Recently, my 12 year old got his black belt in karate. That's right. A Black Belt. Capital B. It was exciting to watch his test and be such a part of this accomplishment with him. He started karate when he was just 3 years old with his teeny tiny black pants and his very own white belt - the symbol of innocence, purity and freshness. And for 9 years he has worked his way up the rainbow-hued ladder of changing karate belts to arrive at this incredibly impressive goal. Seventy-five percent of his short life was directed to the goal of becoming a Black Belt. Amazing if you stop to think about it.
I have written posts before about being a proud karate mom. This isn't one of those posts.
While I want to wax poetic about how proud I am of his accomplishments and how inspired I was watching him grow as a person and pressing through hurdles to his final goal, I will spare you - sort of. What I want to talk about is what I learned about myself as a human - and most importantly a parent - during this time.
It is so hard to watch your children struggle. Most of my life I believed the role of the mother was to fix the problems of your wee little ones. Skinned your knee? Let me fix it with a kiss and a band aid. Hungry? I will feed you nourishing foods. Tired? Time to tuck you in with a bedtime story. Sick? Let's have a popsicle and a snuggle on the couch watching cartoons. That's what we as mothers do.
But it was through the process of watching him become a Black Belt that the true test of Motherhood really started making sense to me. You see, it's easy to cheer someone on when they are excited and passionate about something they are doing. You really just get sucked into the vortex of "yayyy" and "awesome" that goes with the passion. But that didn't happen during his transition from a brown to a Black Belt. His passion for karate started dwindling. He fought me on going to class. He argued about practicing. He complained about being too tired, overwhelmed with all the frustrations that went along with the work involved. He started to become a little lazy. He started just going through the motions of the work...passionless. And me - I started to become discouraged and simply wanted to give into his pleas to let him take a break.
Each time he complained, I rebutted with a "you can't quit now" remark. Each time he waned from his goal, I encouraged him with a "you can do it" cheer. Each time he threw himself in the car after practice - sweaty, salty and teary-eyed - I said "you have got this, buddy." The only rule I had with karate after he was a green belt was that he couldn't quit. He was too close to turn back and he had to finish now. I didn't care how long it took him. But quitting now was not an option anymore.
My knee jerk reaction was to say "I know it's too hard. Go ahead and take a break." But I didn't. I didn't give up on him. I didn't cave in to comfort him and cushion him this time like have always believed was my mission as his mother. On many occasion, I wanted to wipe the tears away and say "Let's go have some ice cream and keep our Wednesdays to ourselves." But in these moments is where we both found our strength and some courage to carry onward to the ultimate goal - his a Black Belt, and mine his Mom.
This was a tough parenting lesson for me. And it took 9 years for me to dissect it and understand what it all meant. I always want to make the harshness of life easier and more gentle on him. I am no Tiger Mom. I even parented myself the same way for years - kind and comforting for my aching heart and soul. I am not hard on anyone really. I am happy to be the soft spot people land when times get tough. But deep down, I know the hard work needs to happen. I know it's better if you put in the blood, sweat and tears. I know you need to painfully shed a few layers before growing into your new person. Most importantly, I know it needed to happen for both of us.
Ultimately, I believed in him. I knew he had what it took to make it to the final goal. The reward is now that HE believes in him. This is the pivotal lesson in parenting and in life. I think that we all need someone to believe in us while allowing us the space and time to do the work it takes to accomplish our goal. You just need someone there pushing you from behind saying "you have got this!" He now knows he can accomplish his goals, regardless of the size. But I think the lesson will always lie somewhere hidden in that little Black Belt. The hard work. The perseverance. The ups and downs. The beginning and the end. The help and cheers when we need them most. It's all right there...for both of us.
The work is always going to be hard. Mothering. Black Belts. Life. But the pride you feel after doing the right thing instead of giving into the voice. That's the stuff we are made of.
So proud of you little man. I can't wait for our next lesson.