Monday, July 11, 2011

I'd like to tell you a story. It's like all the other stories, but a little different, so listen closely. It bears telling, this story, so that we all know what has brought us to this point. You may have heard part of it before; you may have lived part of it; you may have wished you lived part of it; you may be lucky enough to have been sitting by watching it all unfold. Now you will be a witness to the telling.

As many stories do, it starts with a baby. A sweet even-tempered, blueberry-eyed boy who only had two real difficulties - eating enough, and going to sleep. The baby fit himself into his parents' lives quite well - teaching them patience, and flexibility, and wonder. There came a point, not long after his birth, when the parents couldn't remember not being with the boy. And that was good.

So the boy ate, and grew, and ate, and grew, and eventually learned to sleep on his own. And he and his parents set out to explore the world.

Now it happened that they were visiting a mountainous place, and they stopped in a meadow for lunch. The meadow was huge - acres in all directions. The sun was hot, but the breeze was cool (as it often is in the mountains.) The scrub around them was filled with clicking sounds and once they got out of the vehicle, they saw that what made the sounds were not grasshoppers but hundreds upon hundreds of hummingbirds.

The boy ran after them on chubby 2 1/2 year old legs, trying to catch them, but never quite succeeding. Time became nebulous in that meadow: the blue of the sky matched the little boy's eyes - the smell of hot rock and crushed sage - the clicks and whirs of the birds - all melding together and somehow redefining the rules of time and space.

They returned home, filled with the magic of the mountains, and family, and hummingbirds. Later that year another blue-eyed boy joined the family - this one with eyes the color of a crystalline lake, or the light blue afternoon sky. And the blueberry-eyed boy took on a new role: brother.

He was a good brother, helpful and kind. He started school that year as well, and learned about sharing, and numbers, and frogs, and words. When he learned about words, he also learned about stories. There was one story in particular that he often shared with his parents. His stories always started "Remember when..."

He'd take a deep breath and tell story without pausing:

"Remember when we went to Colorado and I got stung by a hummingbird and it gave me special skin which is tougher than your skin so I don't feel cold like you do and I don't feel pain like you do? Do you remember that? Do you??"

And the parents would say "Yes we remember the hummingbirds, but we don't remember you getting stung." And the boy would shout "I did! I did!" and tears would come and threaten at the corners of his eyes. So no more was said of it by the parents. But when they'd press a sweater on him, or comment on cuts they were bandaging, the boy would look up at them with serious blueberry-eyes, and say "Remember when? Remember my hummingbird skin?" and the parents would smile and nod their heads, and set aside the sweater with a grin.

The boy was an observer. He'd sit back and watch with those big blue eyes. He appreciated scientific theory and logic, and yet, still hold onto the magic he'd found in the hummingbirds. He clung to black and white expectations for others: teachers *should* know more than their students; other people *should* be fair; little brothers *should * know not to touch his stuff.

When the boy was 6, and the brother 3, a sister joined the family. She had changeable eyes, sometimes blue, sometimes green, sometimes the dark grey of the sea in winter. Now the family was whole and complete, and somehow bigger than 2 plus 3.

The brothers were extraordinarily proud of their sister and she, in turn, was fascinated by them. They found a rhythm in their days, and in their lives, and it was comfortable.

Even with a sister in the family, the boy was dismissive of girly things. He'd use the term "whitish-red" to describe things that were pink. He'd put trucks and blocks into his sister's hand, hiding dolls and animals when he could.

He went to school, asking why or why not as the case may be. He read voraciously and remembered more than most. He told jokes, and ran races, and was pretty patient with his siblings.

Life moved on like it's been know to do. The boy grew in mind and body. Sometimes more in mind, sometimes more in body. Always stretching; always watching; always growing; always questioning.


And so we find ourselves here, at this point; where the meat of the story truly begins. We've finished the prologue for the most part, and are now eagerly anticipating "what's next".

