The master told four-year-old Benjamin that if he learned “The Easy Way is No Way,” he could get a tiger patch for his tae kwon do uniform. “The Easy Way is No Way” is a set of principles that the children must learn before becoming a yellow belt. Zach – almost six – won his tiger patch awhile ago, as he started tae kwon do before Benjamin did, and he has since gotten a yellow belt.
Benjamin took that handout home, determined to learn every single word on the sheet. He learned the first item immediately: the Five Benefits of Tae Kwon Do. However, he wasn’t quite ready with the rest of the sheet when he had his next lesson. No matter, we go twice a week. He knew it all by the following lesson.
Which he missed because he was sick.
We kept practicing. He belted out, “Discipline, sir! Focus, sir! Self-control, sir! Confidence, sir! Respect, sir!” with gusto. He was ready.
I told the master to go ahead and test him. This was a proud moment for me, watching my little boy who had tried so hard, with so much heart, stand up and be proud of himself.
The masters lined my two boys up together.
“What are the benefits of tae kwon do?”
Zach’s hand shot up. “Discipline, sir! Respect, sir! Self-control, sir! Focus, sir! Respect, sir!” The master gave it to him anyway. Then he turned to Benjamin.
Benjamin stood flummoxed. He had just heard Zachary do it wrong, but Zachary is his older brother, and thereby by definition never wrong. He couldn’t do it.
“Why are you the best student?”
Zach’s hand shot up. He fumbled it, not quite remembering the words. Benjamin, slower to raise his hand but knowing the answer, couldn’t do it when his turn finally came.
I fought the urge to jump up and run onto the mat. It is important not to show up the masters. But they were doing it wrong! They were supposed to be testing Benjamin, and they were letting Zach answer every question first. And he was fucking it up for his brother, for once not on purpose.
“What must you tell your parents every day?”
Zach’s hand shot up. Benjamin started looking around at the ceiling. My heart sank.
“I give you chance next time,” the master told them as they finished up, and the boys came running off the mat.
“Please,” I begged, “ask Ben again without Zach. He knows it all. He just got confused because his brother got it wrong.” Unfortunately, he speaks mostly Korean and I speak absolutely no Korean, so we weren’t getting very far.
I haven’t been able to sleep the last couple of nights.
I watched Ben at the library magic show. He was focused. He was having a ball. He would have loved to have been the volunteer. But every time the magician asked, he was the only kid who didn’t put his hand up. It was as though he didn’t quite register that he should raise his hand. Ben’s best buddy was right next to him, and that child’s hand went up every time, along with every other kid in the room. Except Benjamin’s. Somehow, he is slower than children his same age.
He is a very, very smart child. He is imaginative and incredibly verbal and has the most amazing building ability. He has remarkable scissor skills. He is adding numbers together. But he responds more slowly than his peers and from what I’ve seen in the last week, sometimes he gives up altogether because he is slower. He won’t show it on his face – he has too much bravado to get upset about it… outwardly. But that kind of continual defeat is going to wear him down.
I don’t know what to do. I suspect a very mild processing issue, and I guess we should look into early intervention.
But first things first – tomorrow when we go to tae kwon do, I’m going to make sure they test him by himself. He has earned that damned tiger patch.