Hands are for Helping and Hitting

This winter Maya learned how to ice skate. She fell a lot, but by the end of the first day she was zipping around the rink, pulling me along with her. This was the first day. By the second day of skating we were fighting. She had actually gotten so good so fast that her holding my hand was making her fall more. When I tried to explain this to her she got angry.  The second time we went skating together I vowed to not bug her about holding my hand. Instead we fought about the way she kept lifting her leg up in front of her. Again I tried to "help" by explaining that it was making her fall on her butt. There we were again on the ice shouting at each other. This one resolved itself over hot chocolate where I calmly promised to not bug her anymore if she would stop snapping at me.

Maya is terrible at getting help. She thinks she knows everything and wants to do everything herself. As someone who knows this I clearly should have just let her keep falling until she either figured it out on her own or got so frustrated she asked me to fix it. The problem is I am terrible at watching someone make the same mistake over and over again. I find it irritating. I am the kind of mom who, when her child falls down, cannot comfort her without also explaining what she did wrong."Are you ok sweetie? Come here let me kiss your boo boo. You jumped on the dog, what did you think would happen?"

I also have no patience for complaints about a problem that you are unwilling to try to fix. Are you too cold? Well remember when we were getting dressed this morning and you wanted to wear tights and a princess gown? And I explained about weather.com and temperature. And you made a fuss. So now you are a beautiful princess who is freezing her butt off. What have we learned?

I am equally impatient with grownups. Hate your job? Get a new one. Got a cold? Take some Zicam. Just for goddsake stop whining. And please, if your problem is something you cannot handle on your own, please ask for help.

In reality, I am not this mean. When the people I care about are sad, sick, in pain, frustrated, I offer them my most heartfelt sympathy. I make soup. I call doctors. I do job searches. I research alternative pain management techniques performed by a Russian with an electromagnetic machine. (My dad never called him but hey, I tried.) I hand them boxing gloves.

I have found few things in my life as therapeutic as sparring. It is a perfect canvas for grief and stress to be released upon. And not in the way you might think, not in a my life sucks let me go start a bar fight kind of way but in a punch until it no longer hurts kind of way. What it takes is a partner of equal or better skill and experience, who is willing to burn herself out with you. And then you just fight. And fight. And fight. Until your muscles are like spaghetti, your throat is burning and you no longer want to hurt someone.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have this outlet. The Friday night after September 11th, our Upper West Side dojo lit a candle and put it on the street outside the dojo. And then we fought for over an hour. When our instructor of over 15 years suddenly passed away, Matthew and I made a hundred phone calls, attended a funeral and eventually took over his dojo to try to keep his students together, students who were shocked and lost. And needed a place to put their gloves on and hit something.

Sometimes, when he knows someone is going through a difficult time, Matthew will let them spar him as long and as hard as they need to. He can tell, by something in their eyes, that they need help.

Today, Matthew learned that someone he knew from childhood committed suicide. I did not really know him, but clearly he was someone who also needed help. Was he already getting it and it wasn't enough? Or was he one of those people who would rather give up than admit that he needed anything? I do not know. But when I hear a story like this I cannot help but think of Maya. It is a mother's worst fear, not just to lose a child, but to lose a child in such a way that it must be impossible to not think that it is your fault, that you missed something so important. That you missed your chance to help.

I want Maya to be self confident and independent. Despite the difficulties it sometimes causes us now, I want her to always fight for what she wants and never give up. But I also want her to be able to accept help when she needs it. Hopefully, growing up in a dojo will teach her both of these lessons.

I am making a promise to myself. The next time Maya and I go ice skating I am keeping my mouth shut. No matter how many things she does wrong I am letting her do it her way. When she falls I will pick her up and hug her and refrain from telling her the way she should have moved her foot. And I will trust that if she really gets frustrated, scared, or sad she will ask for help. Or she will punch me. Either way is fine. I am one of the lucky ones.