His large, blue eyes searched me for reassurance. I put both hands up, signaling him to stay calm, pretending I was fully aware of what was going on. I swallowed deeply and watched as he sat towards the back of his first Taekwondo test, observing the other participants going up to receive their new belt from the instructors, with congratulatory handshakes and photos from onlooking parents.
My heart rushed deeply and my head filled with doubts: He’s only five-years old, maybe they decided not to advance him? Perhaps I’m not familiar enough with Taekwondo tests… he seems like he did a wonderful job, but maybe I missed something?
And then, the end. The main teacher looked out into the audience of pupils and said, “Great job guys, most of you advanced today.”
I was completely baffled as to why my son, the youngest, and one of the strongest students in class, was not wearing a new, junior yellow belt. Class was dismissed, and Jack came running into my arms, sobbing into my shoulder.
“It’s okay, you did an amazing job…we’re going to figure out what happened, okay?” I promised him. He would not be consoled.
We waited until the jubilant crowd died down and approached the coaches.
“Coach Alex and Mr. Galvan, Jack is confused. He feels like he failed because he didn’t receive his junior yellow belt…” I started. Jack looked down in shame, wiping the tears that fell from his eyes.
“What?!” they said in unison. “Jack, you were one of the best students here today,” Mr. Galvan responded, “your junior yellow belt is just not here yet.”
The Mom Guilt:
Though I was temporarily relieved, his answer only added to my confusion. “I ordered the belt at the desk a couple of weeks ago and was told it would get here in time,” I said, careful to balance a graciously firm tone.
Mr. Galvan asked, “Did you register him online?”
My face and mind went blank. I imagined massive skyscrapers falling to the ground in black and white.
I immediately looked at my firstborn son and said, “Oh Jack, I am so sorry. This is all Mama’s fault.”
His weeping became stronger this time, and I was the source of his disappointment. No one prepared me for the pain you feel when your child is hurting. We walked to the van, me apologizing profusely, letting him know that I would make it right. He did not make eye contact with me the rest of the afternoon; I couldn’t blame him. I was the worst mom in the world.
When we arrived at the house, I signaled my husband to come retrieve our son. As soon as they both went inside, I broke down. Mom-shame immediately set in: What were you thinking, Giana? You just recently started a part-time job and it has taken all your time and energy. You can’t keep up. Your son’s heart is broken — and it’s all your fault!”
I reached out to my mom and a trusted friend, choking out the words of what had happened in between crying. Though my mother’s words, “I have a whole rap sheet of things I would have done differently,” encouraged me, they did not take away the sting. My heart literally ached inside my chest.
At the end of the day, I found out I was not the only one to blame in what had happened. There had been some miscommunication on behalf of the school as well. I lay in bed, replaying the image of my son’s face, looking for me to rescue the situation. And then reliving the moment when he ran to me, completely defeated.
This time, I was the one wiping the tears away from my face. I gently told my husband, “I don’t know why I can’t seem to get past this.”
Jack’s coaches messaged me later that day, acknowledging what had happened on their end, and assuring me it would never happen again. I believed them.
The sun came up the following morning, and I continued dialoguing with Jack about how sorry I was, and that no one and no school is perfect. He understood and forgave me, and we decided, collectively, to move forward.
He junior yellow belt arrived later that week, and he participated in a special ceremony, just for him, to receive it. He was elated. He kept looking down at his prize and stroking it during class. In between exercises, as is his custom, he gave me a big smile, and waved.
Later in August, he received the award for Student of the Month, Coach Galvan announcing to his peers that though he is one of the smallest students, he continually tries his best and sets the example for everyone.
What happened on the day of his very first Taekwondo test has become a distant memory. It no longer hurts when I think about it, and my son is certainly not scarred for life because of it. We learned some valuable lessons and came out on the other side of them.
As mothers, we need to not only extend grace to others when it is difficult, we must have the courage to give it to ourselves, too. I want to be a model of this for my children, and I want to teach them to acknowledge when they are wrong, and forgive when they are wronged.
I am NOT the worst mom ever. I am a mom that survived the worst day, to date, with her oldest child. Our scars serve as reminders, but no longer hurt. May we lift one another up, blemishes and all, in this journey of motherhood.