Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Reluctant Cheer Mom {aka "The Post in Which I Offend the Whole World"}

I scanned the room. 

Good. It's our first meeting and so far there are no perky moms handing out home-baked muffins and Proud Parent of a Cheerleader bumper stickers.

As I flipped through the paperwork, I sighed in dismay. Where is the "conscientious objector" form? 

Where is the nametag that says, I am here under protest? 

Where is the sign-up sheet for reluctant cheer moms?

The saga began last January when she announced that she was going to try out for cheerleading at the end of the school-year. 

My husband and I exchanged panicked glances and commenced to doing what parents do best when their adolescent child submits some sort of ridiculous scheme like hitchhiking cross-country over the summer or trying out for the middle school cheerleading team. 

We redirected.

Our initial conversation around the dinner table went something like this:

Us: Um, really? But you've never done cheerleading or even much in the way of gymnastics. 
Daughter: I know. But I think I can do it. I think I'd be good at it. 
Us: What about cross-country? It's so fun. And 7th grade is when your dad and I started running. I'm pretty sure a lot of your friends, like all of them, are running cross-country. 
Daughter: Guys, you know I hate running. It hurts and give me cramps in my side and most of all it's really, really boring. 
Father: What about golf? There are lots of scholarships for female golfers.
Daughter: Seriously Dad? Golf is even more boring than running.  
Me: May I just ask, why are you so drawn to cheerleading? Why on earth do you want to do this sport in which you're stuck on the sidelines cheering on the people actually playing the sports? 
Daughter: Because Mom, I want to fly through the air and learn those dances. It looks so fun. 
Me: Great. So you're picking a sport that cheers on the actual sport and you're going to die in the process. This is awesome.
Father: Your mom is right, honey. Did you know cheerleading is the most dangerous sport for women in the U.S.? 
Daughter: I won't get hurt. They train you really well and I promise no one will drop me.


We thought it would pass. After all, the winds of adolescence are fickle breezes and we knew she'd come to her senses or chicken out or simply choose something else.

She did not.

My husband and I privately ranted to one another. 

Where is the net benefit in this? he asked. 

I know! I said right back. This is not a lifetime sport. 

It's not even a sport, he replied. It's more of an activity. 

For real, I vented. They're smiling and pom-pom-ing for the people doing the actual sports. 

{Please, all former or current cheerleaders reading my blog, do not send hate mail. Cheerleading is totally a sport and you guys are amazing athletes. We love you and my husband retracts that last statement.}

At some point, I knew we simply had to support her.  

We realized she's at the age where she desperately needs our encouragement and affirmation in the endeavors of her choosing, that our support is more important than our attitudes toward cheerleading.

Besides, we're her parents and we knew she was a total amateur at this. Lots of girls were trying out. 

She was so not going to make it.

As the days of tryouts ticked by during that last week of school, I'm not sure who was more nervous. I videoed her dance on my phone and texted it to her aunt who was an amazing cheerleader back in the day and who can still do back flips and twists on the trampoline even though she's 37. We needed some expert advice and we all know that I bring nothing to the table.

I didn't even want her to try out. But there I was, the last day of tryouts, biting my nails and texting her grandmothers and aunties, asking them to say a prayer for her. All day I was a wreck

She was intent on making the team. I knew she wouldn't. 

I'd prepared various consolation speeches and made plans to drown our sorrows in Fro-Yo.

But somehow the unthinkable happened. You already know this, right?

She made the team. 

I hugged her and stomped my feet in the parking lot and squealed a little. 

I can't believe you made it! I told her. 

Mom, I can't believe you thought I wouldn't make it. You really thought I wouldn't make it?!? 

And deep down I said to myself, No I really thought you wouldn't make it.

As happy as we were in that moment, we talked the whole way home about the flip side. Yes, she was excited but it was tempered with sadness and guilt. 

As we all know, not everyone makes the team. 

I understand that virtually every sport issues its verdicts and holds its tryouts but it's still a very cruel process for the fragile spirits of middle school girls to endure. For this reason alone, I kind of want to boycott the process entirely. 

It made me even more conflicted and unresolved about the whole thing because I knew some of those sweet girls who didn't make it. I wanted no part in this terrible, tearful ordeal.

And then there's my own "baggage," if you will.

I had cheerleading friends in high school and college. Truly, I was not at all judgy about the actual cheerleaders. For the most part, I was not judgy. Twenty percent of the time, absolutely not very much judgement. 

