Your Dad and I recently came to watch your after school Ninja Presentation. It was a culmination of what had been learned over the past semester and a graduation ceremony as you move on to the next headband. They can’t call it a belt because the whole thing is more game based lessons rather than any formal martial arts training. To be honest, I don’t really understand it. I’m not sure what you’re doing or learning in these classes because it sure as heck isn’t any actual skills but, you throughly enjoy it so, we continue to sign you up no matter how pointless it might appear from the distance of an adult mind.
This was the fifth presentation I’ve been to. The first couple were quite enjoyable because I went into them with zero expectation. You were just cute and committed and I dug it. By the third and fourth presentation I knew what to expect but, despite the minimal skills presented, I always felt proud because you took the whole thing so seriously. Clearly working hard and doing your best, you were respectful of your Sensei and committed to the process. What more could I ask for? By the time this presentation rolled around, however, I’m ashamed to admit I was kind of wishing there was something I could do to get out of it. Despite my pride in watching your hard work, the presentation itself is a pretty tough hour to sit through. I support you unconditionally but keeping a pleasant smile on my face while most of the kids fall on the ground in convulsed fits of goofiness and laughter while seemingly incapable of remembering what a line is and generally hard pressed to preform even a single move is quite difficult for me.
What I’ve held on to during these master classes in patience is that my child’s seemed capable of rising above the “noise”. The attention and respect you’ve always shown your teachers and the other children amidst the chaos impressed me. You seemed to understand when you should be quiet and when you should be talking and you always performed like a champion when it was your turn. Are you an amazing ninja? No. But, you always put forth an amazing effort.
I don’t need you to be the best. I just need you to be your best and, untill now, you’ve never let me down.
This time however, as I sat there watching the craziness, I found myself getting more and more twitchy. Not only did the Sensei have to come over and tell you and your friends to be quiet three times (with me giving you the hairy eyeball on a number of other occasions…) but, when it was your turn to present, you were all over the place. Giggling. Laughing. Falling over. Talking back to the Sensei in a cheeky/show-off way, forgetting almost every move and just generally acting like a cut up. At one point I leaned over to your Dad and said, “When does unconditional support end? We can’t tell him he did great. He’s doing awful.” Your Dad just shook his head. Neither of us knew.
After one particularly bone headed move, where you clearly could have done what was asked of you if you’d only been paying attention, I muttered, “Uhhhh, that was terrible…” and the mother in front of me turned around and looked at me as if I’d screamed “You SUCK!!!” at the stage. I was simultaneously embarrassed and defensive. Was I an asshole parent? Should I be just smiling and clapping like she was? Why should I feel guilty for not being impressed by my child’s bad behavior? Her child had wrestled another kid to the ground during his turn, not because he was supposed to but because he wasn’t listening when he was told to stop, and she just sat there giving him the thumbs up and sharing a laugh with her husband about how silly and wonderful he was.
Look, I believe kids should have ample opportunity to be silly but I also believe they should understand when that behavior is not appropriate and I think it’s the parent’s job to help them make those distinctions. Being inappropriate and disrespectful to your teachers and the people who’ve given up their time to come and watch you is not, in my humble opinion, worthy of a double thumbs up. Sure, I might have muttered you were terrible but, that’s because you were. You could be a terrible ninja and I wouldn’t care. I’d smile and clap and cheer. But you don’t earn my praise and respect for not even trying. What lesson does that teach?
You knew I was less than thrilled with how it had gone so when you finished you came over and said “That was really bad wasn’t it?” After feeling like the s*&^est mother on the planet for about 10 seconds while I weighed the consequences between being blindly supportive or honest I said, “Well you’re not bad but, that wasn’t great was it?” You looked at me earnestly and said, “No.” I said, “Look babe, I’m always proud of you but I can’t say I’m proud of what you did here today.” As you started to blame your friends and the younger kids I stopped you and said, “I’ve seen a lot of these presentations Loch and I know a lot of these kids aren’t respectful but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be.” I reminded you that you were one of the oldest kids in the room and more was expected of you. That the parents come to see what you’d learned and that the Sensei wanted to show what they’d taught but that we didn’t have the opportunity do either with the way you’d chosen to behave. Then, because you looked completely crestfallen, I finished with, “I love you with all my heart Lochlan and I’m proud of you every single day. I don’t care if you’re amazing. I just care if you do your best.”
We left it at that but later in the car, still feeling guilty, I said “The thing is Loch, I want you to trust what I tell you is the truth. That if I tell you you were amazing it’s because you were, not just because that’s what I always say. It wouldn’t mean anything if I told you you were great all the time. I want you to know I’m telling you you were great because it’s the truth. I want my words to mean something. I want you to know that your Dad and I are happy and impressed because you’ve done something worthwhile. Do you understand?”
You said you did. I think you did. I hope you did.
I want to be the kind of parent who encourages you to do your best. Someone who believes your best self takes effort and applauds the effort not just the result. I want to be the kind of parent you can believe in. Who’s praise means something because it comes from a place of truth and authenticity. Yes, your mother should be your biggest fan but that doesn’t mean everything you do will be perfect. I have high expectations of you because the world will have high expectations of you. You won’t do well in school by spacing out and talking through classes, you won’t move up in a job if you can’t deliver what’s expected of you at the time it’s expected and you won’t succeed in life if you disrespect the time and effort of those around you.
Life doesn’t offer double thumbs up for blowing it so why would I teach you it does?
I love you Loch and I’ll support you in all that you want to do. I just won’t cheer unless you deserve it. Fair enough?
God bless you baby. Put forth your best effort and the rewards will come.