Do what scares you…

Both of my daughters take taekwando lessons. They both enjoy learning the patterns, the different types of kicks, the punches etc. My eldest now is at the stage where she wears protective headgear, gloves and footwear – and this girl, who is small for her age, has to spar with others who are often a lot taller and bigger than her.

A few weeks ago, we picked her up from her lesson. She had tears in her eyes and looked angry. I’d not seen her like this before and asked what was wrong, ‘I don’t like sparring!’

‘What happened?’ I asked.

‘I was sparring with my partner and they punched me in the stomach. It really hurt. I don’t want to spar anymore.’

She was sitting in the back of the car, directly behind me. Although I couldn’t see her face, (I didn’t want to look at her and see the tears in her eyes), I could hear her trying to control the emotions in her voice. Really trying to hold it together, not wanting to cry from anger at being punched, it hurt, the outrage – how could someone hit me. Worse still, within her voice I could hear a request. No. More than that. Thinly veiled pleading. Please don’t let me go back, Mum, I don’t want to be punched again.

Within that split second, I had two choices as a parent. I didn’t want my daughter to be punched. I don’t want her to be hurt. Clearly, she was upset – so I could say to her, ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to go back. We won’t go again.’

That was one choice.

However, I made the other choice….

‘Baby, I know that you were hurt. But that’s what happens when you’re learning to spar. You learnt a valuable lesson today. You don’t like being punched. Next time, make sure you watch your opponent and put up your guard. Don’t get punched.’

It’s not what she was expecting to hear. The words left my mouth before I could even think. But the reason why we were sending both girls to these lessons was so they were confident out there in the big, bad world. Nobody likes being hurt – and the thought of my daughters getting hurt both angers and terrifies me equal measure – but I couldn’t teach her to give up.

Whilst we ate our dinner that night, we sat around the table and tried to talk it through a bit more. My husband and I both tried to explain to her that she must have punched the other person too – that must have hurt them too. (She wasn’t consoled by that).

Eventually, I said –

‘Well, the worst has happened. You were punched in the stomach and it hurt. But now when you spar again, you won’t be scared – because you’ve been punched. You know what it feels like, you won’t let it happen again!’

She turned to me and said, ‘You’re right Mummy, that does make me feel better. I do know what it feels like. So I’m not scared anymore!’

The following week, she went for her lesson and we kept reminding her, watch your opponent, remember to block, watch their moves. Are you feeling ok? She appeared to be fine but she’s one of those who puts on a front because life is sometimes easier that way. My husband and I just kept our fingers crossed and hoped for the best.

45 minutes later, he went to the class to pick her up. As he walked in, he scanned the room looking for Eesha. His eyes were drawn to a little girl sparring with a boy almost twice her size, circling him and sparring with him fearlessly. He sent a text to me immediately: Our little girl’s a warrior!

At the end of the lesson, she leapt down the stairs and ran towards the car with a huge spring in her step. ‘Daddy said that you’re a little warrior! Were you sparring with a much bigger boy today? What happened?’ I asked.

She just grinned and shrugged, sweaty, happy and slightly out of breath and said, ‘I chose to spar with him because he was bigger and I wasn’t scared anymore!’

I was incredibly proud of her and incredibly pleased for her. She was scared and worried – but those are the moments in life when you have to be courageous – it’s not that you’re not scared. You are. But you push through – do what terrifies you and have a go anyway.

I wished I could tell her that she’d never be fearful of anything again. But that would be a lie. The truth is that even as a big, grown up adult, I still get scared. I get worried.

This week I had to face some fears. I had to take part in something that I didn’t want to do and was worried about it. My husband was away and I was pretending to be strong and fearless in front of my girls. He sent me a text with a message containing just what I needed to hear:

Remember what we said to Eesha when she got punched in the stomach? Go back keep guard up and fight back – similar analogy 😘😘😘😘

And so I went, remembering the advice that I had given my daughter. Remembering that you never stop being scared but you have to step out of your comfort zone and do things that scare you anyway. And it was fine. Absolutely fine. And I realised that it was something that I needed to do, for my own good. For closure. To move forward.

If I could, I would always try to do things that frighten me the least – but growth comes from being challenged. From doing things that you don’t necessarily want to do, or feel that you can’t.

Sometimes – willingly or unwillingly, we learn most about ourselves when we do what frightens us. And when we come through the other side, we can look ourselves in the mirror and feel that we’ve changed somehow. Perhaps standing a little taller. Shoulders rolled down and leaning further back.

But it’s the eyes that give it away the most. The eyes show that you have been hurt, but you came through it and you’re that bit braver and wiser now….

