the right thing years ago by respecting your daughter’s limits (I use that word for lack of a better one… my daughter, too, has sensory issues. They’ve improved as she grows, but definitely still there) and by allowing her personal growth by letting her disconnect from situations and have time to renew/escape/relax/figure out how she wants to face it when she’s feeling overwhelmed.

    The only disrespect was shown by the guys who scared her. And although it doesn’t sound like any disrespect was intended, I think it’s important for them to understand what they did and why they need to react differently in the future.

    Ya done good.

  10. 10 Maria R November 2, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Said it once and I’ll say it again. The bottom line isn’t will these guys get in trouble or will there be fall out. The bottom line is the message you sent your daughter.

    Even if NO ONE else understood that (and it sounds like you had two other sympathetic people in on this) you STILL would have done the right thing in your words, deeds and presence to your daughter.


  11. 11 hjdong November 2, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    I think you did great. Probably better than I would have. And it sounds like your DD did great as well. Good for her for being able to pull it together and go back after being treated that way.

  12. 12 Bobbi November 2, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    You were right where you needed to be and I would not consider that response an overreaction. I am not certain I would have been quite that level headed but I have an extreme lack of tolerance for adults at parties especially when they are being asshats.

  13. 13 Niqi November 2, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    No you did not over-react. I think you handled it beautifully. If it had been me I would not have handled it so well – I would have reprimended the men and told them what I thought of their so-called joke – and then I would have talked to the owner right away and then to my child. and I would have been anxious and upset. Of course I probably would have made a comment about the food fight too – like “set an example, or act your age” or something.

    My mother was an extreme reactor – she would have dragged those men over to see the owner right away, and written a letter, and told everyone she could about the situation. I was always embarassed as a child and upset whenever my mom would “defend” me. I did learn to defend myself. And I do speak out on occasion when I see someone doing something wrong (like if their pet in left in a car in summer with no windows down) – but I have learned to do some with more finesse and tact.

    You handled the situation right – but perhaps some of your left over anxiety is because you feel like you could have done more – and then are imagining those consequences. Not just reality.

    I’m sure everything will be fine at the dojo – and might even improve for the next party – perhaps they’ll seperate it so that the kids have their own party and the older ones have theirs.

    The way you explained everything to your daughter was wonderful. Letting her know that YOU are her safe place always. 🙂

  14. 14 Sparklee November 2, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    I wish that all adults understood the impact that teasing can have on children. Those guys may think that they were just kidding around, but intimidating a little girl (or anyone, for that matter) is NEVER funny. If they were capable of real empathy, they would have recognized that. You did the right thing, and you handled it with more grace than I would have!

    I don’t know much about martial arts, but isn’t there something about being strong AND gentle? And not using your strength aggressively? And self-control? They were out of bounds, not you!

  15. 15 RegularMom November 2, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Thanks everyone. I feel much better. 🙂

  16. 16 regular_dad November 2, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    I too think you did the right thing and I know you. Our kids are very lucky to have a Mom as great as you. However you did leave out the part where I did a flying scissor kick within one inch the black belts nose which knocked him out just from the ferocity of my skills and anger. It was like I was a Jedi who just ate a Sith Lord and had mad Matrix programming. They knew digitally that I was a force to be reckoned with.

    Ok, it is does give one pause to get in the face of a third degree black belt.

  17. 17 RegularMom November 2, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    LOL… Dude… you were supposed to take the BLUE pill. The BLUE ONE! 🙂

    But, seriously… thanks hon.

  18. 18 Karisma November 3, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    LOL at RegularDad…….I also agree you did exactly the right thing, especially they way you handled the actual incident. I know a couple of people with sensitive kids, one in particular who ALWAYS over reacts and it does not help the child at all. They become aware that the parent will make a fuss and they use it to their advantage as they get older to always have things revolving around themselves.

    You on the other hand moved in gently and still gave her the space to deal with it. Which she did, or she would not have wanted to go back to the party. You could not have done anything better.

  19. 19 Karisma November 3, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    PS…I raised one extremely sensitive child myself and learned early on that its best to stand behind her and support her than stand in front of her and not give her a choice! You are doing a fantastic job!

  20. 20 Mom #1 November 4, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    I’m so late, so I’ll just say “ditto” to everyone else’s sentiments.

    Sometimes I find myself doing and saying the craziest things in advocacy of my Baby Boy and you know how big and capable he is.

    Moms are their children’s advocates. Period. If anyone doesn’t like it. Too bad.

    Them’s the rules!

  21. 21 dbmamaz January 8, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    oh, tears in my eyes too, you were great!

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