On Saturday -- when the third day of March Madness basketball games were to be played, the very same games I wait all year to watch, a tournament that I list as one of my passions -- my girls had a big Tae Kwon Do tournament. As much as I wanted to watch 10 straight hours of basketball, there is nothing I'd rather do than see the girls compete; to witness their involvement in things. This was also Mina's first tournament ever so Operation Redirecting Enthusiasms was gladly engaged. The four of us were out the door by 7:30am on Saturday and an hour later we were crammed into a small, tier-three L.A. college gym with a couple thousand other parents and competitors. The combination of heat generated by two thousand people in a tiny venue and the chippiness welling within tired and bored parents makes for a charged and simultaneously draining atmosphere. We were there, on backless wooden bleachers, for ten hours which only seemed like a month.
Mina was up first and she patiently moved her way through her forms. Seeing my mini six year old dressed in her white gi cinched by a purple belt and taking something very seriously shot pangs of joy directly into my heart. Mina earned a silver medal for her rockin' effort and she was thrilled with herself. She swung the medal, showed it off, twisted it around and paraded it in everyone's face, including second degree adults. BOOYA, Black Belt!
Maya was next. This tournament business is becoming serious for her. She has her first shot at qualifying for the junior Olympics this year and she's trying to figure out in her mind what that means to her; what type of commitment it takes. Since her last tournament, she's shifted a gear up in her training, but I saw in her face on Saturday that she's realizing one gear up isn't enough. 75% of yourself isn't enough. This is a point that makes or breaks a budding and talented athlete -- or any talented person -- and Husband and I support her by saying, If you want this, Maya, it's ok to go for it 110%. It's ok to lay it all on the line. We believe in you.
Her forms were strong. She packed power and intensity, but her lack of flexibility kept her from getting the gold or silver. The other girls were near splits with their side kicks. Maya got a bronze and she was PISSED. We told her how solid and strong she looks, how proud we are, but it didn't keep tears from falling. She vowed to stretch every day until her next competition in April. She was pumped for the sparring match. We had to wait four hours until her match, but she remained fairly focused. We ate from the cooler I packed and we kept our spirits fairly light on our bleacher camp, enjoying each other's company.
Maya had to fight the Gold Medalist from the forms match. We found out that the Gold Medalist was a tournament favorite for this level, the hopeful from a huge studio in Southern California. We also realized that those volunteering for the event and those sitting at the judges table for the match were affiliated with that particular studio. As the fight began, Maya came out aggressively, solid, had the girl on her heels. The girl attacked back, kicked and countered. Maya held ground. The fight was close. We thought Maya scored once, the Golden Girl not at all. Or we thought maybe it was a no-point tie. At the end of the match, the referee announced that Maya had lost. She would not fight again as the other two would battle it out for gold and silver.
I watched hope start to slide off of my tough baby's face. Who wouldn't want to give up after working so hard? She was fearing that what she wanted might be impossible to obtain. But she can't see how obtainable it all is from where she's standing. And we told her that we thought she won,that she fought so well, and that maybe the judges awarded the gold to the event favorite. Her tears came again anyway.
Before the match I had bought Maya a little pin of two people sparring. I knew whatever happened I'd give it to her after her match. After she lost, I told her to keep her head up because there was nothing disappointing about her fight. I gave her the pin. "Don't give up, Maya. The pin is to remind you of that," I said. "Don't give up. You're so good. So strong. You're so close." My favorite part of these talks is that she believes me.
Sometimes, when I'm possessed with good mami speeches, I try to step outside of myself. I try to pretend that I'm not giving the speech, but receiving them. I used to give myself pep talks as a kid, but they seemed hopeless because I had no point of reference. Was what I was saying true or real? As a kid, I could not convince myself entirely. But now that I have real life receptors reliant on heartfelt words, I pretend again that the words are for me too. If they are expected to believe me, why shouldn't I believe them for myself? If they are expected to work so hard to get what they want, then it gives me courage to keep working hard too. I can keep on facing the blurry days as they come and go, trying to slow moments down with my appreciation of them.