Starting Zachary in tae kwon do remains one of my favorite parenting decisions of all time. I was really on the fence about enrolling him in random things in which he might have no real interest, but he has found a real passion for it and I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be a life-long thing for him.
In the year and a half that he's been doing it, he has come so, so far. Not just physically, although his coordination has improved dramatically, but mentally and emotionally, too. There is a huge emphasis in tae kwon do on focus, discipline, respect, self control and indomitable spirit. His instructor is the absolute BEST and spends the entire class teaching these basic principles to a couple dozen little kids, and it's really amazing to watch it get through to them.
A couple weeks back, the class was sparring. What that means is that the kids are matched up with another kid of similar rank, size and age, and they kick and punch at each other in a mock fight. Even though tae kwon do is mainly a defensive practice, sparring teaches reactions to your opponents, how to sidestep an attack, and of course, how to counter attack.
It was a small class that day and Zack, at age seven and so very, very short, ended up paired with a much older, much taller kid. No big deal. It happens sometimes, and after all, they wear protective gear, plus he has sparred hundreds of times before.
He was doing ok, holding his own even though the other kid was much bigger, but then a kick went wrong and the other kid (TOTALLY by accident, to be clear) kicked Zack in the part of the face where there was no protective gear. Hard. Really, really hard.
I heard it more than I saw it, but from the sound of the gasp that went up from the other parents watching - most of whom could see better than I could, it was bad.
Every single piece of my being wanted to jump up and run out to check on him, but by gripping the edge of my seat, knuckles white, teeth gritted, I managed to stay where I was.
His instructor ran to check on him, and I watched Zack shake his head, completely dazed. It was a pretty hard kick. Even from across the room I could see a big red mark on his cheek. I couldn't hear what his instructor was saying to him, but after a moment, I could clearly hear Zachary answer "No sir. I'm ok. I want to finish." And with that, he took a deep breath, got back into position, and finished the match.
There was no crying (except by me, later, when I was alone).
There was no whining.
There was no anger or lashing out at the other kid.
There was no fear that it might happen again.
He just... sucked it up, got himself together, and finished his match.
This is not the reaction he would have had a year ago. Or six months ago. Or maybe even a month ago. He's always been a hot-headed, bull in a china shop kind of kid who only knows extremes when it comes to feelings, and to sit back as only a spectator and to watch him be able to grab ahold of his feelings like that was nothing short of a miracle.
My kid got kicked in the face. And I'm so, so proud.