Javin came over to me for a water break during his karate class, and I could see the strain in his face from holding something back. He snapped, “Where were you? My water bottle wasn’t here during the last break. UGH!” He shook his head, and I explained that I had to step outside with Ash who got fussy. I suspected that wasn’t the real reason he was ruffled, because with a 2-year-old in tow and free cookies at the grocery store next door, it’s typical for me to wander around. He’s used to drinking from the water fountain and doesn’t even look for his bottle unless I call his name. I took him onto my lap and into my arms, and for an entire 30 seconds, he didn’t even resist my squeeze. Most of the other kids had already found their way back to the mat, and after I stroked his cheek, he wiped his eyes, and ran back, too.
As we made our way to the car after class, I asked him what was really up. He said, “I don’t want to say. I’m kind of embarrassed.” I buckled Ash into his seat, then knelt down beside him saying, “If you tell me, I promise to make you feel better without making a big deal over it.” I told him he doesn’t need to worry about being embarrassed in front of his family, and that I’d share a time I felt the same way he did. Although I didn’t know what was bothering him yet I was certain I’d be able to relate because this human experience is ours to share.
He strapped himself in he agreed, “Okay, I’ll tell you.” He had his over-sized duffel bag full of sparring gear on his lap, making him look both big and small simultaneously. He placed his hands on top, and looked down as he muttered, “I did my form wrong.” Apparently they were tested on a sequence that was taught the week before, on the two days Javin was out. Everyone went in front of the sensei to prove their mastery and earn a blue stripe on their yellow belt, but Javin simply wasn’t a master. In fact, he was lost. He’s a proud perfectionist, so even though no one likes this feeling, it hit him extra hard.
I told him about what happened, that all the other children learned the form on the days he missed, and I assured him it wasn’t his fault he didn’t know. I told him to send his heart love, and to not be so hard on himself. I pointed out that he earned the blue stripe in the end, and he should be proud.
Relieving my son relieved part of me, and I tried to figure out what it was about this conversation that felt so good. Of course I was happy he actually opened up to me even though it was hard for him at first. I also felt the power in coaching him to be more understanding and forgiving with himself. But what struck me was realizing the voice of love, comfort, and empowerment I heard, belongs to me. This voice is so natural to use with my children, but surely, it’s mine to receive, too.
The day before the karate incident, I went to the office of the school I’ll be teaching at, the same school my children will be attending. I had to drop off some paperwork and pick up some uniforms. I walked into the room, and four smiling faces looked up at me with sweet greetings. One of the women told me my 2-year-old was cute, referring to the day we all met at a playground for a school event. My response was, “Ugh! He’s driving me crazy. I left him in the car with my mother-in-law because all he’s doing is fussing.” Then I brought up the fact that I can’t find the newsletter in my emails. The office ladies asked me if I checked the promotions tab and my spam folder, and I said yes, but also admitted that my technology skills aren’t that hot. When I was finished with my business, I said goodbye and scooted back to my car.
When I got in, my mind was badgered with this nagging but familiar voice saying, Why would you tell the school you’re going to work for that your own child is driving you crazy? That’s not what they want in a teacher. Why would you tell them your skills in the technology department lack? Now they’ll doubt your competence. This voice reminds me of my brother when we were kids, whose role often included putting me down, and making me second guess myself. Even though we have grown and are dear friends, this voice also dwells within me. But in the car, as I spoke with my son, I realized the voice of the loving parent does, too, and it’s the one I should use to put the trouble-maker in check. The way I talk to my children when they’re embarrassed, doubtful, or scared is the same way I should talk to myself. After all, shouldn’t we give ourselves the things we give to others, including reassurance, encouragement, and permission to be?
I revisited the previous day and told myself what I would tell my children, “First off, you didn’t say anything wrong and no one thinks anything bad. But let’s just say they do, it still doesn’t matter. Free yourself from the good opinion of others. Continue to be your open self. Don’t trade freedom for egg shells. Don’t prize admiration over authenticity. And don’t you dare doubt yourself. Own your truth and the rest will see it.”
Before this, I felt annoyed that the voices of doubt still arise in me, because c’mon, aren’t I past such foolishness? Yet, maybe these voices aren’t just mine. Maybe what arises internally isn’t just a reflection of me, but the human condition. And maybe what I heal in myself, goes towards to healing of the whole. If that’s so, maybe my greatest job isn’t being a loving mother to just my children, but also to myself.