The Cheer Mom

     In the fall, my entire family is obsessed with one subject: football. On Friday nights, we watch our high school senior play 6A football. You can’t beat the excitement of those games. On Saturdays, we’re all about the Crimson Tide around here. We go to Alabama’s home games and watch the away games on television in front of a coffee table loaded up with delicious snacks which have absolutely no nutritional value.

     Tell the truth: Don’t you think potato chips deserve some space on the food pyramid? They’re vegetables–right?

     On Sundays, I love to watch the Saints. This year, Alabama’s Heisman-winning Mark Ingram is playing for the Crescent City, so I’m especially tuned in. As an Alabamian, I expect to be feted with Mardi Gras beads and shrimp po’ boys on my next book tour stop Uptown.  Ingram is Alabama’s gift to you, NOLA. Trust me–it won’t be long before you know who dat is.

     This year, to ensure a four-day-a-week football schedule, we started all over in our house with seventh grade football games on Thursday nights. We don’t have a seventh grade football player anymore, of course.  My boys are too old for that. What we have is a cheerleader. That’s right. Now we have to go to the games to cheer for the girl who cheers for the boys playing the game.

     This notion did not sit well with me. Not at all.

     I never in my life thought I’d be a cheerleader mama. Even when I was my daughter’s age, I didn’t want to be a cheerleader. I did not pine for short skirts or poms. (They aren’t called pom-poms anymore, in case you wondered. That’s old school. Stick with me, baby. I’m in the know.)  To be honest, cheer moms scare me a little bit—the same way the mamas in Toddlers and Tiaras scare me.

     Naturally, since God has an ironic sense of humor, you can guess what happened.  As soon as I stated publicly and loudly, “My daughter will never be a cheerleader!” that’s what God lined up for us next. I should have known better than to toss down a cosmic gauntlet like that.

     That’s how I became a cheer mom. I was bumped from my football-parent stadium seat on the fifty-yard-line and sent all the way down to the front rows where every single toe touch a cheerleader does is up-close-and-personal and you can’t see a single play of the game.  I was not happy with the trade-off.

     During the first game, I sat in my usual spot on the fifty, about half-way up the stadium. I had a perfect view of the field. When I looked down to the cheap seats, I was puzzled to observe numerous hands waving me down to the cheer mom mob. I walked down to visit for a minute and make nice. I didn’t take my seat cushion with me because I didn’t plan to stay for long.

     “I can’t see down here,” I said.

     “Sure you can,” one mom said, puzzled, “Your daughter is in the middle of the front row!” She pointed out my own daughter to me, as if I was either blind or mentally incompetent.

     “I can’t see the game,” I clarified.

     “So? You can see the cheerleaders perfectly,” the cheer mom answered.

     It became apparent to me early on that my daughter is fundamentally incapable of passing up a sign-up sheet. She is involved in everything! Her grades are good, and the last time I checked, cheerleading is, technically, still a school-sanctioned extracurricular activity, so when she told me she wanted to try out for cheerleading, there wasn’t much I could reasonably object to.

     So . . . I thought up some unreasonable parental objections. I tried bribing her not to try out. I offered her cash—straight-up.  I told her, quite frankly, that I thought cheerleading was beneath both of us. I urged her to PLAY any sport she wanted, and I promised to be there to support her.

     “No, thanks,” she said, “I like cheerleading.”

     “But . . . why?” I asked.

     I could not see the attraction of simply cheering for others. It’s such a stereotype, especially down South where we live.

     “You’re smart and good at so many things!” I urged her. “Pick something else—anything else,” I begged.  I hoped cheerleading was a phase she was going through and that she would soon grow out of it or get over it.

     She stuck to her guns.  I dug in. I refused to pay for fancy cheer camps or lessons. My daughter remained undaunted.  She went out in the yard, slammed the door behind her, and taught herself how to do back handsprings. Observing her persistence and resolve over the next few months, I was sorry I’d refused to ante up. Guilt-ridden, I coughed up enough dough for a couple of lessons before she broke her neck attempting the next maneuver on her list: a standing back tuck.

     When tryouts rolled around, I refused to get worked up like some of the other moms. I looked at the number of girls trying out for the squad and the number of available spots and figured the math was with me. The day of tryouts, I bought a gallon of ice cream in case she didn’t make it.  Regardless of the outcome, I planned to be gracious. After all, cheerleading was clearly high on my daughter’s agenda even if it was low on mine.

      Of course, she made the squad. 

     The first thing I was asked to do was write a huge check. This did not help me adjust my attitude toward cheerleading one bit.  I showed up at the first cheer mom meeting (although I sat in the back and pouted with the other old mamas who are equally weary of fundraising, chaperoning, and ferrying large groups of children hither and yon).

     Now, I drive my daughter to rehab when she injures her knee, and I nag her to make sure she wears her knee brace. I hold my breath when she tumbles on the gym floor without a mat. It’s all part of being a mom, you know. Sometimes, you have to suck it up and support the things your kids choose to do—even if you think they’re stupid.

     Today is Thursday, so I’m going to plant my fat fanny in the bleachers at a seventh grade football game. Woohoo! Since I have to go, I’m going all-in. I’m going to sit in the cheer mom section and clap in all the right places. I can now carry on an intelligent conversation using words like “stunting,” “building,” and “jumps.” I’m going to be nice to all the other cheer moms and pretend an active interest in the choreography of the new dance number.

     I learned a thing or two this season about cheerleading. First of all, I learned that, these days, it’s a real sport. No kidding. These girls are athletes, and they’re held to a high performance standard that has nothing to do with make-up or short skirts. And I’m a big enough person to admit something else: My daughter helped me overcome one of my own prejudices against an activity I actually knew little about–cheerleading.

     You know what? Cheerleaders aren’t so bad.  If you’re keeping count, that’s one of my unreasonable prejudices gone and only 352 to go!

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “The Cheer Mom

  1. This is fabulous, Melinda! I really appreciate your sincere thoughts on this topic sense I am an Alabama girl too, and Ed and I can’t wait until we have a son who can play for the Tide. I’ve never thought about what if we have a daughter who cheers them on? I would have problems with it, too, since I was always an athlete…but you’re right. And I really and truly thank you for sharing and helping me overcome the same prejudice!

  2. Great to hear from you, Jamie. Best to Ed. Roll Tide! Roll Tide! Roll Tide!

  3. Tricia

    Melinda, I hope we never fail to fete you when you are in New Orleans! 😉 We do love Mark Ingram, and I’m sorry for us and for him that he’s out for the post-season. He’s been a terrific addition to our fabulous Saints, just as you promised he’d be! Miss you and looking forward to seeing you — and fete-ing you — this spring.

  4. Scott

    Your initial cheerleader stance mirrors Elaine’s exactly…so far we’ve not had to modify it…even with 6 girls! Great piece…you crack me up.

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