Letters to Hadley: Fighting

woman boxer on black background
woman boxer on black background

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see." -- Muhammad Ali

Dear Hadley,

When I was 20, I came home from college with a broken finger. I told my mom and dad it happened while playing football in the park. They sent me to a hand doctor who couldn't quite understand how a football caused a fracture near the knuckle of my ring finger.

It made sense that he couldn't make sense of it. Because I didn't break it playing football. I broke it hitting Brad.

Brad was (and still is) one of the kindest people I know. We were arguing, which meant that I was on fire and he was perfectly calm. When words weren't connecting, I tried my fist.

My finger healed long before I realized just how hypocritical it was to believe that boys shouldn't hit girls and then not hold myself to the same standards. It took me equally as long to understand that calm is an emotion, too.

Two years ago, during a fight with a boyfriend, I kicked a chair as hard as I could. It flew across the room, tumbling loudly and leaving marks on the hardwood floor before crashing into a bookshelf. The kick was an instinctive physical reaction to an emotionally frustrating situation. Too many feelings, not enough words and, probably, I didn't go for a run that day.

At first I thought punting the chair towards the wall wasn't so bad -- a sign of personal progress, even. But you're not yet three years old and I think even you already know that smashing things, while incredibly satisfying, is the opposite of productive.

(You know those lego towers you and your brother make? The ones you build really tall just to knock over? It doesn't become less fun to do things like that when you're a grown up. It just becomes less acceptable when nice furniture is involved and other people are around to witness what you've done.)

Last month, I started boxing. I love the ritual of it: wrapping my hands the same way every time, jumping rope, sliding on the bright red gloves. I love the rhythm of the one, two combinations, the sound of my gloves striking cleanly against my trainers padded hands. I love the focus it requires. The way it forces me to stay completely present as I jab and move and pivot. Instead of emotional and reactionary, it's purposeful, controlled, fair.

It's also counterintuitive: You duck not only to protect yourself, but also to gather force. You shift your hips forward and step into your opponent. You move toward pain. I feel lucky that I'm learning these things now, so I want you to know them, too.

You have a lot of fight in you, Hadley. I can tell by the way you furrow your brow and clench your fists when you're mad. The way you set your feet to the ground, sturdy, bracing yourself for whatever's coming your way. You shout when you're mad, you laugh when you're happy, you cry when you're upset. You don't hold anything back.

Hang on to that fight, because resilience, passion, and energy are good things. But just as importantly, learn how to fight fair. I'm not convinced it comes naturally. Certainly it didn't for me. But you'll learn, with time, how to channel your physical energy productively. You'll figure out how to choose your words so they carry more weight than your fists ever could. You'll discover value in marrying power with grace. And you'll find your own way of expressing what you feel with kindness, intentionality and purposeful force.

I hope you find outlets for all of your emotions that are so big they feel physical. I hope you're never too afraid to move toward the stuff that hurts.

I love you, little one.

Aunt Liz

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