This was a first. . .
Normally I am a pretty rational and level headed parent. Normally, I am the parent who welcomes disappointment for my children in certain circumstances because I know that disappointment is part of life. I believe this is a lesson best learned early. I know disappointment is how we grow and make ourselves better. I am usually the first Mom to say toughen up and get over it. I usually refuse to let my kids even say the words "that's not fair". I tell my kids that not everything in life is fair and they should learn it now. They know if they want something they have to work for it until they achieve it. I am the parent who hates sports leagues that don't keep score and give participation trophies past a certain age.
Today, was the day that something changed...
Let me give you a little back story first. You probably know that Emma is heavily involved in taekwondo and Judo. Yes, my kids kicks butt if I do say so myself. She's worked hard and is currently 2 belts away from her black belt. She has gone from 2 nights a week training to sometimes 3 or 4. She joined the demo team because she likes showing off her skills. She also joined the Dream Team. Dream Team is a special team for kids 8 and up to start learning to be leaders in class. Dream Team kids start to take on a bigger role. Emma asked if she could join in May even though she wasn't 8. She'd been doing TKD for a year and a half at that point so she was given the go ahead. She attended her Dream team classes faithfully each week since May. She only missed a few class here and there for vacations and things. Dream Team kids also test, like a belt test, for their place on Dream Team. There are several levels of achievement within Dream Team each having requirements that grow more difficult as you move up. Let's just say it's a big deal and to an 8 year old it's the world.
Emma has been studying her TKD handbook to learn her terminology, forms, and curriculum. She has really pushed herself. Today, was test day! She happily got up and showered at 5AM. So she could be on time. The test was from 7-12 and judging by the red faces and smell of sweat in the air at the end; I'd say it's pretty intense. Emma was testing for her first "level" on Dream Team which typically means a new uniform. The Dream Team uniform looks very similar to a black belt uniform and until today I had no idea just how much it meant to Emma. So, here's where this gets complicated. When you test for Dream Team and are above a certain belt level you simply aren't given a uniform because you will be getting a new black belt uniform within a year. I had explained that to Emma a hundred times before today. I assumed when I dropped her off that she knew, understood and was ok with this. Parents are not allowed to stay and watch the testing process but I assume she worked hard for 5 hours because she was one hot little girl when I got there. During the super cool ceremony at then end where they let each student know if they passed or not Emma was announced as having passed. She proudly walked down a line formed by all of her fellow students and shook hands with all the Masters, Instructors, and Team Leaders. Somehow there was a breakdown in communication and Emma and her friend were given uniforms and told to change. Emma did what she was told and emerged from the changing room with a new uniform on. I'm clearly confused because this wasn't supposed to happen. Maybe I missed something? Emma, ran back to the mats to join her class beaming with pride. This is when the mistake was discovered. Emma was then told that she couldn't keep the uniform because of all the reasons I mentioned before. Everyone was so kind, caring and encouraging to her. Everyone tried to make her feel better but it didn't work. She came to me sobbing. I knew ahead of time she wasn't supposed to get the uniform so I tried to remind her of that. She looked at me with her sad blue eyes and said "I know Mom. I thought that they made an exception for me and Ellie because we worked extra hard and never gave up. Just like they let us join before we were 8. Just like our black belt philosophies." Again, rational me tried to tell her to get over it because rules are rules. She said to me, "I know what they're saying Mom about getting a black belt uniform soon but THIS uniform is different. I earned THIS one too! They're not the same. I worked for this like I'm working for all my belts. I have nothing to show for my hard work now. I won't be a black belt for almost a year." I was so moved my her words that I cried with her. I cried for her! This was a disappointment that she truly couldn't understand. She used the logic that I've always taught her and this didnt seem to agree. In her 8 year old brain she sees her Dream Team and Black Belt uniforms as something totally separate. They don't connect for her and in her head they shouldn't. They are both separate achievements that she is working toward. The uniforms for each achievement may look similar but in her head they represent different things. You can easily become a black belt without doing Dream Team, why should she be limited to only one uniform. As I helped her change she continued to give me her reasons for being upset. She said that because other kids haven't been training as long as her and are lower belts she feels like she's being penalized for training longer. She said she couldn't start Dream Team earlier because of her age so this was not fair. After all she'll be a black belt before she turns 9!
Normally, this phrase makes me come unglued but as I listened to her reason and logic tears fell for her. I was sad that this was a disappointment that I couldn't make better. Maybe I cried because for once I knew she actually listens when I talk because she totally got what I had taught her. She thought in those moment when she was given a uniform that her hard work had more than paid off. She thought that despite the belt rank rule she had earned that uniform. Taekwondo is the first place she has seen hard work and determination pay off and today she felt betrayed by it. She felt betrayed by me too and that made me sad.
As a parent this was a tough day for me. I taught her this lesson about hard work and determination and one mistake blew up in my face. The mistake wasn't intentional at all and I'm sure no one anticipated how it would play out in an 8 year old head. I'm sure no one anticipated that she would think that one exception to a rule meant there could be more. I know I didn't think she would assume she could do so good that they would bend the rules. When I asked why she would assume this she said, "at tournament we were supposed to get Eagle, Dragon, or Tiger in our groups. Ellie and I were so good we both earned Eagle. No one had to get dragon!" How the heck can I argue with that? That's pretty deep thinking for an 8 year old.
This was a first for me. I've been betrayed by my own logic and parenting. I'm sure this isn't the first time she will be hugely disappointed and nothing I say will make it better but this might be the first time I listened to her and share the same disappointment now that understand where it come from.
If I have learned anything from her involvement in martial arts I have learned that this will not stop her, it probably won't even slow her down. I will hurt for awhile and I will allow her to hurt as long as she needs too. I know that her instructors and leaders will work to lift her up and encourage her. I know that they will keep pushing her. I just hope this disappointment doesn't damage her sweet innocence and trust for the future.