Pompons and Ponytails (aka: High School Cheerocracy)

When I was eight years old, every girl I knew wanted to be a cheerleader. We used to imitate the high school cheerleaders by shaking our cheap dime-store pompons and chanting the only cheer that every eight year-old girl knew:

 

“Firecracker firecracker, boom boom boom!

Firecracker firecracker, boom boom boom!

The boys have the muscle

The teachers have the brains

But the girls have the sexy legs, so we won the game!”

 

cheerleaders cheering

 

I will not even address how that cheer was so wrong in so many ways, although my inner feminist is screaming. I will now duct tape shut the mouth of my inner feminist while I share this next part with the world:

My 14 year-old daughter wants to be a cheerleader.

It’s true. She wants to try out for her high school squad and become a bonafide, short-skirt-wearing, pompon shaking cheerleader. I know. But she has good reasons that, thankfully, are much more valid than sexy legs and popularity. She misses gymnastics.

competitive cheer tumbling

As I shared in another post a few years ago, my kid was once a level-8 competitive gymnast. However, she did not have Olympic aspirations, and I did not have an Olympic-sized budget, and so she retired at the end of a great season. Since then, my daughter has been learning to redefine herself outside of the gym and chalk dust, and exploring new sports, like recreational soccer, cross-country, and track. She enjoys it, but she still grows wistful at the sight of athletes flipping through the air or dancing across the floor. After watching a bunch of high school squads doing basket tosses, tumbling, and scorpion lifts on TV, my daughter came to a decision. She was going to try out for the cheer squad. And so next week, I will join the parents of    other cheer-hopefuls at a meeting, where they will tell us how we will have to sell everything we own just to pay for the uniform and participation fees.

Oh wait, that was gymnastics.

 

cheerteamontrack

 

I once thought I would be more excited to have a daughter interested in becoming a cheerleader. After all, I was once a cheerleading coach.

Oops…my inner feminist just died of a heart attack, I think. Oh well.  Time to free Cheer Girl from my girly-girl closet for a moment and confess to the world: I WAS A MIDDLE SCHOOL COMPETITIVE CHEER COACH! Look, I was in my early twenties, okay? Pre-kids, post-college, teaching Kindergarten at a private school which just happened to need a cheer coach. So I stepped in and taught a group of girls how to do Herkies, and stunt, and do real cheers that weren’t just lame Steppy-Clappy cheers.

(Example of Steppy-Clappy cheer):

“Ready? OK!

It’s hot, it’s hot, it’s hot in here

There must be some Toros in the atmosphere!”

 

This is a Cheerocracy

No, we were much cooler than that. We went to an expensive cheer camp. We competed against other squads who did basket tosses and wore fake curly ponytails. We were the wanna-be middle school version of those snotty teenagers in Bring it On.

 

Cheer stunting silhouette“ONE! We are the Eagles

TWO! A little bit louder

THREE! I still can’t hear you

We are number ONE!”

 

See what happens when I let Cheer Girl out of the closet? Give me a second while I stuff her back in, right next to Elle Woods and the girl from Clueless. But I’ll still keep my inner feminist under wraps until after my daughter tries out for the cheer squad. And maybe until I satisfy this sudden urge to re-watch Bring it On.

No Longer a Gym Mom (aka: When Your Kid Quits)

Gymnastics Team Coaching

My daughter is the tiny one on the right

My daughter quit competitive gymnastics last year. At the end of a great Level 8 season, she announced, “I’m done.” And that was it. I thought it would be so hard when she gave up her sport. After all, she had been a gymnast since the age of 4 – nearly 8 years. Nearly 8 years of eating, breathing, and sleeping gymnastics. 8 years of living in leotards and eating meals at the gym, and being covered in chalk dust.

