Over the last few months, Riley has been through the process of making a pretty big change in his daily life. For the last couple of years, tae kwon do (and more recently judo and hap ki do) has been a huge part of his life, a major passion, and the driving force behind much of his learning, sparking interests in Korean history, culture, and language as well as those related to other great martial arts traditions. He was almost always practicing his forms or talking about tae kwon do, no matter where we were or what we were doing. He had opportunities to challenge himself physically and mentally, participate in several competitions and demonstrations, lead classes; and he had advanced to a red belt. Our whole family was blessed with the opportunity to meet and become friends with some truly wonderful people at his tae kwon do school.
He did learn and experience some things I wish he hadn't, like saying "yes, sir" when he truly meant "no." He had really great insights from experiences I felt sketchy about him having, though, too. I was less than enthusiastic about going to competitions. He loved them though. He loved meeting people from other towns and other schools. He told me after one competition about how much fun it was to win first place trophies but it kind of took away from it to know his new friend who didn't win wasn't feeling very happy.
Over the last several months, his enthusiasm started to fade. It waxed and waned for a while, but he has pretty surely decided he is finished with martial arts for now. I've been pretty surprised at how difficult this has been for me. For one thing, it was such a huge part of our lives, even though Riley was the only one actually participating. Maya and Seth and I were always there with him while he did his classes (usually 3 or 4 1-hour classes during the week and then I went with him for 3 hours on Saturdays), and we all had friends we enjoyed hanging out with there. And then there were the old tapes resurfacing for me around the subject of quitting. I'm amazed at the way my thoughts about his choice to continue on through the last year of the black belt program or not snowballed for me into fears that he would forever after walk away from everything he was involved with when he got a little bored or interested in something else or that he would forever after stick with something just because he started it, feeling trapped and unable to change directions. I did a lot of "talking myself down" from all of that drama as well as the comments from others that I should just make him stick with it for the Noble Cause of finishing what one starts.
I did however, badger him a bit too much about why his interest tanked so completely. I think it would have been easier for me to understand if there had been some major thing that happened to cause this big turnaround. There wasn't.
As skateboarding and several games and other activities have emerged as new interests, I did ask him if he didn't feel like he had time to do all of it. After all, he doesn't have 8 or so hours of his day taken up with school. He explained that it wasn't that he didn't have enough time for martial arts and his newer passions, just not enough interest right now. That was really the end of my agonizing over the situation. He is simply flowing right along, quite thoughtfully, with what he knows is right for himself -- without a lot of fears and what ifs and shoulds clouding his choices.
We all make these kinds of choices as adults -- changing jobs or careers, moving, stopping and starting hobbies and interests. Kids often have their choices made for them (well, except for lame pseudo choices like "Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today?"). They also are often held to a stricter standard of "once you start it you have to finish it" than most of us hold ourselves to. Had I persuaded his direction or presumed to know the best choice for him, he would have missed this particular opportunity to freely choose to walk away from one set of experiences and walk toward others and to learn more about which are most in tune with who he is.
As he goes right on learning and making thoughtful choices, I learn to trust a little more, listen a little more, and enjoy the journey.