In some cultures this is where the boy would go off into the woods for a week or so with a pipe, and some water, and no food, and wait for his totem to speak to him. In other cultures he'd train a bird to hunt, and when it was successful in the hunt they would call the boy a man. In this culture there is no recognized point at which the boy gets to move easily or assuredly into adulthood. Sometimes it's based on a number, sometimes its happenstance, sometimes its laziness on the part of the other adults. But this family has chosen: 29 years ago this family decided to start a tradition of recognizing this transition into adulthood.

When I was 13 (29 years ago!! ack!) my aunt Robin brought up this idea, and I was kind of skeptical. First of all it was different, which is pretty much the kiss of death for anything involving a 13 year old; 2nd of all everyone in the family would be looking and talking to me - almost every 13 year old also has a love/hate relationship with popularity and attention.

But she carved this beautiful heron sculpture, and my great-grandparents were there (a 4th of July celebration in Rockford, IL under the oak tree) and it turned out to be exactly right and just what I needed.

The ceremony has continued - all 9 grandchildren, and now Liam starts the next generation. If you will take the sculpture around the circle Liam, each family member will impart some advice, or reflection, or just think kind thoughts toward you. All you have to do is listen, smile, nod, or say thank you.


And so, with this, we say goodbye to the blueberry-eyed boy and welcome the young man who is taking his place....

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Journey to Black Belt
by Lysne Tait

I wish I could say my journey to my black belt had an auspicious beginning. A fortune cookie, say, or a little old lady with a gnarled finger pointing me to the dojang; but it didn’t. My journey started with peer pressure. My husband and sons were going to taekwondo on a regular basis, my daughter wanted to go, and my new friend Tasma had just started. (I should probably add that Tasma was such a new friend, I didn’t even really know her name at the time - we had met in Pilates class. She was soft spoken, well read, and had rabbit-fur mittens.) She would bound up to me after Pilates and say “When are you going to go? You’ve got to go to taekwondo” and finally, sometime in February, I went.

That first class took me by surprise. It was so much more difficult than I had ever imagined. Even standing up straight and still on the mat was hard. I laughed out loud at myself and my inability to make my body do what I wanted it to do. It was fun - a lark. Not something that I was going to take seriously. It was just something to fill the time while my daughter was at school.

Slowly it changed into something more. I can’t even put my finger on the point when I started to enjoy the challenge; that point when I let taekwondo be part of my future; when I let go of being self-conscious. Instead of filling the time, taekwondo became purposeful. I was calmer, more focused - I could handle life in general, better. I was never one for sitting still and meditating. My mind would go off to a hundred places at once. I needed to do walking meditation - to keep my body moving so that my mind could be calm. The forms provided that outlet for me. Here was a place that I could let go of ought-to’s and should’s and just be.

I’m not a church-going person. I haven’t found the place that feels right yet, but taekwondo is close. The rituals, the acceptance, the support, the camraderie - I’ve seen similar instances in houses of worship. I belong and I love that I belong. My taekwondo friends have become family. I need that structure, that outlet, to keep sane.

My first tournament was nerve-wracking and fun at the same time. I didn’t participate in organized sports growing up, so I had never really been in a competitive atmosphere. My knees were shaking as I heard my group called to the staging area. They separated us by gender, age and belt level. My group consisted entirely of moms of other taekwondo students; instead of being competitive, they were very supportive. I came home with a few trophies, had a terrific time, learned a lot about competing, and became fast friends with the women in my ring.

Taekwondo slipped into other parts of my life. I set up a self-defense course for the parents at my daughter’s school. I typed up a list of addresses for Master Flotka, then designed a brochure, organized a volunteer spring cleaning for a former student who was incapacitated, and headed up a Holiday potluck. Soon I was working on the website and answering phones for Master Flotka and dreaming of getting my own staff shirt.

