It’s 8:15 in the morning. The baby is smashing pancakes while my four-year-old daughter shouts in Korean. “Watch my crane kick, mom!” She executes a move with her skinny legs and just about falls over. I give her a high-five as she chops and shouts her way to the family room.
A few months ago my husband put on Karate Kid. Not the remake, the original with Daniel Larusso—the only one as far as I’m concerned. The kids were hooked. So we signed my five-year old son and his younger sister up for Taekwondo at John Kim’s Martial Arts down the street.
What I expected was my pint-sized daughter to throw in the towel after braving her first class with all boys. What I did not expect was for Willa to be the loudest—“most spirited”—of the bunch. Fast-forward to a few months later, she just passed her orange belt test which included breaking a board with her hand and foot.
It’s not entirely surprising that my daughter would prefer martial arts to ballet. Growing up, I played soccer and rode horses. I don’t wear a dress unless I’m going to church or someone dies. But holy Moses the princess stuff is everywhere. And I mean, EVERYWHERE. The TV shows, her tablet, even the girls at preschool come in wearing gowns and sparkly headbands. I get e-blasts about tea parties and princess meet and greets. Don’t get me wrong, she owns several Disney princess dresses and we do attend some of the frilly stuff with friends, BUT I’m always looking for different ways to get Willa outside of her comfort zone. To help her find new strengths and tap into tiny talents that perhaps she didn’t get from either of her parents.
While I’m an advocate for strong women uniting, I believe my daughter also needs to be around strong men. Men and boys that challenge her to grow and treat her with respect. Sure, her father and papas do an excellent job of this but they are supposed to love her unconditionally. She’s lucky to have this, but outside of our home Willa needs to learn how to stand on her own tiny feet. That she shouldn’t be intimidated by boys.
Enter one of her favorite people, Master Kim. It’s his studio that she and her older brother have been attending for the last few months. I have no idea how he organizes 10 to 12 screaming short stacks and gets them to say “yes sir,” but he does. She bear crawls, frog jumps, kicks standing bags and paddleboards. She runs as fast her little legs will go all while shouting at the top of her lungs. There is an energy that easily comes out of Willa that I don’t see when she plays with her girlfriends.
Last week she started sparring with her classmates. Having no clue what this meant when we ordered her gear, I now watch Willa “spar” outfitted with a padded helmet, chest guard and arm covers. It’s pretty impressive as a mom to watch your daughter hold her own, kicking and jabbing boys a few inches above her head. When the class ends, Willa spends her time chatting with Master Kim and the other students. They are her friends. They are her equals.
Truth be told, I have no idea how to raise a daughter in today’s world. Like most moms, I’m learning as I go. I have friends who frequent the Disney store to pick out dresses, and more than I can count whose daughters compete in dance. It’s intense, and I give them tremendous credit for the incredibly long rehearsals and perfectly stacked up-dos. But that just didn’t interest Willa.
And, it never interested me. I moved to Nebraska after graduating from Florida State driving a car crammed with everything I owned. No family, no friends, no place to live. It was terrifying and beyond exciting. I didn’t get to the excitement part overnight. My sense of self and independence was instilled throughout my childhood. There was no prince to wake me from eating a few bad apples. What happened next was on me.
Willa is four. I get it. But while I’m not well versed on motherhood, I am on life. My mother was tough as nails. She was headmaster of a school for more than 30 years. She was the boss and didn’t let me run away from competition or the unfamiliar. I didn’t always appreciate her pushing me to stand on my own two boots, but I get it. Just now, I finally get it.
So, Willa and I begin a new journey here. In a mirrored room where my daughter’s reflection is that of a tiny warrior. She doesn’t know the scope of what she’s up against, but I’m doing my part as her mother to prepare her for what lies ahead.
Yes, this little one will be able to fight her own battles.