The other evening, I went to see the five-year-old I take care of test for her yellow belt, the second level of karate. She’s not my sister, but I care for her every day, and she might as well be. I was thrilled to share this special moment with her. As we entered the Dojo, we watched the other athletes preparing for their test and practicing their forms. Sophia, on the other hand, chose to go climb on the large mats in the corner and pretend to be a cat. She didn’t necessarily understand what was going on, and obviously cushy mats were much more fun than practicing for the test.
As her mom and I admired the skill of some of the athletes, I heard an indignant call from the corner: “Erin. Watch me play!” She gave me a look that said, “Why on EARTH do you care about them? I’m a cat over here, for goodness’s sakes!” So I admired her catlike actions and cheered when she did rolls, secretly admiring her calm head as she approached the test. As the teacher called for all the students to line up, we did a last minute hug, and she ran out with the class. And the test began.
We smiled, cheered, and took upwards of 30,000 photos as she showed off her forms, counted to ten in Korean, and sparred with opponents much larger than her. All the athletes were very talented, and you could tell they had been working hard. But then came the part I’m not sure Sophia was expecting: breaking the board. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure if she could handle it. She’s a tiny little girl, who likes Shake it Up and My Little Pony. How could she break through a board?
We watched as other kids her age went up and chopped through the board like it was nothing. A six-year-old before Sophia ran, jumped, and kicked through a board with her foot, which was pretty much the most beastly thing I’ve ever seen in my life. And then it was Sophia’s turn. She approached the board and punched. Nothing. She tried again, and this time drew her hand away with a cry of pain. “I don’t want to do it.” She told her teacher tearfully.
He encouraged her to try again, but she refused shaking her head and insisting she couldn’t do it. She ran to us, brandishing her red hand, and begged for an ice pack. “It huuurts!” she sobbed. “Look how red it is!” “You can do it, Soph. Imagine your hand going through the board,” encouraged her dad. After many hugs and a lot of encouragement, she put on her brave face and went back out. Hr entire class chanted, and after one, two, three tries, she broke it! We erupted into cheers, and she gave us the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. She was so proud of her board, and as other children broke their boards, she showed hers off to her teacher and classmates.
We sat and watched other children break the board, with fists, feet, and flying kicks. Some dissolved into tears, even after breaking through it. Some took ten or twelve tries, but they broke it, and their happiness was contagious. We cheered every time a kid broke theirs, and I definitely felt a vicarious thrill when the accomplished their goal.
I learned a lot through watching them break boards. Sophia almost gave in. She almost listed to the stereotypes people were giving her. “You’re so tiny and sweet! How will you break that thing?” people asked her in astonishment as she told them about the test. But she went for it, she broke it, and she showed all of these people little girls can kick some serious butt if they want to.
I think sometimes offbeat people can be like this, too. Like a little girl trying to break a big board. You know the negative comments: “Breastfeeding doesn’t work, so don’t even try it.” “Co sleeping doesn’t work for me, so it can’t work for you.” “They invented meds for a reason!” But when you break that board, you might just inspire a few people. Stick with it, Mamas and Papas and uncles and aunts and baby sitters alike-it might take some tries to get through. You might feel like giving in. But you can do it, and you will succeed.
Another thing to take from this test: Thank goodness I will not have to break a board with my foot anytime in my life. Well, perhaps metaphorically. But the real thing? I’ll leave that to the six-year-old professionals.