M had another belt test in karate this week. Contrary to how it sounds, this is not actually much of a belt test. At his studio, the kids are given belt-level material in monthly increments, and at the end of each month, if they’ve mastered the material, they receive a white stripe on their current belt. Three white stripes means they have mastered all of the material for the next belt. So belt testing is really more of a demonstration of their knowledge, along with a fancy new belt (less sixty dollars from the parents’ pockets). Routine as it might be, we were tickled pink at M’s test. He was out there giving it his all, and his presentation of the advanced form took my breath away. He has become his own, strong person. Amazing!
But the hands-down most exciting part of belt testing is board breaking. Boards are only broken at testing, and each student must break a board in a certain way–determined by the belt he/she is testing for–before they can receive their new belt. It’s really the only wild-card of the testing, though I’ve never seen a child who wasn’t able to break their board eventually.
I knelt on the mat, my camera poised for video. M lined up, measured the distance between the board and his foot. Then, shockingly fast, his foot snapped out in an impressively straight side kick and the board was broken. Even the instructor was surprised. It was the very first time M had ever broken a board on the first try, and he could easily have broken two.
“Good thing I caught that on film,” I said to B. Only I didn’t. The memory card filled up, just after he measured the distance but right before he actually broke the board.
“Well, at least we saw it,” said B. Only I didn’t. I’d been busy filming it, which is not the same thing.
It’s a toss up, this childhood thing. I spend a lot of time with a camera, a scrapbook, a squinty look on my face desparate to record moments that all too often are blurry. Was that M, or K? Were we at the old house, or the new one? What was it, exactly, that they said? It was so funny, so sweet, so memorable. It was so important, that moment.
They’re all so important.
Because there are only a finite number of them. Only 365 days of zero. Only 365 days of one. We are lucky this year and get an extra. But at the end, it’s like a bin of marbles, each one special and unique but almost indefinably so, and that extra one will blend in with all the others.
I was there. I was burstingly proud. I was shocked by the swiftness of the moment, as I am by almost all of them. I recorded it, but poorly. I wish I could have been there, really been there, and also have really recorded it, too, and perfectly. I wish I could live it over again, and again, because there is so much more joy there than I can ever possibly experience on the one time I get to go through it.
I believe this is the story of parenting.