My son takes his Black Belt test in Tae Kwon Do this Saturday. He’s been studying with this school for seven years. That’s more than half of his life to date.
That’s a lot of time. We’ve invested a great deal of time, energy and money in his training and while this is a big moment for him as a student, it’s an equally big moment for my family as a whole.
Here’s why: Just being on the threshold of this moment at all is a testament to how far we’ve come as a family. In many ways this test encapsulates the journey our family has made over the years. It hasn’t always been pretty but we are a fairly tough group of people.
It’s a grueling test where he has to demonstrate everything he’s learned in seven years of training including various forms (increasingly intricate ordered groupings of movements in a specific order, sometimes set to music), move combinations, sparring, basic skills, counting in Korean, physical challenges, endurance challenges, making a speech, copious paperwork, and more. It’s a lot of information but he’s ready.
There’s a picture of him on the wall at his school taken in February of 2012, the day he joined the “Black Belt Club” which is a special level of membership where the student (and family) commit to advancing to black belt. He was seven years old and we as a family were still acclimating to life in Virginia after our years in Hawaii. We were all still finding our places here then. I hadn’t begun at Mount Vernon yet, the wife had not been promoted to her current position, the twins were in first grade and their sister was in preschool. We didn’t have the dog yet, I didn’t have the Duster, my mom was still alive, I hadn’t started a business yet and the Eagles were nowhere near winning the Super Bowl. Many of the people we are closest to now here were not yet a part of out lives. But we had the tae kwon do school.
At one point, all three of the kids were taking classes there but it became apparent pretty early on that it was not really the girls’ thing. They moved on to other sports and activities but my son had found his place. Despite all of the other challenges our family would face, and I’ve covered them copiously over the years between IEP’s, engaging life on the spectrum, scoliosis and a litany of other things, my son found his spot before all of us. I don’t think I’d ever really thought about it in that context until now. He was leading by example even then.
I’ve been watching him learn and grow in the martial arts for years and of course, in every other conceivable way, all of his life. One of the cool things about TKD is that there are belts. There are points where you test what you learn and then you go learn the next group of things and then you test that. I think that sense of order is one of the things that’s always appealed to him about it. I do these specific things, I advance. But over the last few months as we’ve barreled forward towards this test, I’ve watched his training more closely and I’m just so amazed by what he can do! The raw information and the muscle memory involved in what he’s preparing to do this weekend is really staggering. This week in particular as they’ve practiced some of the very specific things they’ll do in the test in the way that they’ll do them, kind of like a dress rehearsal, I’ll admit, I’ve gotten pretty emotional.
As any parent would be, I’m proud of all of my kids for the amazing things they do. I was proud of his twin sister recently when after months away from rock climbing after her spinal surgery, she attacked the walls once she was cleared. The pride did that thing where it wells up in your chest and then has nowhere to go apparently except your throat, nose and eyes.
I was proud of his younger sister recently when, during her equestrian training, she got thrown off her horse and climbed right back up, as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?” And she canters and jumps like her aunts and grandmother before her. Again, that pride thing puts something in your eye. It’s tricky like that.
Even now, writing this rambling and rather uneven blog, I feel emotional thinking about him taking this test on Saturday because this journey has been long, it’s been laden with occasional detours and lessons learned and it’s just been so darned representative of everything that is awesome about my family and more so, everything that is amazing about my son. Whether or not he earns his black belt this weekend, I am so proud of him. I’ve had to control myself somewhat, always a dicey proposition, as he’s a kid uncomfortable with superlatives, embarrased by too many accolades and a little wary of being paid too much direct attention. He didn’t get any of that from me, to be certain. To be honest, he reminds me of my father in that respect and I hope that sounds like the compliment I mean it to be. Not for the first time, I wish my parents were here to experience this with their grandson and the rest of us. My dad never had the chance to know the kids at all but my mother did and attended a few of his belt tests early on. I think she’d have enjoyed this with him.
It’s Thursday night right now, which is my usual blog/newsletter night. I usually post things on Friday morning but I’m not going to post this ahead of the test. I may not post it at all, but I’m writing it now. If I post it after the test there will be an epilogue at the end.
So, I know I’m going to lose it on Saturday. Whatever happens I am simply proud in a way that I never thought possible. It’s not pride because I was responsible for any of this. It’s not pride because I’m earning anything. It’s really just being proud of my kid. I’ve been that a lot. All three of them are great kids but this journey is one that we’ve all taken, not necessarily as students of Tae Kwon Do, but as members of this family. We are in a very different place today than we were in 2010 when we came to Virginia.
But watching the things he can do now; the things he can say now; the things he knows now: It’s all so much more amazing when I look at the picture of that little guy in his first Black Belt uniform. He was a little kid then and he’s a young man now. Time passes and children grow, just as we all do. Someone said to me recently “Getting older stinks” to which I said, “Yeah, well it beats the alternative.”
I believe in my son and I have every confidence that he is ready. Watching his classes this week, I’ve worked on not losing it as I watch him fine-tune the tasks he’ll be performing. I’ve done pretty well but I know it’s coming. Whatever happens in the test itself, I know I’m going to burst with pride because of the perseverance and character it’s taken to get even here.
Years ago, when this test was a long way off, I told him that when he got his black belt, we’d throw a huge party. I like throwing parties and I’m a believer that you should celebrate both big and little things whenever possible. Over the last year he’s made it clear that he’s not really feeling a huge party, but he’s invited me to deliver to him in cash whatever funds I was planning to spend on said party.
So yeah, he’s a comedian too.
Whatever happens, I’m proud of him. One of the neat things about being a parent for me is the constant surprise at how much my heart can be filled by the things they do. Just when I think they’ve maxed me out, I find another level to deal with their awesome.
I just hope I can contain it this weekend. I don’t know that I will. Pass or fail, despite and because of all the bumps in the road to here, I like where we’ve found ourselves.
I’ll update things after the test but these are my thoughts now.
He did it! My son earned his black belt tonight. The test took over two and a half hours and was pretty stressful for me to watch, to be honest. I felt almost exactly the same as I did in the waiting room while his twin sister was having spinal surgery last winter. Might have been worse as I couldn’t do anything to distract myself. Every parent there was completely zoned in on their kid.
But he did great and I’m really proud of him. I held it together though. This was helped by the fact that we had to wait for the results, which was excruciating. The policy of the school is that if every student passes, they announce the results right then. If someone doesn’t pass, they post the results later on their website. So, I didn’t get that moment where they shook his hand and gave him his fourth stripe, which would have been emotional.
Instead, I got read it online almost three hours later after refreshing the website over and over while we watched “The Goldbergs.” A nice moment, but not one that led to me losing it. That might still come next month when he gets his formal black belt, with his name embroidered upon it. Stay tuned.
I’m really proud of him and of our whole family. One of the other candidates talked about how getting her black belt was a “checkpoint” in her life and not an “end point.” I liked how she phrased that a lot. It’s a huge accomplishment for him and an even better reminder for all of us about how far we’ve come and how much else there is to look forward to in our life as a family.
I’m living the dream. But I didn’t lose it…yet.