We're supposed to teach our kids the important stuff. Yet all too often they end up teaching us and leaving us feeling confused about our status as authority figures.
(But then they throw a fit because you gave them pizza after they specifically asked for pizza and you make them eat at least two bites of pizza and the balance of power is back. So it all works out.)
One weekend, in between mini tantrums about the time I called her baby doll the wrong name, the time I handed her milk, and the time I asked her not to sucker punch her brother, my 2-year-old served up one of those big important lessons. She taught me how to be brave.
Both my 2-year-old and 3-year-old were going to gymnastics class at the time which was a fabulous way to burn off some toddler/preschool energy. That class also single handedly saved my walls from being covered in toddler rage crayon so it was worth every penny.
At the end of the gymnastics session, there was a big show and the kids each get called up to get their medals. The Olympic music comes on and the parents take 1 million pictures. Lots of pomp. Lots of circumstance.
My 2-year-old, Norah, had her show first and she was having a blast climbing, swinging and running. She's naturally athletic (I think, I don't know. She was 2...) so she had done a great job with all the new skills and activities over the past six months. There were smiles and giggles and an intense amount of cuteness.
At the end of class, Norah found a seat on the mat, waiting for her turn in line to get her medal. A medal she had been pining over for months because her big brother has one hanging on his doorknob from last year. A few kids went up to get their medals and we all clapped and cheered.
Then out of nowhere, Norah's face crumbled and she let out a terrified sob. My husband scooped her up and the poor thing just couldn't pull it together. She was beside herself, overwhelmed by the people, the music, and all the theatrics of the event. Norah looked at me with the saddest big blue eyes and said, "Mommy, I scared."
I took Norah out into the hallway to help her catch her breath and through big sobs, she told me she wanted to go back into the class. I hesitated a bit but thought that we could try it and see if maybe her fear would subside after seeing a few more kids get their awards.
Not so much.
But she still wanted to sit back down on the mat. So we sat, me hugging her tightly, Norah hating everything but also showing more grit than most full grown adults. This little lady had no intention of leaving the class. She was getting that medal.
The teacher looked at me before it was Norah's turn and I gave a little shrug like "I don't know, only a few years into parenting here. Couldn't tell you what the right call is!," and with that she called Norah's name. My brave little girl stood right up and walked over to the podium and climbed the steps, tears streaming down her face the whole time. The medal was put over her head and she climbed back down and walked over for some mom snuggles. The tears didn't stop until well after the class was over and we went to the Dunkin Donuts next door.
I felt awful at first. Should I have hugged her closer? Asked the teacher to get the medal later? Did I just traumatize my 2-year-old and solidify a nomination as worst mother of the year, toddler category?
But as Norah sat happily with her donut catching glances at the medal around her neck, I realized that she might be the bravest person I know.
When was the last time I had been so terrified of doing something I really wanted to do that I sobbed uncontrollably in public, and then did the thing anyway?
Norah had been thinking about the medal for a quarter of her life… She was a gymnastics champ, and she had earned that little piece of tin on a blue ribbon. There was no way she was going to let her fear of the crowd stop her from having her very own medal to hang on her doorknob. That's inspiring.
As she polished off the donut, I told Norah that I was so proud of her because she was courageous. She was scared but did it anyway. The very definition of bravery.
I realized I needed to more of that in my own life—be a little braver. And not just "go after the thing that makes you a little uneasy" kind of brave. The "shake you to your core, cry on the way to the podium" kind of brave.
I owed that to my kid. I owed that to myself.
What a world we could live in if we all went for it. With our whole hearts. With all the tears. And with all the joy that comes from going after want you want.
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