So it's been about a year since the big karate debacle of 2012. If you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, click here to read about it. In a nutshell, because my six year old little girl decided not to continue with her karate lessons after her three month introductory period was up, the "master" called her a quitter and told her that she'd never succeed in life. When she told him that she loved art and was going to pursue art classes he got down on his knees and said to her. "Why don't you come back in six months and tell me how those art classes are going? Because I can guarantee that you are starting a pattern in your life and you are a quitter, and in six months you won't be doing art anymore. Because that's what quitters do. They start something and then just give up when it's not fun for them anymore." And that was when I pretty much lost my mind and told him to stop speaking.
That was a little over a year ago. Not six months. A year. And guess what? Emily's love of art is alive and well. Sometimes even to my great dismay - like when I open her bedroom door and find 500 pieces of tiny paper that she's saved for a possible future project. Or when I open my fridge and the contents of an entire box of Kleenex fall from their hiding place on top of the fridge because she needed the empty box to make a "bunny house" complete with a ladder to the second story and paper furniture for her bunny. I don't know much about art, so I don't know if she's any good at it. But I do know that some of her paintings look really pretty to me. And I know that she takes great joy in creating art. And that's what matters. So I do believe it's time to send Master Lerma a little update on Emily and her art activities. I was planning to go into his studio to talk to him in person, but unfortunately I don't trust myself to handle it well. I will more than likely take one look at his smug face and lose my cool, or I will get so mad that I will start to cry while I'm talking to him. Neither wins me any points, so a letter is what it will have to be. A letter with pictures of Emily and her artwork enclosed. Here goes:
May 23, 2013
America's Best Karate
Attn: Master Tony Lerma
321 Hartz Avenue, Suite 4
Danville, CA 94526
Dear Mr. Lerma,
My name is Mickie Ford. I am a resident of Danville, and my children Owen and Emily were enrolled in your karate classes about a year ago. My mom purchased your special three month introductory package for them as Christmas gifts, and they began their lessons shortly after the beginning of the year in 2012. While I'll admit that my kids were a little intimidated at first, they quickly began to enjoy their sessions with you. The first few weeks went along just fine, but somewhere along the way, my daughter began to show some trepidation with continuing the classes. She was nervous that she might accidentally mess up during class, and she does not like to break any rules, even if it's done unintentionally. She began to tell us that she didn't want to go to karate anymore, but we told her that because she had agreed to the three month session, she needed to finish it. And so she did. She would get really nervous and become very quiet in the car on the way to class, and there were times when I watched her standing out there on the mat with tears rolling silently down her cheeks, but she stuck it out. She never threw a fit, she never caused a problem - she was a trouper and I was proud of her for that.
Both of my kids passed your yellow belt testing and shortly after that their three month package ran out. Our family had a long discussion on whether or not the kids would continue with karate and we all decided that just my son would continue. Emily gave it her best shot and decided that it just wasn't her thing. She has always been very interested in art, and so we decided that we'd pursue some art classes for her.
On Owen's first day back to class without his sister, you approached him and asked him where his sister was. He told you that she'd decided not to return. Instead of coming to me about it, you put my son on the spot. You asked him questions like, "Did she quit because she's too busy?" When he said no, you asked him, "Did she quit because she's bored?" When he said no to that, you said, "Or maybe she quit because it's a little bit out of her comfort zone and it doesn't come easy to her. Do you think that might be why?" When Owen said yes, you told him that she was most likely quitting the very thing that she needed the most. Why do I know what you asked my son? Because right after you asked him these questions you came up to Emily who was sitting in between my mom and me on the bench. You got down on your knees and you told Emily exactly what you'd asked Owen. I watched you as you spoke to her, waiting to see what you were going to say. You told Emily what you had said to Owen and then you continued, telling my six year old child that life was tough and that you've been on your own since you were very young and things don't get easier - they just get harder. Sensing Emily's discomfort my mom tried to help out. She said to Emily, "Tell Master Lerma what you've decided to try instead of karate." My daughter looked at you and said, "I'm going to try some art classes." You nodded and smiled, and I felt some relief flow into my body as I heard you say, "Well that's great." But then your smile turned mean as you continued, "I tell you what, Emily. I want you to come back to me in six months and tell me how those art classes are going for you. Because I can guarantee that you won't be taking them anymore. Do you know why? Because you are becoming a quitter. You are developing a pattern for life now, and anytime something stops being easy, you are going to quit." And that's when my instincts took over and I told you to stop speaking to my child like that. Do you even remember this, Master Lerma? How dare you have spoken to my six year old daughter like that? How dare you?!
It wasn't until my mom went into the office and spoke to your wife about canceling the large check she'd just written for Owen's next six months and his sparring gear that you felt inclined to apologize. But even your apology was appalling. You stood behind your claim with the comment that the pattern my daughter was developing was something you had noticed in your two decades of work. You couldn't even give a sincere apology to her. The entire experience with you completely disgusted me. Needless to say, we pulled Owen out of ABK as well. I'll be damned if I'm going to let you, someone in a position of authority, tell my child that she is a quitter just because she chose not to renew her karate lessons.
Now I want to tell you a little bit about my daughter and then I will be finished taking up your time. My daughter is now eight years old and she's one of the best kids I know. And I'm not saying that because she's my child and I love her. I'm saying it because it's true. My daughter doesn't have a mean bone in her body. She's kind to her friends and she has a great love of animals. She is the kid who would play inside at recess because the boy in her class who has a sun allergy and forgot his sunglasses couldn't go outside and didn't have anyone else to play with. She's the one who will ask her friend why she's crying at the lunch table at school and try to make her feel better by telling her a joke. My daughter has never once been in trouble in school, and she's rarely in trouble at home. She is a stellar child. One that you would be lucky to know better. She's social and friendly and really well-behaved. (These things don't make Emily better than any other kid out there -children are all deserving of our love and support, no matter what. I just wanted you to get a look at who my daughter really is.) But you couldn't see beyond your own black and white views of what you think a child should be to even see any of that. And that disgusts me. You abuse your powers of authority to tell kids like Emily that they are going to be failures. I hope if nothing else, this letter opens your eyes a little.
To wrap this up, I'd like to ask you to take a look at the pictures I've enclosed. These are photos of just a few of Emily's paintings and drawings. She's still taking art classes and she still loves it. And it's been, not just six months, but a year. I'll never forget you, Master Lerma, and now I hope you'll never forget Emily. At eight years old, she's a better person than I think you'll ever be.
PS- You don't have to thank me for not putting up a Yelp review of ABK because trust me, it would not be pretty. I figure your true colors will eventually show on their own, and people won't need Yelp to see them.