Now I help out with teaching a couple of times per week. I answer phones, pick up trash, cheer the kids on, and always have part of my mind thinking of the school. I am supremely thankful to those who pushed me in this direction (my husband Craig, my kids, Tasma, Mr. Duncan), and to those who have helped me along the way (Master Flotka, Master Lance, Maria, Melissa, Lindsey, and everyone I’ve been in class with). In every version of what I imagine I will do next in my life - taekwondo is a major player. I have become more self-confident, more engaged, more excited about life. I am looking forward to becoming a certified instructor. My black belt is not the culmination of a journey, it is the beginning: a most auspicious beginning.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

my heart is full, and heavy,
my limbs are aching with inaction and indecision;
restlessness runs up and down my spine,
- itchy fingers tracing patterns:

stress manifests itself into jawline pressure
crawls up to the top of my head
around my neck

so much to do
when all I really want to do is sleep, or read.
too many things too many things too many things

dishes mock me from the sink
dog hair blurs the edges of the floor, the couch,
the dirty sock islands

detritus of five lives deliniates high water marks in the house
(and this is when I worked until 8;

and this is when Craig was gone;

and this is Liams lacrosse practice;

Molly's party;

Adam's game; leftovers for dinner, or take out..

tattoos beating in my head: you will nevernevernevernevernevernevernevernever

Please write your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

The bruise seeps away from the toe, coloring the other toe and the top of the foot. I keep it up, raised, covered with ice, like the book says. The other toes are cold and stiff, but the movement of color slows and the swelling abates. It doesn’t hurt, it’s just pretty - purple and blue and pink. I am trying to figure out how I can still work out with this injury.

Please shade in the entire circle. Do not mark outside of the circle.

My husband is educating my son - finding Eddie Murphy on YouTube talking about Elvis, and lemonade. My son Liam is 13 and could care less, but he still comes over gamely. My other son Adam, 10, is at his computer, making the Google Translate lady talk to him in Spanish. “Liam sucks his thumb” becomes “Liam se chupa el dedo pulgar” - and he laughs and plays it again. There must be something magical about teasing your brother in another language.

and still, blood pumps rhythmically in my toe, pounding.

Use only a number 2 pencil to complete this area.

Sleet falls against the window. I am sitting on the “cold couch” - the one closest to the window. The couch is leather, and sitting here in the winter requires soft blankets, a warm computer and a cat, if possible. It’s a loveseat, and I can rest my foot on the arm - which ensures that the toe stays elevated. Condensation from the ice dribbles down the arch of my foot, tickling.

Do not leave your seat until notified to do so.

My daughter comes over to check my foot. Her forehead creases in concentration as she touches the ice pack. Her hand rests on my shin, and she giggles. “Cold hands mama! Didja feel my hand? Want me to tell you a joke mama? Would that make you feel better? Why did the skeleton cross the road?” Before the “d” of “road” is out of her mouth she jumps back in with the wrong answer “He had no body to dance with!” and then she is off again, caroming around the room; fearless.

If you have any questions, please raise your hand.

I do have a question... This is good, it is pleasant, I am warm, my family is happy, I want for nothing and yet

What do I want? What drags my shoulders down, carves lines in my forehead, forces my jaw together?

I am raising my hand wildly in the air

and no one comes.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"We had a good run, and now it’s over; what’s wrong with that?" — Garth Stein

Today we had to put our dog Java down. She was 15, with arthritis and dementia, riddled with lipomas (fatty deposits), and in pain. Funny, how all that comes to mind is cliche: she's in a better place now, it was the best thing we could have done, and so on. I think, Oh, I'm OK, and then the tears run down my face.

Java was our training for children. I remember the first night we had her home, and I was teaching her how to go up and down the stairs when suddenly it hit me: I was Responsible for her well-being. I had to teach her how to be safe, to listen, to obey. I had to feed her, and give her water, and exercise her, and comfort her. I sat down on the top step and took her in my lap and promised her I'd do my best, even though I was scared. And we worked well together.

She was very protective of the kids, hated any man with a hat (sorry Mr. UPS man), and loved to snuffle under the bird cage. She tolerated Buck (the frisky 5-year old golden retriever), ignored the cat, and barked at us when we didn't go to bed on time.

Thank you Java. You will be missed.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

(as seen in ATA World Magazine - June 2010)

by Lysne Tait

I did not want to join taekwondo. I had been watching for 7 years and I enjoyed being a taekwondo mom. I enjoyed my relationship with the school owner Mr. Elijio Martinez and his wife, the respect of the other students, and the ability to chat with the other TKD moms during class. I loved watching my boys and my husband do something they loved. Besides, I wasn't (and had never been) very athletic. Then, our school changed owners, my youngest decided to join taekwondo, and my mom's cancer returned. I thought all I needed was an outlet, but what I found and what ATA has provided for me was so much more.

