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Six months ago, I began classes in beginner’s karate at Okamoto’s Karate Studio. I was about to turn thirty, and decided now was the time to take better care of my body than I had for the last ten years.
I am one of three adults in my class; the other two adults are parents of fellow students. Average age of the students is seven and three-quarters. Naturally, I stand out a bit.
Nevertheless, thus far, I have made one friend, Mary. Mary, a distractible second grade, is generally a naughty student. Instructor Shane takes your belt away if you misbehave in class, and her belt has been under a constant state of threat since I’ve known her.
Mary is very concerned about my social and financial wellbeing. Every day I come to class, she approaches me with a look of polite worry.
“Do you have a mom?”
“Yes, I have a mom.”
“Why doesn’t she come with you?”
Most seven-year-olds were accompanied to karate by their parents.
“Well, I drive myself.”
Mary nodded somberly.
“Does your mom sign your papers? Does she pay for your lessons?”
“Well, I’m an adult, so I sign my own papers and pay for my own lessons.”
That allayed her fears for about two weeks. Then she saw me walk into the locker room with my karate gear in a trash bag.
All of the children have fancy embroidered gym bags that say, “Okamoto’s Karate Studio.” I, however, refuse to buy into the trappings of branding, and am content to carry my items around in a white plastic bag the way God intended.
I loaded my garbage sack into my cubby, when Mary tapped my leg.
“Why don’t you have a bag?”
Mary pointed to the column of identical red and black bags in the cubbies.
“Oh, a gym bag? I didn’t buy one.”
“Did you not want to spend the money? Wait…”
She trailed off.
“Do you have money?”
I considered her question. My wealth, or lack thereof, struck me distinctly relative.
“Um, yes, I have money. I just didn’t buy a gym bag.”
Mary looked unconvinced.
The weeks dragged on, and Mary continued to pepper me with questions about my financial stability.
“Do you walk from home?” she grabbed my leg, and once more regarded my trash bag suspiciously.
“Uh, no, I drive.”
“Really? Do you have a car?”
“Um, yes, I have a car. That would be a long walk from home!”
And last night at class, she sliced even more to my gut.
“Are you a mom?”
“Am I a mom? Well, no, I don’t have any kids. No kids or husband. Just me.”
Mary looked scandalized, and asked, “How old are you?”
Way to cut me down to size.
“That’s so old.”
Tell me about it.
“So you’re an adult?”
“But you’re not a mom?”
That’s when I was rescued by our resident Class Genius, a small girl who had just informed us moments prior that she had, “skipped first grade for some odd reason.”
The Genius scoffed at Mary.
“You don’t have to be a mom to be an adult! Not if you’re a girl!”
I nodded fervently in agreement.
Although, I must admit, I got a bit more than I bargained for when I started karate. While I’ve gained muscle, flexibility, and a lot of sweaty gear made out of rubber, Mary has also forced me to confront some uncomfortable truths. Am I an adult? Am I financially successful? Am I fully formed, fledged, and independent? Am I too old to learn a new (and might I add, very physical) sport? Is my personal and family life in order?
Gosh Mary. Out of the mouths of babes…
Sarah Brown is the most wizened, longest tenured white belt at Okamoto’s Karate studio. When she is not training to finally earn her yellow belt, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.