It’s happened before. I felt this when Alec took his first steps. I felt it again during his lower school graduation. I felt it when he read from the Torah and became a Bar Mitzvah. I felt it the first time Alec sat in the driver’s seat and drove me around our neighborhood. And I’ve experienced, as we all do, various feelings during multiple milestones and seemingly trivial instances.
But unexpected tears trickled from my eyes yesterday as I watched this handsome, kind, confident, and rapidly sprouting teenager. A spectrum of emotions flooded my being during those precious 90 minutes. Pride, awe, and a bit of melancholy engulfed me as I realized the transition from boy to young man had begun.
Alec tested for his brown tip in karate yesterday. He has reached the purple belt level, and his goal is to earn a black belt within the next year. He will be 16 years old in the spring.
I’m beyond grateful for Alec’s teacher, who instructs him with keen expertise, firm feedback, and witty remarks. (I often cannot contain my giggles because she’s absolutely hilarious.). Ms. Melissa is a gift to her students of all ages. And she’s made life-long impact on my son.
Am I a perpetually proud momma? Unabashedly. I tell my children I love them every day—often more than once—and I cannot hug them enough. I praise their efforts rather than their performance. And I am direct and candid when they haven’t prepared for a test or tried their best.
I am clear with both kids that part of their journey is learning how to get up when they fall down. Life is about resilience and how we handle what’s thrown our way. In fact? I tell them I like when they make mistakes because that is how they learn. I am not a parent who thinks her kids are perfect. They are not. A common conversation (or they’d probably argue a sermon) is how important failure is for their personal growth.
Martial arts teaches agility, determination, concentration, self-defense, and much more. Alec has always been a focused, respectful person. He memorizes information easily, and therefore the various forms have been relatively simple for him to learn.
Taekwondo teaches a practice and discipline that some say is a way of life. We’ve watched both Alec’s body strength increase and his inner spirit soar. He did not always receive critique calmly or with an open mind. As the months have passed, Alec not only welcomed feedback but he doesn’t give up when something is difficult. This is a significant, positive change in him.
I was immensely proud of his mastery of movements. He messed up a form, and Ms. Melissa asked him start over. A few years ago, Alec would have pouted and whined. Instead, he flawlessly repeated the sequence, and I smiled broadly behind the phone on which I was recording him.
Both of my teens love engaging with younger children. It’s endearing and heartwarming to watch them interact and play with little ones. Yesterday I witnessed something I’ve known since Alec was younger, but I haven’t seen other than with his cousins or close friends.
Alec was sparring with four different kids ranging in age from 4 to about 11 years old. He seamlessly sensed what each individual needed. For instance, one little guy couldn’t kick high enough so Alec crouched lower. Another student didn’t know where to strike, and I watched in amazement as Alec shifted his body. He seemed to anticipate the other person’s next move.
He adapted his movements to meet each child’s needs. I also heard Alec quietly guide the kids and also give feedback such as “go higher” or “over here” or “nice job.” He was gentle, insightful, and a humble leader.
As these revelations washed over me, wistful droplets escaped my eyes. Alec’s sweet soul shone as he beamed at me. I looked at him with amazement and fierce, unconditional love. I’m immensely proud of his perseverance and commitment to progressing in taekwondo. But what struck me in such a poignant, piercing place was seeing Alec’s character in action.
When Ms. Melissa shook Alec’s hand and congratulated him on earning his brown tip, she shared her observations with him. She, too, noted significant improvement in Alec’s forms and confidence. She also told Alec how fantastic he is with the other students. I shook my head enthusiastically as I fought to keep my mouth shut. (I had to wait my turn, and this held such importance, I didn’t want to interrupt.).
When Alec received his certificate, I threw my arms around him and planted a huge kiss on his salty, sweaty cheek. As I reached up, I again noted that he’d surpassed my height of 5 feet, 5 inches.
“I’m beyond proud of you!!! Do you know why?” He said, “Yea. Because I got my brown tip.” I said, “Yes. But way more, Alec. So. Much. More.”
I held his face and told him how incredible it was to see the graceful way in which he pivoted from child to child. I said, “You intuitively knew when to correct students versus praise them versus teach them. It was extraordinary. You’re a natural.” I told him how my was heart bursting with admiration. And how I relish every second of being right alongside him and celebrating his achievements, his growth, his maturation.
Then Ms. Melissa held a thick, wood board in front of her. As Alec kicked it forcefully, I silently hoped his bare foot wouldn’t land in his teacher’s mouth. It thankfully did not. I felt so inspired by my son that I asked to break a board, too. And I did it on my second try! Not bad for a momma in her ‘40s!
I’ve told Alec many times that it is a privilege to be his mother. I am blessed that he chose me. I take this lifetime role seriously. And I never know, until moments like yesterday, what lessons are sinking in or seeping out.
I am certainly far from perfect. But I strive to be a supportive, present, honest, and empathetic mother to my children. The joy and overwhelming love I experienced as I watched my first born is yet another memory I will hold in my heart forever.
Thank you Alec. Thank you for who you are, how you act and for sharing your soul with others. Thank you for making me a better person every single day. I am the lucky one. It is a true honor to be your mom. And you are my teacher, too.