As almost any parent will attest, there are many moments in life when our children make us proud.
When they bring home straight As from school…When they stand up on that first wave, score a goal or achieve some other kind of athletic milestone…When other adults remark how beautiful they are, or even better– how polite and well-behaved…
But there are some moments that are better than all of those, combined.
They are usually more subtle in nature and can rarely be anticipated. They are fleeting moments of revelation that provide us genuine clarity about who our children really are, and if we are so fortunate, perhaps also a little affirmation about the real jobs we’re doing as parents.
I enjoyed one of these moments just the other night.
Our family had huddled together in bed to watch Soul Surfer, the movie about Hawaiian surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm at age 13 to a 14-foot Tiger Shark. As most now know, somehow she not only lived to tell about it, but learned to surf again with one arm. It’s a wonderful film about faith, determination and never giving up. I highly recommend it.
There’s a scene in the movie when, after deciding to try and compete again and struggling bravely against rough currents with one arm during a surf contest, a frustrated and emotionally defeated Bethany heads to the parking lot post heat, ready to give up surfing for good.
As she sulks back to her parents car, a group of young fans approaches her for an autograph.
Dejected, Bethany quips “Here’s something better…” and then proceeds to give away her surfboards to the girls who, delighted in their good fortune, run away to show off their new souvenirs.
Eventually, Bethany makes up her mind that nothing is going to stop her from surfing again, training herself to duck dive with one arm and then returning to competition.
I won’t spoil the ending, but will say that both of my girls, ages 9 and 12, really loved the movie.
Later that evening, I was lying in bed with my 9-year-old, Kaelyn, putting her down for the night. She just recently learned to surf and like so many young girls her age, is now completely smitten with Bethany. The movie had clearly affected her in different ways and she seemed to want to talk about it… to process it.
“Dad, do you really think she didn’t scream when that shark bit her?”
“Does she really surf that way in real life?”
“Can you teach me to duck dive?”…
And then she said it– just a sweet little comment, stated thoughtfully and solemnly:
“Dad, you know when those girls took her surfboards?”
“I wouldn’t have done that.”
“What do you mean Kaelyn? You wouldn’t have done what?”
“I wouldn’t have taken her surfboard.”
“Really? Why not? What would you have done?”
“I don’t know. I just wouldn’t have accepted it… She was feeling sad, you know?”
“Yes, I know.”
And of course, Kaelyn didn’t have to explain it to me further. I knew exactly why she wouldn’t take it. It’s called “empathy” and “compassion” (coincidentally, an important secondary theme in Soul Surfer), and it so warmed me to see it in her that instant on display in such a simple, honest way. I can’t think of many times as a parent when I’ve felt so proud.
To me, and I would guess for many parents, it’s little moments like these that really leave their impressions.
So much more significant than than winning a trophy, a ribbon or a medal. So much more substantive than good looks. Or, even bringing home a good grade. So much more profound and revealing.
About who our children really are.
About the efforts we’re putting into raising them.
They are little moments that whisper and affirm… “You’re getting this right.”