My son is asking for a white canvas jacket and his own sword.
I didn’t know a thing about fencing until two months ago.
He's been trying since first grade to belong. Basketball, soccer, cub scouts, swim team, Lego robotics, track, school. And he still doesn't fit. He's the original square peg. We have all the diagnoses—ADHD, dyslexia, learning disabilities, but it doesn’t make it any easier to always be the odd kid out.
He has one best friend, the boy next door. He talks about kids at school, but never invites them home. Last I checked, we don't have big hairy nose-warts or small animals hoarded in the living room, we have a Wii and a Playstation. I even caved and let him buy a zombie shooter game. The kids at school don't invite him places. His school friends all play football and soccer.
And then he found fencing.
Unlike soccer, it's immediate. It's right here, one opponent, right now. It's not a giant field with twenty-two kids and a ball three miles away that he’s not allowed to run after until someone kicks it to him. It’s not always someone else's turn to score a goal. One web site I found called fencing physical chess. That’s it. Quick, strategic, immediate. Speed-chess in time and space. Now.
Unlike basketball, there's no team. There’s no one to blame for missed shots, no one to be angry at because he didn’t pass the ball. The other kids are friendly, they learn side by side, but they achieve alone. Just he and the coach. He and his opponent. He and the skill. Did he learn compound attacks? Yes? Move on. No? Try again.
The kids come from all different schools, home school, no school. Whatever hormonal weirdness is going on at school, fencing is fencing. Not science, not lunch, not whose table is he going to sit at today, not endlessly buttoning up his thirteen-year-old energy and forcing himself to sit still. Not a forgotten assignment or a girl who doesn't know his name. It's just fencing.
It’s winning and losing. Who had a good day? Sometimes fencing produces unlikely upsets. Sometimes a single touch against a tough opponent is a victory, even if he loses the match. Tomorrow he'll try again.
The kids seem nice. Welcoming. Boys and girls, joshing each other around. But when the class starts, they focus, pointed like the tips of their springy swords. Step, lunge, the arm just so. I can't tell my son, but it's an athletic ballet without music. Their moves are strong, graceful, quick as hummingbirds, Errol Flynn in a mesh face mask with a curly skater haircut hanging out the back.
It's expensive. But no more so than orchestra, music lessons, football, club soccer. I'm lucky. We can afford it. (I'd pay twice this much to see my kid fit in. Anywhere.)
For the first time in thirteen years, I can see the beginnings of drive. I've known it forever, if I could just help him point his ability at something, he could be so good. He knows where his body is in space. He rode a bike at four. He can balance on anything, run at top speed, but nothing ever stuck. No sport grabbed him, caught alight, and started to burn. I know I’m not raising the next Olympic champion. I just want him to find something he's good at, something he’s willing to work at. If he can feel good about this, school will sort itself out. He can take this confidence anywhere.
It’s not about fencing. Not really. I’d be just as excited about fishing, or bongo drums, or anything that caught his attention like this has. He'll give up video games for fencing. He spent a whole Saturday doing homework without complaining, to have time for a tournament. He wants it. He stayed after class yesterday with the coach, learning just one more move. I watched her, correcting him, showing him just how the sword tip goes here and not there, step forward, now do it fast, and he got it. She pulled off her mask and grinned.