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Choices…

As I fell asleep last night, I was filled the most immense feeling of gratitude.  Now, this may seem like absolutely nothing to some, but to me, what happened was a huge deal.  Let me explain…

My daughters are young.  They are growing up extremely quickly – I remember the times when I was crying to my mum about the lack of sleep I was having, and how I was worried when they would cry and I couldn’t understand what they needed – and she would say, this part won’t last long, they won’t be little like this forever, they will grow up quickly.  And I didn’t believe her.  And I was angry because her wise words didn’t help me at the time.  But looking back, when they were crying in the night, or when my eldest refused to sleep, or my youngest felt so poorly but couldn’t tell me what was wrong, she just felt miserable and needed comfort from me…I’ve blinked – I have literally blinked, and we’ve time travelled, where the girls are articulate, self-sufficient and incredibly grown up, to the point now, if I’m not feeling well, they will look after me.

My eldest is now 7, at the moment she is still a part of the ‘infants’, in September, she steps into the world of the ‘juniors’.  The infants at her school always present their annual ‘Mother’s Day’ assembly, which I’ve never been able to go to before.  My youngest started school in the September just gone and was really excited about all the Mother’s Day rehearsals that were taking place.  I overheard them talking…my youngest was enthusiastically explaining to her sister that she couldn’t wait for Friday because Mummy would be coming to see the songs and poems that they had prepared.  And then I heard the expression in my eldest daughter’s voice…it was so difficult to explain.  She sounded so much older, like someone who has been through a lot of pain, can see that someone else is heading in the same direction, and decides to give them advice in order to help them through what they are about to experience.  She softened her voice, like she has heard grown-ups do, and spoke very slowly and carefully to her sister, explaining that Mummy wouldn’t be able to come because Mummy had to work.  There was a stunned silence as my youngest processed this information.  Then came the denial from my youngest.  ‘No, no! Mummy is going to come, it’s her assembly’  I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell from my eldest daughter’s voice, there was a sad, knowing smile on her face – ‘No, she can’t come, she’s working..’

Before matters got out of hand, I decided to interject and surprise them both by explaining that in actual fact, I was coming this year.  With howls of delight they both leapt on top of me, my youngest was relieved, my eldest – her eyes shining with astonishment and disbelief.  Once the news had sunk in, and the drama had subsided, we  sat around the dinner table enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by my husband.  Suddenly, my eldest turned to me said, in a very matter of fact way, ‘I never told you this Mummy, but last year when you didn’t come to the assembly, at the end of assembly I cried.  My teacher had to give me a hug.’

I turned and looked at my husband, who cautiously looked back at me, searching my face, wondering what my reaction would be.  There was a pain in my heart.  It felt like a knot in the centre of my chest.  All this time, to spare my feelings, this little girl didn’t let on how disappointed she was that I couldn’t come to her assembly because she didn’t want me to feel sad.  She was trying to prepare her sister and make her understand that Mummy wouldn’t be able to go to the assembly in order to shield her from the pain and disappointment that she would inevitably feel.

However, I also reminded myself, that as a family, we had taken steps in our life, to ensure that we had choices.  Never again, by the grace of God, would I miss a Mother’s Day assembly, or an achievement assembly, or a Sports Day, or a class assembly.

Those of you, who read my blogs frequently, or know me of old, will know that one of my most favourite mottos in life, is a couple of lines from a poem by Dylan Thomas.

‘Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

I read these words when I was 17 years old, and they had such a profound effect on me.  Thomas wrote this to his father when his father was dying.  He didn’t want his father to pass away in a gentle, weak way that was so unlike the way that he had lived his life.  He wanted him to fight against death, die the way that he had lived – in a wild, defiant way….

Years later, those words, that sentiment remains with me.

I will not go gentle into that good night.  I will not accept being in a situation where I cannot be there for my children when they need me.  I will not let my daughters weep secret tears because I could not be there for them.  I will rage against that.  I will make choices where I can live my life according to what is acceptable to me.

And as my blood boils, and as I rage…I am also extremely grateful to God.  I thank God for giving me choices.  For being able to grab opportunities and be there when it matters before it’s too late.  I am grateful that God gave the chance to not just accept fate, and not let me simply shrug and think to myself ‘what else could I do?’  I am simply grateful to God, for everything that I have.

Amen.

PS: I went to the assembly.  I saw both of them together.  Singing their songs. Reciting their poems.  My youngest had her eyes fixed on me for the entirety of the assembly.  My eldest was the consummate professional, performing, and smiling with delight throughout it all.  I managed to give them both a hug before I left for work – and walked on air for the rest of the day.