But you know what? It wasn’t that hard. My daughter was done. And she happily moved on to explore new things – a soccer team, drawing cute comic books, and playing with her brothers and toys and hamsters more often. Every now and then, she complains that she can no longer do a great split or a standing back tuck. But then…who cares? She is no longer being judged on her ability to do so. And I am no longer shelling out thousands of dollars a year to fund her sport. Which I did, because yes – I thought my daughter had that special something that could take her to the Olympics, or at least a university scholarship. (But then again, she is a disciplined, dedicated, mostly straight-A student. So who needs gymnastics for a scholarship?)

bye bye money

 

It’s funny, how our culture convinces us parents that it is not good enough for our kids to just explore the world. To paint pictures for fun. To try a few different sports for the joy of it. To toss a Frisbee, fly a kite, ride a bike. Remember when that was childhood? But now, ours is a culture of elitism and one-upmanship. Part of it is for parental bragging rights (Look at my Johnny! He just won the state Taekwondo Championship!). Part of it is fear (If my kid isn’t the best of the best at something, she won’t get into a good university).

All of it is rather ridiculous. Because here’s the thing – great universities still accept great students. Good universities still accept good students. And it makes more sense to invest those thousands of dollars into a college savings fund each year instead of throwing it toward competitive sports, hoping for that rare scholarship.

And we parents, we know this. We know perfectly well that if little Jenny never accomplishes much more than a few Girl Scout badges and a season or two of recreational volleyball, then she will not be any less of an accomplished adult than the kid who played first-chair violin until graduating high school (because we also know that hardly anyone continues to play their band instruments beyond high school, even for pleasure). And yet, we persist in our ridiculousness, pushing our kids through the gamut of competitive lacrosse and football and soccer and gymnastics, feeding them dinner in the car, and helping them with homework late into the night. And we assure ourselves that we are creating for our children a better future. competitive running for medals kids lacrosse

So I, too, told myself. Until my daughter quit. And I didn’t know before what a good thing it was to quit, until suddenly, I realized that my daughter has time. She has time to daydream. She has time to finish her homework, then play with her dollhouse, or watch Spongebob, or ride her scooter around the neighborhood. She has time to be a kid who is not on the fast-track toward becoming an elite athlete. And maybe this is what it takes to create for her a better future. Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

Life on the Scales (aka Parenting is a Balancing Act)

My daughter likes to watch her brother’s soccer games on one of her only days off from gym.

Today, I am being a bad parent and a good parent at the same time. You see, I am letting my 11 year-old daughter play hooky from school. I know, I know…what an irresponsible mom! But I do have a good reason. My daughter, who is now a level 8 competitive gymnast, is almost never home. Since she is required to train 22 hours per week, nearly every moment of her time is absorbed by school or training for her sport. Even when we do have moments together, driving to schools or the gym, she is usually doing homework. The sacrifice? Time together to swap jokes, talk about books, or learn how to French braid hair. Time to be silly and play pretend or even watch her pet hamster run around his cage. Sit down and eat family meals together? Ha! Five evenings per week, I hand my daughter an insulated thermos full of food to eat during her break.

Sometimes, I feel terrible, as though my kid is missing out on a normal childhood. Her brothers get so much more time to play with friends, to daydream, to bake cookies, and to lie about watching Spongebob cartoons. They get so much more of my personal time and attention. It seems so uneven.

“I don’t mind, Mom,” my daughter told me the last time I expressed these concerns. She is perfectly happy to eat from a thermos and breathe chalk dust 22 hours per week. She would rather swing around the uneven bars or do flips on a balance beam than daydream and play with friends. It is a sacrifice, but for her, the payoff makes it completely worthwhile.

This week, due to the time and financial commitment to her sport, she was unable to join her sixth grade classmates at science camp. So, rather than force her to go to school and be the only kid there, playing hangman and watching movies with a substitute teacher, for today, I decided to let her stay home. What a great morning it has been! We built structures together with Kapla blocks, did housework while listening to music, and then lounged around on the sofa, watching Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Then I taught her how to make the perfect cup of tea, while we discussed the book she is reading, Anne of Green Gables, and we ate warm slices of fresh, homemade bread. Next, we are going to paint our nails and practice French braiding hair. Bad parenting? Maybe. As for me, I call it balance.

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