A Lesson in Losing

Yesterday I stood by and watched as my kids were kicked and punched.

It was their first karate tournament and they were sparring. They’d practiced for months and today was the real deal. There were trophies to be won; there was pride at stake. Both kids thought they were each pretty good. Neither was nervous. My daughter calmly informed me she was “pumped up.” They weren’t cocky, just self-confident, assured that they knew what to do in the ring, no matter the belt, size or gender of their opponent.

This was also my first rodeo as a karate mom. Actually, it was my first time as a mom at any form of competitive kid’s sport. My kids might not have been nervous but I was, unsure of how to build them up, but not too much. Worried about their fragile egos. Hopeful they might win. Scared they might lose.

All around us were other parents, some new to this gig, some old-timers. There were those who quietly directed their kids, up close, looking them in the eye, reminding them of their lessons. There were those who were chill about the whole thing. And there were many vocally coaching their kids from the sidelines.

“Use your crescent kick!”

“Let him come to you.”

“Go on the attack!”

That wasn’t me. In truth, I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to catch my kids eyes before they went on, giving them a small thumbs up of encouragement. Mostly, I watched mutely from the sides, mildly terrified, unprepared for this role and the psychology it would demand.

I don’t think it ever crossed their minds that they might not win. But let me tell you, receiving a “participation” trophy is a phony substitute. One kid took home two of those suckers. The other took one. They regarded these trophies with disdain, evidence of their not being good enough. There were tears of frustration and disappointment. Then to our surprise – and even his – my son took third place in his last match. His face lit up, and he fairly grew an inch with pride and delight. As if his earlier assurance had been warranted. His smile said “See, I can do this.”

At almost 8 years-old, my daughter had the hardest time repelling that ineffective phrase “It’s the taking part that counts.”

I wanted to win. But I lost,” she sobbed.

I wanted to provide all the justification in the world, encourage her to use this moment to look around and observe what it takes to win. To remind her that, with effort and practice, those trophies could soon be hers too. I feared she’d want to throw in the towel, abandon her karate altogether. Instead, I decided the best thing to do was to just hold her and let her absorb it all.

Because letting them fail is something we have to do, as parents. It’s a bitch of a lesson but it’s a healthy one.

The best part? She shook it off pretty quick and her happy spirits returned. And her brother, fortunately, didn’t gloat over his win.

I’m sure they’ve filed yesterday’s experience away. I’m hoping the next time they “suit up” for karate, it’ll be maybe with a little less confidence but a whole lot more determination and respect.

As for me, I’m also going to need to thicken up my game-day skin if we are all going to come out of these tournaments unscathed. It’s been a solid lesson in losing for me too.

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Processing Tragedy & Bad Guys

“Hey Mama, did you know that aliens don’t have brains. Just like bad guys don’t have brains. Hey, did you know that a bad guy went into a school and killed a lot of kids and teachers with a big gun …?”

These heart-stopping words came out of my five year-old’s mouth at the dinner table yesterday. It was one of those moment when all the air is sucked out of the room with a deafening whoosh. This wasn’t the first time she had talked about that ghastly, tragic day—just two months ago now. The first time was when she came home from school the following Monday and independently offered up her simplistic recounting of the facts of that day, parroting what had been told to her and her classmates during the special Open Circle they had held.

In truth, I am still furious that her school openly discussed it with the kindergarteners. I had emailed her teacher to say that I did not want her to participate—but the email reached her too late and the deed was done. Or rather the damage was done.

Or was it?

The school had all kinds of justification for talking about it with the children and they handled it very well. The acknowledged only the facts and the sadness. They did not try to rationalize or explain. They reassured the kids of their safety, the procedures in place.

Rationalizing and explaining was left to us parents (as if we have the answers.) My five year-old, in fact, had no questions. But my eight-year old, whom we proactively told ahead of school that Monday and the Open Circle so that he wasn’t blindsided by facts or gossip, had questions galore. How? Why? What about me?

With every fibre in my body and soul, I loathe the fact that my kids are aware of such inexplicable acts perpetrated by one sick, evil person. I shudder and feel like gagging every time I replay that conversation my husband and I had with our eight year-old. I did not want to do it but felt like the school forced my hand, as well as all the parents who opinionized on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. I’m not yet done with processing that.

But what shatters my heart the most is those words, uttered from the innocent and beautiful mouth of my youngest. They shocked and scarred me the first time she spoke them. But hearing them pop out of her, out of context, two months later concerns me even more, making me gasp for air. Maybe it was just word association? Maybe, by recapping the facts (masked as a question “Hey Mama, did you know …”) she’s seeking corroboration that the story is not fiction? Maybe she’s just showing off something that she learned at school?

Or maybe it’s been lurking in her mind ever since. Maybe this is how she is processing it, even two months later. Maybe her world will never be the same, now that she knows.

Why should a five year-old have to know these things? Why?

I don’t have any answers.

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