Out of all my children, this is the one that laughs the most. He’s also the one that cries the most. I understand that.
Tiny arms moving gracelessly through his first form, face a mask of concentration and trepidation, tongue poking out between his teeth, just like his mom; I watched the teacher watching him, trying to take the mother out of my eyes and failing. “I hate karate,” he had said as we walked into class. My heart was tight in my chest for him. It’s hard to be new. It’s hard to be unsure. It’s hard to be little. But most of all it’s hard to want nothing more than to be a great Karate master and have your limbs continuously betray you.
The Sensei paused in front of him – it felt like eons before he nodded, his twinkling eyes belying his strict mouth – and said, “You did well.”
Even though I was pretending to read my book, the 5-year-old drama eclipsed the one in the paperback and I watched my son’s small chest puff up in pride. The tightness in mine loosened. But then I saw it spark in my son’s eyes and I knew what he was going to say before the impish words left his mouth. “No I didn’t.”
Allowing a small smile to purse his aged lips Sensei nodded in agreement before cupping my son’s chin and replying, “Listen. And next time you’ll do better.”
My breath caught as I felt the sting for him but as I watched my son resume his Horse Stance with renewed determination I realized that the Sensei’s admonition was relative to the ear of the hearer. I took it as a slight, a correction, a public admission of failure. My son took it as a hope, a correction, a public admission of faith. The fact that he could do better did not detract from the fact that he also did well. And he sensed his Sensei’s confidence that he would do better. Where I had responded to the emotion, he had responded to the honesty. However would he become a great Karate master unless he accepted that there was work yet to be done? Very young children are honesty personified.
I considered the last time I was measured. It was not long ago. As adults we do not usually perform the judging in so obvious a way but nevertheless it happens. And I will admit my first instinct was not to correct the generous appraisal in order to seek a more realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. I wanted – deeply – to only hear the good. Because my sense of self is fragile, weakened from years of battering. But it is only through acknowledging our weaknesses that we grow stronger. I know this. My son who is strong and resilient and as yet uncrushed by expectation, he also knows it.
And so the voice tells me: You did well. Listen. And next time you will do better.
This implies that I will stop talking long enough to listen to the wisdom of others. This tells me that I must be persistent in my work so that there will be a next time. And this shows that for every weakness there is a strength – nothing is so flawed that it cannot be beautiful. Even me.
All this from a kindergarten Karate class? This is not the first time my children have shown me the grace in humility. I’m listening.
What little lessons have you guys learned lately? How do you accept your weaknesses without getting bogged down by them? Anyone else learn something funny from a child?
Other articles I wrote this week:
Other lessons I have learned from my children: 7 manner adults should learn from kids
7 tips for getting professional pictures (and how I messed them all up)
Your multi-vitamin may be killing you (whole foods for the win! Again!)
Tony Horton’s tips for getting the most out of your P90X 2 – coming out in December! – workout
Fitness Challenge: How to do the “impossible push-up” (Have you tried it yet??)
Voting is still open for Shape magazine’s favorite fitness bloggers! (Vote for Mizfit – hurry!)
Don’t forget, you can still enter the $100 Visa gift card giveaway just for telling me about your deodorant. (You licked it. Admit it.)