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Helping Holden Series: Reading, Writing, and Martial Arts

“Your fears are not walls, but hurdles. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquering of it.”
― Dan Millman

You can find this quotation all the way at the bottom of any email sent to you by yours truly.

A college friend had posted this on her Facebook account in early 2008 and I immediately took to it. I had not heard of Dan Millman or the Peaceful Warrior at the time. I only knew I liked the quote and adopted it as one of my “mantras” in my own life.

It’s amazing to me how words, phrases, songs, and literacy have the power to connect people. Words are what help us to understand the world around us. Spoken word has the power to heal and help, while the written word captures the spoken word and gives it immortality.


Earlier this summer, as I was developing an action plan for Holden I turned literature to help guide through. I created a list of books for Holden to read and a list of books for mom and dad to read. I looked for books about raising boys, kids personalities, and managing family life. (You can find the list of books in the article titled The Action Plan.)

The summer reading list has helped us both stay on track as life can easily pass quickly with familial activities and obligations.

As a busy mom, I realize that while my time is limited, I must read to continue my own development. I enjoy doing things in 3’s. I read to be entertained, to inform myself on a new concept, idea or way of life, and to be inspired. This does not mean that I read three books at once, what it does mean is that I choose a book, and then I supplement.

For example, if I’m reading Raising Boys, I’m also reading through the Internet for quotes that inspire and to adopt into my own life, and reading children’s books for entertainment with my children or short stories for myself. In the genre of self-help, Life Matters by Stephen Covey is a book I keep handy and reread sections often to improve family life.

For Holden, the first thing we did early this summer was join the summer reading program at our library. With his new library card in hand, Mondays have become our summer library day.

We talk about what books he would want to take out, and he would use the calendar to help remind him when he must return his book. He even learned what a library fine means, (we were late returning a book when on vacation!) and why it is important to take good care of books, especially ones that do not belong to us.

Each and every moment is a teachable moment if you look at life through the eyes of a five-year-old. Along with learning responsibility, Holden has read books about kids who feel all kinds of emotions: happiness, anger, sadness, and shyness.

This has given us opportunity to talk about those feelings, using the characters as examples. The bottom line is that he’s not alone in his feelings. He equates being a gentleman to being “a bucket filler” and on a day he is feeling upset, he asks if we can make “mean soup.”


Holden's Summer JournalEarly in the summer, Holden participated in his Indian School’s end of the year celebration.

It was at school that he and his sister sang their first solo in Malayalam (South Indian language). They appeared in the front of the room, “on stage”, grabbed a microphone and sang the Indian version of “Mary had a Little Lamb.” I’m happy to report that they did really well!

On the way home, Holden asked if he could write about his experience in his journal. He drew himself, and included such details like the stage and the microphone. And from his perspective, he drew the faces his remembered in the audience.

“Mommy was smiling and so happy and proud of me.” He told me this as he drew me and other family members smiling at him.

By writing it down, I was invited to be apart of Holden’s world as he viewed his experiences.

From my perspective, I had only really thought about him singing and achieving his goal. I learned that for Holden, part of it was singing a solo and the other part of why he felt so good was to see the people he loved feel so proud of him.

Throughout the summer, each experience: playing a sport, family vacation, day trips and play dates, etc., was recorded in his journal. Each time he shares a memory I get insight to who he is and what he remembers most about an experience.

Maintaining a summer writing journal is about giving our children an opportunity to share their voice in our world. Too often, we are telling our kids how to speak, what to say, and when to do it.

I learned this summer, to let him be and let him speak. And I loved getting to hear his voice.

After speaking with my close friend and Kindergarten teacher, I learned the main idea behind the summer journal is that it is his book, and his alone.

The only thing I’m allowed to write is the date on top of each entry. He writes a title if he wants to. He draws the pictures and I remind him to label. He sounds out words and writes down the letters he hears.

This is his book.

Spelling does not matter. Capturing his voice and recording his memories and reflections are all that matters.

Martial Arts

During Holden’s evaluation meeting, I learned of a martial arts instructor who earned a PhD, worked in the city school system for over 30 years, and was as trained gymnast and in martial arts.

Taking all his experiences together, he created a curriculum for children that teaches martial arts and helps them achieve their own personal goals through asserting themselves and building confidence. It sounded too good to be true as it was exactly what I was looking for.

Many of these martial arts places, over promise and under deliver. They work hard at obtaining a credit card for automatic billing purposes and spend very little time with the children. (Holden was registered at one place where the instructors spent the entire time schmoozing with the parents in the waiting room as the older children taught martial arts to the younger kids.) I knew I wanted something more.

The Workout Place came at the perfect time. I sent an email explaining who I was, describing my son, and what it was we were looking for.

I received an email response from the owner/operator that day and made plans to speak on the telephone the next day. During the conversation, we made connections, he spoke about all the things he offers, all of which were in line with what it was I was looking for.

Sensei then shared something with me, “Your email really touched me. This is why I help kids. And then you had that quote at the bottom of your email. You quoted Dan Millman. I live my life as the peaceful warrior. That’s when I knew your family is special.”

Sensei connected with me because of a quote I had listed on the bottom of my email.

The written word connects people and ideas and philosophies. I made a mental note to add the Ways of the Peaceful Warrior on my list of books to read. (I’m reading it now.)

The kids are enjoying karate. Upon meeting Holden, without sharing any details, Sensei picked up on Holden’s difficulty in following 2-3 step directions.

I was impressed by how in tuned he was with the children. He even picked up on my daughter’s disdain for losing any games, and talked about maintaining a cheerful attitude. We use the teachings from karate class in our daily lives.

“Remember Sensei said to keep a cheerful attitude?” The success here is in finding members of this proverbial village that will help to make our kids the best they can possibly be.

On a recent play date, Holden’s friend hit him. Prior to the summer, if something like this would happen, he would say nothing and ask to go home, without verbalizing what had happened.

This particular day, Holden immediately came over to me and whispered that his friend did something he did not like. He told me what it happened and how he was feeling. I thought, “We’re making progress!”

I then had the boys work it out together and the play date continued.

He is handling his emotions. He is trying to work out problems. He is speaking up.

Each day, I see his confidence growing through reading, writing, and martial arts. He’s enjoying trying new things.

Sports have also played a huge role in building confidence, which I will discuss in the next installment.

It’s hard to believe that this is the same child whose anxiety would prevent him from making new friends or trying new things. The voice inside of him that would tell he could not do something is being silenced by a louder voice that is shouting he can do anything he sets his mind to.

The voice of confidence is like music to this mom’s ears.

Author: Daisy

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