Okay, for real, I had friends who were cheerleaders and we'll leave it at that.

{Please, former cheerleading friends on Facebook, I love you. I do. I beg you not to un-friend me because of this post which is equal parts catharsis and confession.} 

But when I was in college some of my equally mature friends and I may have mocked the cheerleaders for one reason and one reason only: 

Their pronunciation of the letter "W." 

The school I attended has a "W" as the middle letter of its name. A "W" followed by a "U" for university. It's a difficult phonetic transition, to be sure, an enunciated "W" followed by an enunciated "U." Because of this, perhaps there is some special pronunciation guide reserved only for cheerleading chants in which perfectly normal letters are pronounced in a nonsensical fashion and because I have not read the guide, I am showing my ignorance. 

But. When our enthusiastic college cheerleaders chanted our school name, they said:


Yes they did. We found it hysterical.

Embarrassing as it is to admit, I have baggage. Baggage from the bleachers. 

Years of watching you perky co-eds {my adorable sister-in-law included} in your cute skirts and grosgrain ribbons cheer and say your letters weird and put my awkward, non-athletic self to shame with your perfect pyramids, perma-smiles, and bouncy back sort of prejudiced me against my own daughter's ambitions. You impressed me and intimidated me and I may have passively-aggressively retaliated by making fun of your W's

But I've also got baggage from my own crazy, over-thinking self. Something about my daughter desiring to be a cheerleader brought every seemingly dormant feminist thought I've ever had to the surface. 

It's like I was a stay-at-home mom turned extremist Women's Studies professor. {No offense to my real-life Women's Studies professor friends.}

My inner monologue said things like: 

She and all the other females are just going to exist along the sidelines with their cute skirts and big bows and clappy hands and cheer on the males who are actually the ones doing all the work. 
She's just spectacle. An exhibition. Cute entertainment.
This is how objectification begins. I must drag her from the sidelines. Stat. 

Matters were made worse when she asked if there is such a thing as professional cheerleading. 

No, I wanted to reply. 

There is no absolutely no such thing as grown-up women cheerleading on the sidelines of LA Laker games wearing next to nothing and spray-tanned within an inch of their lives. If you ever see this on TV, it's just pretend.

My mind has a way of getting away from me. First stop: middle-school cheerleader. Final stop: Laker Girl. {No offense to the Laker Girls reading my blog.} 

Can we just retitle this post, The One In Which I Offend the Whole World?

Clearly I need help. This is not normal. Please unplug my brain.

Friends, can you sympathize with my angst? 

Between the girls who didn't make the team and the baggage from the bleachers and the baggage from all those books I read in grad school and the shocking state of scantily-clad "cheerleaders" shaking their pom-poms {among other things} and wearing nothing but a sequin on Sunday Night Football, I am surely the most reluctant cheer mom on the planet.

But God, in his hilarious orchestration of my life, gives me a daughter who rejects every possible extracurricular suggestion in my plan book and becomes a cheerleader. 

Karma, with her smug, self-satisfying, sardonic ways, decides to zap me with her magic wand because I made fun of "DUBBAH." 

Thankfully that's not the end of the story. You probably figured that, right? 

The strangest and sweetest irony began to unfold in this drama over the last few months. My girl and her cheerleading ways got the best of me.

Here's the thing. Something magical and mysterious takes place within a mama's heart when she sees her child finding her way and connecting with desire and loving cheerleading so much that practices are the highlight of her day. 

Something happens to the entrenched stereotypes and the this-is-not-what-I'd-planned-for-you-or-for-me attitude.

They're washed away by the Mama-tears that well up without notice and the Mama-pride that will beat down anyone who ever makes fun of pom-poms.  

A crazy thing happened when she put on that uniform for the first time and asked, How do I look, Mom? 

I flat out cried. She looked so grown-up and so pleased and so...her in that uniform. Like it was meant to be.

She had a budding confidence and assurance that took my breath away. Let me tell you, I was so not that brave in 7th grade. I was ten shades of scared and shy and clueless.

I pondered and wrestled with this cheerleading thing all summer. I even wrote this post over two months ago and let it sit there as a draft. The timing just didn't seem right. I didn't know if I'd ever actually publish it. 

But here we are at the end of the football season. Tonight is her last game and it feels fitting to confess how wrong I was and how much I've learned from a 7th grader in a darling polyester uniform. 

