The Karate Kid and a Pizza Box (Lesson One)

Some years ago, we went to see “The Karate Kid”.  Nathan was a pre-schooler at the time, but I think he enjoyed it as much as anyone else.  It made an impression on him.  Later, when I went to his room to tell him goodnight, he was standing in a chair in front of the window.  He stood on one leg, and held his arms out to the side like the wings of a bird of prey.  Brenda & I were almost speechless, and even David got a kick out of it.  We all stood in the doorway for a long time before he knew we were watching him.  People like to quote lines from movies, but it’s the pictures that stick in our minds.  Some say Images are often so much more powerful than mere words, and I reckon there could be some truth in that.

In time, the movie came out on television.  By then, our youngest son, Mason, had seen the sequels, but never the original.   He had been just a baby when it first came out, so it wasn’t altogether his fault for not having seen it before.  It is interesting sometimes to see how experiences stack up beside folks of different ages, but I am living proof that accumulating birthdays is not the same thing as wisdom.

I often get a feeling of being let down by sequels.  The flavor of an original seldom returns in sequels, which are usually just about making another grab for money from the box office.  My first experience with one was Algebra II, which was a huge disappointment for both me and my teacher.   The sequels to “The Karate Kid” were about karate, but the first one was about something else.  It was about setting goals, action steps, and about learning.

Nathan wanted to see the original again too, so we all watched it together.  Brenda fixed some popcorn, and we let Ashley Cooper and Cosmo Topper inside so they could beg for popcorn while we watched the movie.  We each found a place to sit facing the television, and both dawgs found a spot facing someone holding a bowl of popcorn.  As the show was about to begin, I said to my young boys:

“There just might be a lesson somewhere in this story.  Watch for it, and see if you can find it.”

Some weeks passed.  One day I was alone with the two younger boys, and we were laughing, talking, eating a pizza, and just having a good time.  The dawgs were outside, because you can’t eat pizza with them in the house.  It’s just too complicated.  A fly that somehow didn’t know that we don’t allow flies in the dining room, buzzed by.  I brushed it away, and Nathan swatted at it a couple of times.  Then, Mason said:

“I’d get him if I had some chopsticks!”

We all laughed.  The movie we’d seen together crept into the conversation.  Nathan asked:

“What was the lesson?”

At first, I was thrown off guard.  I’d almost forgotten about that, but obviously, Nathan had not.  One thing I’ve learned about that boy is that if you ever make a promise to him, you’d better keep it.  It makes a man proud to see evidence of a sense of right and wrong develop in your children.  Someday I’m sure to see it manifest itself in their actions, but right now the function of it is just to keep me on my toes.

I asked them to tell me what was happening to the boy at the beginning of the story.  We talked about him having to move to a new place away from old friends, not having much money, and getting picked on by some bullies.  I asked them how the boy saw these things that were happening to him, and both of them said the boy saw them as bad things.  I asked what happens to you when you feel negative things are happening to you, and Mason quickly responded:

“It brings you down.”

We talked about some of the positive things that began to happen, and how it affected the boy.  Nathan said:

“It made him feel better, but not at first.”

There was a pencil on the table, and I drew a number line on the pizza box.  I numbered ten marks to either side of the zero so that one side went to plus ten, and the other went to negative ten.  By then, we’d eaten all the pizza, so I didn’t mash anything.  I pointed to the zero and told them all of the numbers to the right of it were positive, and all of the numbers to the left were negative.

Each was given a number to add starting at zero.  Adding plus three moved to the plus three mark, then adding two more moved it to five.  It took a while for the idea of adding negative numbers to sink in. Up to that point, they had only been taught to think of it as subtraction.  Both found it amusing to start at points other than zero.  By adding plus four to negative three brought you up to positive one, but by adding minus four to negative three, it took you back to minus seven.  Mason stared at that a long time, then finally said:


We played around with several numbers, and talked about addition and subtraction.  I told them they were  the really same thing, only you had to pay attention to see if a value had a plus or minus sign.  I told them the sign would tell you which direction to take: up or down; plus or minus.  As we worked the number line, I saw that both boys were quick to get it.

I asked Nathan to start at negative seven and add a positive two.  He found the place at negative five easily.  I told him that just because you add something positive does not mean you will always end up in a positive place, but perhaps slightly more so than before.  It all depends on where you start from, and how much you add.  Wheels were turning, and I could see it from the shape of his eyebrows.  I asked Nathan what this had to do with the movie.  He studied on it for a while, but in a bit, Nathan looked up and said:

“Well, some good stuff started happening to the kid, but he didn’t know it yet.”

That was a biggie!

“Yes!” I said: “Adding a plus one to a minus ten only brings you up to minus nine, doesn’t it?”

Neither said a thing for what seemed like several minutes, but I’m sure it wasn’t.  They were both looking at the numer line when Nathan broke the silence with:

“Minus nine is still pretty negative.”

I told him that it was, but less so than minus ten.  You have to keep adding positive things, even if one at a time, because if you add negative stuff, it just gets worse.  I asked them what would happen if you added zero, and they both knew that meant you didn’t go anywhere.  As soon as I was sure they got that, I said:

“Zero has a value of nothing.  If you add nothing, the value does not change up or down.” 

Nathan said sometimes he liked to do nothing, and laughed.  Mason laughed too.  I told them that it was okay to not change where you are if you’re already where you want to be.  It was about then that both of them let me know they wanted to be out in the woods playing.  Before they went outside, Nathan turned to me and said:

“We ‘d done that number line at school, but I didn’t understand it ’til now.”

I just smiled, knowing he had just defined the next phase of the lesson, but we would postpone that for now, as some very important playing in the woods was needed by two energetic young men.  They went out the front door, and I went downstairs to check on the dawgs.  I should have known better.  The boys had gone by the gate, and had taken Topper and Ashley to the woods with them.

In the distance I heard laughing and barking.  When it’s your children and pets making those sounds, it is a kind of music if you’re willing to hear it that way.  I just stood by the doorway for a long time and listened.  Although there was no one in the house with me at the time, I spoke out loud, but in a quiet voice saying:

“As it should be.”

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Marlene Humberd on February 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a intimate father -son(s) moment . What a valuable life lesson they learned from you in such a simple way . I’m sure they have thought many times since then about that numberline on the pizza box and have used it to help them through many of their life situations. It is a gift from you they will cherish and pass on to others .Well done , Dad !


  2. Posted by Robin Leonard on March 14, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    You are truly wonderful.


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