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Exorcising their inner Eeyores

Submitted by on Tuesday, 12 May 2009 No Comment

fearThe men in this house get strange sometimes. Which means the house gets strange when two of them decide to let their quirks run wild at the same time.

For Big Guy and Dad, the weekend was a double dose of test anxiety – Dad’s scheduled fitness test, Big Guy’s exam for his yellow belt in karate.

It’s like that all the time with these two: The hesitancy to try something new, the conviction that they’re doomed before they start. Boots and I are the opposite. We’ll charge into something and then freak out midway through, once we’re already in the weeds.

And if you give Dad and Big Guy long enough to think about something, it’s a cinch that fear will set in and confidence will flag.

“I am going to fail this test,” Dad said Sunday, based on no evidence whatsoever.

If anything, the results of his most recent test three weeks earlier pointed to the exact opposite. His results in all three areas – two-mile run, pushups and situps – would have been more than good enough for men half his age.

“Why do you think you’re going to fail? Are you injured?” I asked, because I knew he’d tweaked his ankle the previous week.

“No. I just think I’m going to fail.”

“Baloney,” I think I said. In reality, it was probably something more profane. “You’ll do great.”

Big Guy, on the other hand, did have cause for concern. He hadn’t done well at all during a test run of the test at karate class the previous Monday. He could replicate the moves when the sensei was leading the class, but he flailed without someone to mirror.

I kicked myself for not stressing practice to reinforce the skills during the previous two two months and then decided to have a talk with Big Guy.

“I know you had trouble in class, but you can do this if you decide to practice. Do you want your yellow belt? It doesn’t matter to me – I love you either way. But if you want it, you’re going to have to work for it.”

“I want it,” he said.

“OK. Then I’ll help you practice.”

Every day after that, I offered to run through the list of moves with him. Some days he wanted to practice; some days he didn’t. The days he didn’t, I didn’t push. This was his decision and his yellow belt. Not mine.

Sunday, the day before the test, he didn’t want to practice at all until bed time. Faced with the threat of “lights out,” he suddenly was inspired to give it a try.

He still was mixing up his hands, and I reminded him gently.

Ohhhhhhhhh!” he groaned. “I’m never going to get it. I’m never going to get my yellow belt.”

“Yes, you can. You know how to do all this. You just have to concentrate on switching the hand you use when you switch your feet.”

“I’m never going to get it,” he insisted. He always has to get in the last word.

Late in the next afternoon, class time came. When we got there, Big Guy went through his usual routine of tag with his classmates before sensei called them to order. It was time. I probably was more nervous than he was.

He went through the punches with ease before stuttering on the first sequence of combinations. I could see the wheels turning in his head, though, as he glanced at his fists to remind the right one to pop out when he switched his feet.

He sailed after that, earning his yellow belt. Boots should be scared.

Dad called soon after we got home to report his results: A run almost a minute faster than the 100th percentile for his age group and in the 96th percentile for 17- to 21-year-olds.

“Hmphh,” I said. “And you were going to fail. What happened – did you forget you were 42?”

I could hear his grin. “Yep.”

It’s like that all the time with these two: The pessimism, the million reasons why something isn’t going to work, the “what ifs”. I talk them through it, eventually ending not so patiently with the same question.

“And what if an elephant drops out of the sky and lands on your head? Sure, it could happen, but it’s not likely. What if you give it a try and see what happens?”

They both did that Monday.

No elephants fell from the sky. A  yellow belt did, though.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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