Mama Colada: Hit me with your best shot

Mama Colada: Knock me down, it’s all in vain, I get right back on my feet again.
So hit me with your best shot!

I am a boxer.

So now you know. I am a boxer. I have hit other people in the face and kidneys, for sport. I have danced around a boxing ring, spent hours running backwards up and down Market Street in Philadelphia, and inhaled the sourness of the basement boxing gyms in the public housing projects in Philadelphia. It’s a conflicted story. A pediatrician who boxes. A college girl who boxes. A Pakistani girl who boxes. A girl who boxes.

There’s a far more important story to tell right now. It’s the story of why I love Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali’s life is a story of sacrifice and conflict. For me, his heroism is the embodiment of ultimate sacrifice and the inherent, inescapable conflict of being human. His life was dedicated to destruction and peace. He channeled inhuman force and angelic gentleness. He enacted a dangerous rebellion and grassroots diplomacy. This courage of conviction led him to become The Greatest by giving up everything.

We don’t have to give up everything to win as parents. We don’t have to destroy anything (though when you watch a toddler gleefully topple a tower of blocks, you see that drive of creative destruction). Still, sacrifice is a daily part of parenting. Not the sacrifice Ali made. He unwittingly gave his life for his sport, and this is the utterly gripping tragedy of his story. Whatever it took, he did it. As we raise our babies into fulfilled, moral young adults, we don’t have to go that far. Yet, if we remain mindful of the the beauty of sacrifice, it’s so much easier to get up one more time at 3 am to feed a newborn, or calmly remind a 2 year old that we don’t bite people, or quietly take the hit when a frustrated teen slings angry insults.

Let’s think for a moment about what it was like for Ali to win those famous fights, against Foreman and Frazier. If you have seen When We Were Kings ( if not you should, today) you have watched him stand as this mass of a man pummels his head- think of the steadfastness, and yes, ignorance, of this. At this point you have no doubt heard the description of the victorious moment in the Thrilla in Manila, when Ali and Frazier were both “as close to death” as they had ever been, in Ali’s words… It’s beautiful and hideous. Just like all of our lives, every day.

I am a pacifist, a pediatrician, and a scholar. And I love Muhammad Ali. I love him because he gave up his beautiful, brilliant, explosive life for his work. His work started out as simply winning fights. But he was so much bigger than that. He became a flashpoint, a bolt of lightning in the civil rights movement. He never stopped working for the underdog. We aren’t larger than life, most of us. But we can make small sacrifices every day to make things better for our kids, our family, and our communities. We can accept the inherent conflict of parenting life. Those impeccable tiny toes and those endless dirty diapers. Those little hands in yours as you cross a busy street, which then viciously smack you when frustration hits. Those magical young adults with minds firing on all cylinders and then making the stupidest choices. Rope a dope. It’s all part of being our greatest.