I joined Master Flotka's ATA Black Belt Academy in DeWitt, MI in January 2009 with my 5 year old daughter. I was worried because classes were held at night - right around dinner time. How could I juggle the kids' classes, adult classes, dinner, and bedtime, and remain sane? My family stepped up. My son Liam (a 2nd degree Black Belt) had been urging me to join for years. He offered to babysit the younger kids while I was in class. Molly (my 5 year old) was just excited that we were the same belt color. My other son Adam (then a blue belt) would coach me on my kicks and stances, and my husband, Craig (also a 2nd degree Black Belt), offered to make dinner once a week (and help me learn my material and sparring, and ferry kids to and from classes). Our new school owner, Master Carl Flotka, a Sixth Degree Black Belt with more than 30 years experience also started a morning class twice a week, and that clinched the deal.

After watching hundreds of taekwondo classes, I thought I knew what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. I have never been surrounded by so many people who wanted me to succeed. For the first time in twelve years it was all about me. I have been a teacher, a wife, a mother, a friend - always worried about the welfare of others - and here I was, learning some something new, with people who wanted me to do my best. Taekwondo may be a competitive sport; the learning of taekwondo is not. At the end of my first class, I was in tears: overwhelmed by the kindness and support of my family, my instructors and my fellow classmates.

I was also in a position that I hadn't known in quite awhile - that of a newbie. For years I have been the expert, or at least pretended to be the expert. Joining taekwondo was a new beginning. I would get upset with myself because I couldn't remember 3 steps in a row, and my husband would admonish me by saying, "It's new. You’ve never done it before. It’s OK to not get it right the first, or third or fifth time."

I never expected to enjoy taekwondo. I never expected the friendships I've found, or the sense of accomplishment and pride I feel. I've been to 3 tournaments in the past year, and had an awesome time at each one. I've lost weight, tightened and toned, and feel incredible. Perhaps the most unexpected and life-enriching benefit is that of the family I've found. Taekwondo members cared for my house and dogs when we were called away to take care of my mom during her final week. I came back to DeWitt to a clean house, a stocked refrigerator, and flowers and other treats. But that’s simply what family does for one another.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

is it possible to fall in love with your love again?
there are times, when the sunlight falls through the window at a certain angle;
when his hand caresses a dog's ear, or a child's curls, 

or rests on my knee - only for a second -  
that the feelings rush to the surface, coloring my cheeks, and my breath sticks in my throat.
who knew, that after 20 years, my heart would still pause, and skip with delight?
It's not always like that - there are days when my teeth grind into each other and my eyes roll at every comment -  but those days are scarce - sprinkled sparingly amongst the better days.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Really? July was the last time I posted? Wow. My world has been rocked and then some since then...

At the end of September, Kisti, my mom, lost her battle with cancer. She had been fighting it/dealing with it for 13 years. And Oh! how I am so grateful for those years. I really thought I'd be more bereft. I am sad, and I miss her greatly - but it's only in those quiet times, in the middle of the busy times - when I used to call her just to say hi - that tears come to my eyes. My favorite quote right now is Edna St. Vincent Millay: "Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell. "

To keep myself sane, I've been doing taekwondo, taking care of my kids, reading, talking with my father. The taekwondo has been most helpful. We have an awesome TKD family - dinners once a week (20+ people), facebooking, coffee. I've been to two more tournaments, (2nd & 3rd in Sparring & Forms, both times). I'm now a blue belt - more than halfway to my Black Belt. This is so much fun. I never thought I'd be in TKD: I never thought I'd like it so damn much.

The kids are growing like weeds. M is 6 going on 21, A is the same, time-oblivious kid, and L is soo soo excited about starting Lacrosse - in a month. Craig & I have started our 21st year together, (OMG!) and we are enjoying our life with the 3 kids, 2 dogs, 2 cats & 12 birds.