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….