Today at her 7th birthday party Zoe was asked to break four boards. Usually at the martial arts studio where she attends classes three days a week, you have the opportunity to break a board on your birthday. The instructors at her party asked if she wanted to break four. No pressure or anything. All her friends got up and broke boards, some on the first try but most after some extra coaching. And then it was Zoe’s turn. She had requested that I hold one of the boards, so I was on the mat, on one knee, holding the board and bracing for her punch.
Turns out she was pretty nervous. Lots of friends and family members were there to celebrate her. All eyes were on her. The punches and kicks that she does routinely and knows well were suddenly harder to execute. During every practice session she practically knocked the target out of the instructor’s hand, but when it was time to break the board, she would punch to it, not through it. In the end, it took many tries for her to break all four boards. But she did not give up, she did not get upset, she did not stop trying for even a second. She even smiled through most of it, when she wasn’t looking intensely focused. Where she gets this amazing determination, I do not know. But the girl has heart.
Her birthday present from her grandparents was, at her request, a wheelchair for her American girl doll, along with a medical kit, complete with leg cast and arm brace, for the doll. Zoe loves tending to her dolls and making them well. Who knows if she will actually fulfill her aspiration to become an obstetrician, but if she does, she will have an outstanding beside manner.
One of the tasks required for her to achieve the next belt level in martial arts (the big move from red stripe belt to yellow solid belt, which signifies the transition from intermediate to advanced skill) is to come up with a virtue you think is important and which you aspire to embody, and describe it for the instructors and your classmates. Zoe’s choice is respect. We have talked about respect many times recently at the dining room table. Today she asked, “Am I respectful?” I answered, “usually.” She seemed disappointed. I said, “nobody’s perfect, but you are generally respectful.” She said, “but I never hurt anyone’s feelings on purpose and I’m never mean.” And we agreed that was true and that’s part of being respectful. Randy pointed out that it’s also a part of respect to listen to your parents and not argue when they ask you to do something or stop doing something. But, I told Zoe, it is true that you are always kind. If I have tried to instill anything in her, it is to be kind. She was listening.
On our outing to the library last weekend, Zoe selected several chapter books and then we perused the nonfiction shelves while she looked for anything of interest. She picked out a book “Autism and Me: Sibling Stories.” I asked her why she chose it and if she knew what autism was. She said it looked interesting and no, she had no idea what autism was. So we went home and read it together. As it happens, this is a great book. It includes 14 first-person accounts by kids of what it’s like to live with their autistic siblings, for better or for worse. Zoe was fascinated. We had a good discussion about learning differences and challenges that some kids have and how everyone can be good at some things even if they have a hard time with others. This is a hard thing to remember, especially when we are always hearing this message that we should be the best at everything. Which is impossible. Last weekend after her winter swim clinic, Zoe was a little down. She reported that after every lap, she was the last one to finish and felt like everyone was staring at her. I said they probably weren’t staring so much as watching her finish, waiting to start their next lap. But I got the idea. Zoe is a strong swimmer and has improved her strokes vastly in the past year or so. But she’s not the fastest. But who cares? She can swim and not sink, and she knows how to do two actual swimming strokes and can cross the pool repeatedly doing those strokes. That’s enough for me. Actually that’s more than I could do in the pool myself. Hopefully it will be enough for her too. There are many things at which she excels, so it’s good to have some things you’re just fine at, but not the best, and remember that they’re fun anyway.
Such as martial arts. Zoe’s fierce determination has enabled her to advance over the past two years. Certainly there are other kids who are stronger and technically better at martial arts. But Zoe has heart, and she has fun. And she is equally at ease becoming a magical fairy or caring for her dolls. Not to mention caring for her actual baby brother, whom she adores. I can’t wait until he starts learning martial arts from her. He already enjoys playing with her dolls, although he mostly tends to slobber on their heads or poke their eyes. In a brilliant marriage of her interests, I managed to find a martial arts uniform for Zoe’s American girl doll. And in an uncharacteristic moment of craftiness, I managed to put the logo of Zoe’s martial arts studio on the back of the doll’s jacket, to match the new uniform we gave Zoe for her birthday. I am not a crafty person, but I wanted to do something extra special for Zoe, because she’s an extra special kid.
Happy birthday, Zoe. I love you and admire you so much. Love, Mommy