Mothers, Taekwondo and Mantras

A few months ago, I read my piece, “Always get back up,” to an audience at “Listen to Your Mother,” a unique nationwide reading series that for four years had a show in Baltimore. The story I shared was about the different takes on mothering I’d experienced in my youth and how it shaped the advice I give to my own kids.

You can see the determination on her face.

My mother was the “Don’t come home until you kicked his a–” kind of mom when I got picked on. Nanny, my great-grandmother, was the “Have some cookies and chocolate milk” type. When it comes to the challenges my kids face, I lean toward giving hugs and pep talks, but that’s not enough.

My daughter loves Taekwondo. My sweet little angel breaks boards with her sweet little fists. Board breaking led to sparring. “Spar? You mean fight? You mean kick each other in the head?” I asked her. My daughter, like me, doesn’t like confrontation. And like most people, she doesn’t enjoy pain. The sparring thing was a big stretch for her, but I let her try it.

The very first time she took the mat in competition, the other girl kicked her in the hip. She did not expect it to hurt that badly and she literally left the mat. At first, I just held her and let her cry, but it occurred to me that everyone was watching. Her opponent stood there watching. The other girls on the side watched. Despite the crowded sports center, the Maryland Taekwondo world is pretty small. The watchers were likely her next competitors.

“You have to get back out there,” I whispered, “You don’t have to win, but you have to get back up.” So, she ducked under the rope and sat as far away from the others as she could.

Thus, “Always get back up,” became my mantra, my motto, my battle cry. When my mom pushed me out of her car to force me to fight for myself, I didn’t realize how it set the tone for me not to roll over and cry whenever life knocked me down. But it had.

My daughter continued to spar and I had to tell her again and again to get back on the mat, “Always get back up.” And one day, she got hit, she hit the floor, then she was back on her feet and ready to go a second later. Even though she lost the match, I was so proud of her.

I reflect on this because recently she earned a gold medal for sparring at Nationals. This was the first time she won in competitive sparring and it was the one that mattered the most. I cried with pride, not just because she had won, but because of how far she had come.

She kept getting back up until she stood as a champion.

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