Sinking and/or Swimming


I am not pathologically shy myself. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is “know no fear” and one is “paralyzed by terror,” I guess I’m like a 4. Me First is a 9. Sister? 1.75 or so.

I can see in her eyes that she wants to join in on the fun, but she lets this fear hold her back.

If you aren’t like that, it’s hard to understand. It’s easy, watching from the outside, to say she’s being manipulative, or to say we’ve coddled her, or (the one I’ve heard most recently) she must be the way she is because her parents (ie me) are not good examples.

All very helpful attitudes, right?

I’ve come to realize, though, that what she feels when confronted by a strange person and the need to produce a greeting is something like the way I feel at the top of Tokyo Tower. It isn’t logical; you can’t talk me out of it. If you push too hard I’m likely to cut you out of my life. This dislike of heights is part of who I am. Love it or leave it.

Unlike a fear of heights or my other nemesis, public speaking, her feelings can’t be dealt with by claiming cramps every time someone invites you to Six Flags or suggesting so-and-so is better qualified to talk about the topic at hand.

So something has to be done.

The something we’ve settled on, for now, is karate. Me First goes anyway, though with a very different goal in mind. Me Too already knows the place and what to expect. The white belts’ teacher right now is a woman, which is good since the main sensei is kinda scary.

Hot, but scary.

Sister’s karate debut has not been very smooth. She cried and carried on. It was all very out of place, given the martial arts ambience.

I tore myself away and left her there. That is never easy to do. But this is her battle; she’ll have to fight it alone.

I followed my own advice, what I used to tell parents all those years ago when I was the one they called “sensei.” It may be hard for we “western” types to understand, but if you are teaching a class of two or three year old Japanese kids, a large percentage of them will have never been away from their mothers before. Ever.

My advice was always to be honest with your child, and tell them you are going but you will be back when the long hand reaches the twelve, or after snack time, whatever they can understand.

Then Leave. The. Building. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. And then, by god, get back on time.

It’s hard advice. A parent can’t really enjoy the time away if they’ve left a child in despair. Your mind starts to question your resolve.

I was doing that today, too. Then I came back from my self-imposed brief exhile to find Me Too was no longer crying. She wasn’t participating, either, but she had moved out of the corner closer to the group.

And the last fifteen minutes of class? She participated. Sensei even got a teeny tiny “Ay!” out of her.

When I picked her up, she was beaming. She was luminescent. Brother even gave her a hug. It was like the gates of all the possibilities of all the world had opened up, now that she had mustered a tiny speck of courage.

She was so proud of herself, and I don’t know that she has ever felt that way before.

Surely there is still a long road ahead of her and a lot more to overcome, but I can’t help but hope she’s made a big, first step.

On her own, while I wait outside.


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