My younger daughter made a competitive level cheerleading team this spring. But I’m ill-equipped for the relational challenges her involvement presents. I’ve been thrown into an environment I don’t know how to navigate, and my usual protocol of hiding in the crowd isn’t working.
Now, I’m not talking the pom-pom waving skin show that usually typifies the sport, rather this is stunt cheer – a group athletic event that combines gymnastics and dance. I have always loved the idea of cheerleading, but my high school deemed the sport demeaning to women. (Which was code for too expensive. We didn’t have a football team either, we had rugby – so yeah, football without the equipment pretty much.)
And then I found out how expensive cheer is. To quote Bing in White Christmas it’s “somewhere between ouch and boing!” Now, I’m not independently wealthy – far from it. My daughter and I had to work together to earn the money for cheer. I sold a few more articles – she took a paper route to pay for half the monthly fee (you have to be dedicated to the sport to deliver flyers every week even in the snow).
However, the elitism is starting to drive me pretty insane. We haven’t even had a competition yet, and the mothers are backstabbing and whispering. “So and so doesn’t deserve to be on this team.” “I don’t like the coach. Next year, I’m taking my daughter to such and such club.” “I make Cindy-lou practice her tumbling for an hour on the trampoline every day.” “Mary’s enrolled in the tumbling for cheerleaders class on Saturdays because she has to have her double back-handspring before Christmas.” [because the 4 hours a week they already train apparently isn’t sufficient] Mother to cheerleader “You better be in the front row where I can see you this year. I’m not paying all this money for you to get lost in the back row.” (her daughter’s six)
And hockey parents get a bad rap! I’m having flashbacks to high school.
Now, bluster and puffery aside (I mean, these moms may just be all talk), being a cheerleader doesn’t define you. Being a good soccer player didn’t define me. It was something I enjoyed and was good at, but there was more to me than being an athlete.
I encourage my daughter to work hard and do her best. I don’t have to nag or force her to practice – she begs me to watch her. She watches the clock to make sure we’re not late. She makes sure her homework is finished every night, and the child who detested school has managed an A on every test so far. She’s focused in practise and doesn’t goof off like some of the others. She’s learning so many life skills through cheerleading that I consider it an investment well spent.
And who knows – freelancing is a bit like feast or famine. I can scrape the money together now – who knows what next year will bring. Carpe Deim.
Now, I wasn’t popular in high school. I was voted ‘the girl you marry, not date.’ I have too many opinions (as you may have noticed) and strict morals, and a penchant to write scathing letters, plays and stories that thinly veil the real villains of my world. I sit by myself at the gym and generally try to ignore the catty gossip going on around me. (Of course, the fact that I’m so shy I come across as snobbish doesn’t help my popularity either.)
I arrive in track suits, hair in a pony-tail, no makeup (hey, I wear a bra – I’m not completely uncouth) toting my laptop to work on the extra assignments I’ve taken on to pay for cheer. The other moms strut in wearing power suits or matching outfits with coordinating bags and jewellery, and gather together in a group to gossip and chit-chat. Their high-heeled leather boots clack across the linoleum floor right past the ‘please remove all footwear’ sign in the lobby. I watch these mothers, while shivering in my sock feet, and wonder if they’re really better than me – because that’s what they’d like everyone to think.
Not to say all the moms are like that, but it seems like at least half my daughter’s team are there because their moms are making them go. They’re forced to do cheer, and pushed to succeed, because their moms were cheerleaders. And while I struggle to pay for cheer, their daughters are also in competitive dance, or competitive figure skating, and complain about how to choose which competition to attend because they can’t be in two places at once.
It’s become glaringly obvious that this is a rich person’s sport – and I’m not rich. I don’t fit in. And to be honest, I don’t want to. Part of me wants to pull my daughter out when she comes home asking for outfits from Lulu Lemon – a store I’ve never set foot in. I want to cover her ears and rush her out the back door before the elitism infects her.
But maybe that makes me just as bad as the moms who put their daughters in cheer for the prestige?
I watch my daughter practice, and listen to her chatter about landing this stunt or that tumbling line. She lights up every time she gets to go to practice. This is what cheerleading does for her – for now. So instead, I’m striving to provide balance. I reinforce that being a cheerleader is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t make you better than everyone else – it makes you an athlete who must train hard and be dedicated to be successful.
Who’s The Villain?
But my stand-offish refusal to wear the plastic Barbie façade is also sending a message to my daughter. What’s a mom to do? Do you just suck it up, and endure the cattiness and gossip – smile and nod? Do you walk away from the sport? What’s the right thing to do? I see the way the other moms stare at my attire, at my fingers clicking over the keyboard and pausing to wave when my daughter looks to see if I’m watching (yes, I am an expert multi-tasker). But, at the same time, I’m sure they catch my glances at their clothes, their heavy makeup – and perhaps even see the judgement on my face.
Perhaps the elitism works both ways? Food for thought.
It only makes you stronger 🙂
“It would be different if one had tried to tell the whole truth. That would have some value.” – Ernest Hemingway
“A woman is like a teabag – you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt