Perhaps it was because of the stressful day I had. Perhaps it was because I will be 45 tomorrow. Perhaps it was because I saw the same scenario playing out before my eyes.
I was seven. I was in ballet class. I was always a disciplined student when it came to ballet. Neat and tidy appearance, perfect posture, and the utmost respect for Mrs. P.
It was nearing the end of class and she had us do a simple balancing exercise. We were to stand on one leg like a crane, arms in first position, and hold it for a full minute. I stood tall and proceeded as instructed, not wavering, chin high. I remember feeling very proud of myself.
The girl next to me was the class clown. Always a tear in her tights and her hair tangled and matted. She was flailing her arms all around, pretending to fall but catching herself, accented by a loud "Whoa!" each time. She was a distraction and I often wondered why Mrs. P didn't correct her. Or at least compliment everyone else who was doing as they were told.
At the end of the minute, Mrs. P rewarded each of us with a chocolate chip cookie from a tin she kept by the record player. She gave this child two. Her reasoning was that she had done the most to not fall over.
I wanted so badly to scream, "No! Foul! She did it on purpose! I did it right! I did it the way you asked! It's not fair!" Of course, I said nothing.
When my mother picked me up, it was clear from my expression that something was wrong but she is a woman prone to apathy and so even though I told her what happened, she didn't pursue it. Perhaps my mother's lack of interest is the reason I am such an involved (to a fault at times) mother myself.
Now, nearly 40 years later, I'm sitting on the sidelines of my daughter's newest addition to the after school schedule, karate. She is just as rule oriented and disciplined as I was. Maybe more so. I thought karate would be a perfect fit. And it is, except for one thing... the class clowns.
She took her place in line with one of three instructors. The exercise was to lean and kick in the air with the opposite leg as many times as you could without stopping. Apparently though, hopping is allowed. The boy first in line began to kick and hop and kick and hop and hop and... he was doing more hopping than kicking but the instructor did nothing to move the process onto the next child. When he finally faltered he had "kicked" 79 times. Next boy, same thing with the kicking and hopping. 49 times.
Then it was my daughter's turn. She did not want to hop since she knows that while it is acceptable it isn't the way you are supposed to do it. She stepped up, leaned and began to kick. But the instructor had become bored of the exercise by this point and unknowingly moved the target which made my daughter lose her concentration and she faltered... after only 5 kicks. She asked to go again but was told no and sent to the end of the line, her eyes turning red and watery.
She never got a second chance. The first kid did.
In an instant I was feeling exactly what she was feeling. Trapped in the "right thing". But I'm not a child anymore. I can stand up for me, I can stand up for both of us. And that's what I did.
At the end of class, Master M came over to shake my hand and bow, as I have come to learn is tradition. I asked to speak with him and I relayed what had happened and what I know of my daughter's process and how she is no doubt feeling. His reply was somewhat unsatisfying in that he said, the hopping is acceptable. But he did say something directly to my daughter which helped her mood, and in turn my own. He told her that 5 kicks done correctly is better than 50 done wrong. That eventually, the hopping will have to stop for them to proceed to the next level and that she will be ahead of the game for having done it right all along. And that he has noticed how much focus she puts into doing each movement right.
It was what she needed to hear. And I was glad.
Next class, I have suggested she stay in Master M's line instead.
The clarity with which that one memory came back to me was frightening. But at the same time, telling. I suppose I have always had this intrinsic need for "the right thing", for justice, truth, fairness, and the inability to accept falsehood or deception. It's hard to believe it took four decades to figure that out about myself but apparently it's a part of my very DNA.
And frankly, I wouldn't want it any other way ;-)