What I Learned From My Son's 'Ninja Ballet'


My 11-year-old son Carter’s favorite thing to do is something he calls “swinging stuff” and that my husband, Brian, and I refer to as “ninja ballet.” It involves a plastic sword, light saber or stick, and lots of jumping, spinning and twirling (of both the stick and the boy himself).

Carter April 30 2014 (1) Carter, who suffered a prenatal brain injury and has mental illness and other disabilities as a result, is devout in his practice of this art. For at least four years, he’s spent many hours every week, sometimes several hours in a single day, working with his stick in the yard. He spins. He whirls. He shouts.

The whole thing is surprisingly graceful and fun to watch. In his imagination, he’s fighting battles like the ones in the movies and TV shows he likes (“Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Ninjago”), but from my place in the dining room where I watch him through the sliders, it looks more like dancing than dueling.

I see him out there, toiling happily, working and puffing and struggling to master a new move he’s invented, and he is an artist of his own training and invention. “I can’t wait to go home and swing my stick,” he says sometimes after a day at school, and I imagine young Mozart saying after a day with math and history, “I can’t wait to go home and get to my piano.” He’s like Emily Dickinson, devoted to his art not for fame or admiration but because the art is its own reward.

Does that seem like too much? Maybe. Comparing a little boy playing in the yard with a broomstick to some of the greatest artists in history is a stretch, but Carter’s devotion is unassailable. Unless something changes in our culture, there aren’t going to be any TV shows that showcase his skills. He’s not going to get rich or famous because of it.

But… is his life not immeasurably better because he has art? Because he seeks to meet a challenge he has created for himself and is diligent in improving his form? Because he loses himself in something he loves without concern that the thing he loves is nothing most people would recognize?

He does this with almost no audience. Sometimes, he shows my husband or me or one of his grandparents what he can do. He took his stick to our church retreat and enjoyed showing a few people his moves. He doesn’t mind being watched, but he doesn’t do it for the purpose of performance or for any other purpose beyond the joy of the thing itself.

Whether we are stick swingers, word slingers, food composers, paint smearers, garden tenders, quilt builders or music makers, may we all find some of Carter’s perseverance and dedication in ourselves. Our lives, too, will be immeasurably better.

This post originally appeared on No Points for Style.

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Brain Injury

Contestant With Special Needs Is ‘a Smashing Success’ on ‘Wheel of Fortune’

On Wednesday night’s episode of “Wheel of Fortune,” everyone was on #TeamTrent. That’s because Trenton “Trent” Girone, from Peoria, Ariz., completely stole the show. Girone is a 21-year-old man with Asperger’s and Tourette syndrome. He’s undergone nine brain surgeries and an open heart surgery, according to ABC. Since he was 2 years old, he’s been [...]

The Unusual Thank You Letter I Had to Write After My Daughter's Surgery

It happens every time. Days of running on adrenaline, fear and worry… Too many Snickers than any one human should stuff down their hatch in 24 hours… The way my body physically aches while waiting to desperately hold her in my arms… You would think by now, Pip’s fourth surgery, I would be better prepared [...]

Shaq's Ignorant Instagram Blunder Ended With Positivity and a Reminder Never to Judge Disability

“I’m more positive probably than I could ever be,” Jahmel Binion says in the FOX 2 video below, just days after basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal publicly mocked him on Instagram. Binion, a 23-year-old from Madison Heights, Mich., has ectodermal dysplasia, a rare genetic condition with symptoms like “reduced ability to sweat, missing teeth and fine sparse hair.” Instead of [...]

Hip-Hop Star Faces Cystic Fibrosis Head On

When I ask Ryan Morrissette if it depresses him to have cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease with an average life expectancy of about 40 years, the 19-year-old professional hip-hop dancer answers me matter-of-factly. “No, not really,” he says. “I’ve always thought there’s no point in being sad about things you can’t change.” Morrissette, from Maple Ridge, [...]