My daughter has superpowers.
She was born with some of them, which your kid might have, too: an innate understanding of and ability to play music; the power to make a “cute face” that gets me to give in to most requests for candy or more screen time; an uncanny knack for remembering every single thing that has ever happened or been said to her, ever.
Others, she’s developed over time: empathy, kindness, the ability to bend machines to her will (read: programming).
Some, I fear she will never have: swimming, legible handwriting, the ability to eat a meal in less than 45 minutes.
But her most recently developed superpower is, simply put, knowing how to kick and punch like Batman. And it’s totally cool.
Let me back up. Imagine, for a moment, that you are the mom of an 8-year-old who tells you she wants to go to martial arts class. This second-grader does not like loud noises. She is tiny (the second-shortest kid in her class). She has never particularly enjoyed or been interested in sports of any kind, having ended one brutal spring soccer season with the declaration, “I don’t think soccer is my thing,” and flat-out refusing to participate in swim lessons while at swim lessons. She does not particularly enjoy gym class. She likes to read, draw, invent things, play Minecraft, and make up stories, and she spends hours playing outside, deeply noticing and examining the world around her.
You’ve probably guessed that this 8-year-old was my daughter. She has never really been able to articulate what about martial arts appealed to her, and that may be because absolutely nothing about martial arts logically should. It was so out of left field that my husband and I thought she was joking.
So when she brought home the paper saying that the headmaster of a local tae kwon do studio was offering a special four-week after-school program for kids, we thought, “Well, this will be a low-risk, low-investment way for her to find out that she doesn’t like it.”
It turned out that she wasn’t joking.
She loved it from day one.
And recently, three years after starting her journey, she earned her black belt. I watched her, with my own eyes, power her way through three wooden boards with her bare hand. I told someone that and they said, “Wow, so your daughter can kick your ass, huh?”
The truth is, if she really put her mind to it, she probably could. (Part of what you learn in tae kwon do is leveraging your body mass… so it matters that I’m bigger, but not as much as you might think.) But of course she won’t, mostly because she is a decent human being who doesn’t hurt people. But also because at her tae kwon do school, they teach martial arts as a way of life, as a fun activity, and really, as a superpower.
And as Uncle Ben has taught us all, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Watching my daughter’s transformation into an advanced martial artist has been not unlike watching the origin stories of many of our favorite superheroes. Steve Rogers was a small, skinny kid with a lot of gumption before he became Captain America. Peter Parker was a geeky weakling before he became Spider-Man. Bruce Banner was a scientist before he…well…screwed up, but he also got superpowers!
The difference is, our daughter had to develop her superpower over many years and lots of hard work. She’s more like Batman, without the billions of dollars or the really tragic backstory. Or Agent Carter, who’s incredibly sharp and has a pretty great roundhouse kick.
The instructors at her school are all amazing and tend toward the geek side (for Halloween, they collectively dressed up as Pokémon characters), and they often motivate the kids with helpful coaching like, “Pretend you’re the Hulk! Be super strong!” and, “Punch like Superman!” (In fact, there is something called “the Superman punch,” which I don’t think is an official tae kwon do term, but is still really fun.)
My point here is twofold: 1) like most of our favorite superheroes, our kids are born with some natural strengths and 2) with some hard work, they can either amplify those natural strengths, or develop whole new unexpected ones. In other words, we all have the opportunity to be our own superheroes, not just in name or attitude but, sometimes, because we truly know how to do something a lot of people don’t or can’t do. And that’s really awesome.
So the next time your kids want to try that music class you think they’ll hate, or you’re questioning your life choices for schlepping them to their 475th sportsball practice, just remember you’re helping them develop superpowers. It takes courage, perseverance and enthusiasm from both of you. They develop confidence, and you get to watch them push past their limits and maybe even surprise themselves with what they’re able to accomplish.
And you might even think about following their lead. On the same day my daughter earned her black belt, I earned my purple belt (the halfway point to black belt). After all, why should she get to have all the superpowers in the family?