Tonight I was watching Grace as she was learning new takedowns, part of martial arts class. Her partner, same purple belt but contrasting long, dark hair to Grace’s short blonde cut, posed in a mirror imaged stance across the mat. Grace grabs the foot at the end of the offending kick, tucks an elbow under a knee, grabs a shoulder and steps behind the attacker’s other leg. The 8-year-old assailant is suddenly on the ground. Grace returns the favor a moment later, offering her own attack, and soon she’s flat on her back on the mat. Her partner hoists her upright, and they face each other, mirror images still, each grinning ear to ear.
On Saturday Anna was taking down sixteenth notes with the bow of her violin, rapid-fire attacks, four notes at a time at the end of each measure. It was rehearsed and elegant, memorized and poised. She stood next to the grand piano, and sunlight from the patio windows overlooking the valley backlit the scene, red hair, polished violin, skinny legs of a fifth grader surprising the corduroy skirt that tried to contain them. She beamed as she played, as though she and her fingers were independent of one another, as though she could have sat down and watched the violin from the other side of the room.
It all strikes me that I remember — I know — what it is like to be eight or ten. I remember who I was, what I did, what I said, and what I thought. I look at these girls and I’m surprised that they will remember this, or at least part of it. More than that, I remember that who I was when I was ten is not who I am now, at least not entirely. Not even mostly. But it was part of who I was going to be. So I look at these people and I realize that I’m watching them not so much for who they are, but for who they are each becoming.
It happens like a takedown, or a sixteenth note. It’s elegant and poised. Sometimes. They hoist themselves up and smile, and I watch them do it again. There’s some of that fond remembering and maybe even mourning for them growing, but it’s more than this. It was Grace’s smile, especially, that took me down. There she was, being and becoming, realizing a little bit about who she is, and taking the stance to ready herself for the next thing that comes along.