She's taught her dad and me a thing or two about courage and determination and knowing who you are. She wouldn't cave to our not-so-subtle pressure to give cross-country a try. She didn't choose a different route for the sake of people-pleasing and peace-keeping. 

She knows who she is. But more importantly, she knows who she's not. Which means she's about three decades ahead of me.

There's so much we can learn from our kids if we'll just let go and embrace the beauty of their uniqueness, if we'll discard our own expectations and simply "notice the becoming." 

Why is it sometimes so hard to simply let them be who they are? Why can't we just be all in and stand alongside them with our own proverbial pom-poms, cheering with all our might whether they're dribbling a ball or designing outfits or nose-deep in one book after another or building restaurants in the driveway out of cardboard

Our kids are who they are. Why would we mess with a design that is so much greater and more divine than our own finite plans?

Sometimes I wonder why the kids aren't the ones raising us. {And then I recall that we're three months into school and mine are still leaving their lunch-boxes at recess and perpetually confused about which day of the week it is.}

So daughter of mine, you've gotten your wish. 

Cheer loud. Cheer proud. Fly through the air and feel the wind whipping through that larger-than-life purple bow of yours. 

Smile and clap and fake like you understand football. Do your thing and love every minute of it.

We'll never be able to tell you how proud we are.

But for Heaven's sake, I beg of you, please pronounce your "W's" like you've got some sense.


Next post: The Reluctant Pole-Vaulter Mom. People{, she informed us this week that pole-vaulting is going to be her high school sport. After several parental lectures on the need for upper-body strength, sprinting ability, and agility, we remembered what happened with cheerleading. 

And promptly shut our mouths.

To be continued...

*This post was published with permission from the cheerleader herself. 


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  1. I haven't laughed this hard or this long since the family Food Lion episode!!! I know that the written word is your thing, but have you considered stand-up?


  2. Marian,
    This post could be written right alongside my boy's football season. I photographed their City Championship game that started an hour late in inch deep mud, totally understanding the game of football. Watching those boys get knocked down just to get back up again, caked in mud, aching from every hit, bloody, banged up and still fighting on a cold Florida night. Something in me shifted. I had admiration and sheer joy for those boys and the coaches. We had 14 players by the end of the game. 11 play on the field at one time. The other team must have had 35 players. Our kids played hurt. Played hard. Played way past the allotted time for the game into double overtime winning 19-18. The joy of winning was overwhelming.

    Tripp had just completed 12 miles and 26 obstacles in the Tough Mudder in Tampa. He was riding that high as he drove straight to the boy's game.

    It was a good weekend for the Worthys. Full of testosterone and masculine victory!!!!
    Praise God for teaching us through our kids (and our husbands)

    And I stood on the field with them, grasping my camera tightly trying to capture every moment!
    You can see the night in pictures here:

  3. Scooper,
    It's been said numerous times -- you have a way with words. Engaging, descriptive, cathartic and comedic are just a few.
    Thank you for this post, it is so timely as we struggle with choices our high school gal is making that go against our baggage and preconceptions of life in high school.
    Love, love, love how you bare your thoughts for us with such flair. Your mom is right-- stand up could be another career choice :-)
    Hugs xoxoxoxox

  4. First, loved running into you as I was calmly leaving Trader Joe's (dolla store...) yesterday with my whole life perfectly put into place. Perfect timing God. :) Secondly, I cried at the pictures of your big girl so grown up! I had a major flash back to her being a little toddler in your house by the highway. Great job mama on loving your cheerleader. My cheerleader is now an awesome Michigander mom of 3 kiddos- one of which I am certain wants to follow in her footsteps. She actually now that I think about it, is probably one of the greatest life "cheerleaders" I know. Also, her husband comes home from Afghanistan today so we are majorly stoked around here. Wish I had some poms!!! Love you!

  5. "Honestly, I should have just entitled this one, The Post In Which I Offend the Whole World."


    Seriously though, this post is really sweet. :)

  6. I understand where you’re coming from. I don’t know if it is just stereotyping, or maybe the influence of media, that has caused most of us to tend to place cheerleaders in a small box and classify them in a certain way. I think it's normal for you to be reluctant with regard to your daughter joining the cheerleading team. But I am glad that you are trying to support her and are actually going out of your way to show it. :)

    Jennine Stalder @ UE Sports


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