Have I ever told you the story about when I tried out to be a cheerleader? It's heartbreaking and devastating and completely hilarious [in hindsight.] I am not kidding nor exaggerating when I say my failure to make the 9th grade cheer team at Chaparral High School in 1991 shaped the well-adapted, completely-over-the-cheer-thing, not-interested-in-something-so-silly woman you all know today. Well, sorta. (You can pick and choose what part of this paragraph are, indeed, true and which ones are blatantly a cover-up for some deep, high-school-trauma issues.)
Picture a gaggle of girls in the spring of 1991. (And no. I don't remember how much a gaggle is.) We worked hard and furiously in the Cowboy gym learning a new routine from the legendary Varsity cheerleaders. I remember there being a TON of girls, most of which I didn't know because I hailed from the just-barely-on-the-school-boundary border. That meant I was shipped daily to K.O. Knudson Jr. High as opposed to the much more trendy, popular, cheerleader-breading Woodbury Jr. High. The day of tryouts, we were brought into the auxiliary gym in groups of 3 where we performed for some non-partial (cough, cough) judges. My white t-shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, and my slouched socks had never looked so perfect. My bangs were as arc-ed as I could get them and my permed hair was pony-tailed with a scrunchie. And I tried out so hard. I knew I wasn't the best, but I had figured my odds, and I knew there was a chance. Slim, but a chance nonetheless. And let's face it. I had God on my side. I prayed A LOT that day. I rode the bus from K.O. then walked the 1/2 mile up Viking Rd. to make that tryout on time and I danced that fight song like nobody else's business. I felt pretty ok about everything and kept reminding myself, "at least you tried out. God will bless you in your pursuit of happiness."
See, in my mind, I had calculated that coming to high school without the backing of a social network (especially since most of my Jr. High peeps were staying at K.O. for their 9th grade year), it would be necessary to work myself into the socially structured cheer squad for popularity's sake. Cuz I knew nothing much about high school other than I wanted to be well-liked and popular. I know. I was deep at 13 1/2.
After tryouts the way they handled announcements of the future team was SOOOO sensitive and sweet and kind and pre-that-cheerleader-mom-in-Texas-who-killed-the-competition (remember that?!). Which, if you missed my sarcasm, means it was SOOOO tense and terrifying and mortifying. The varsity cheerleaders lined up in front of the 40+ girls trying out who were sitting on the floor all criss-cross-apple-sauced. And then they did a little diddy/cheer/thing. Stomp-Clap-Clap, Stomp-Clap-Clap,
, Stomp-Clap-Clap, Stomp-Clap-Clap, Applause and screams and cheers as the incoming freshman stood up to join the older cheersisters from the V and JV squads. So, the first Stomp-Clap-Clap was followed by a SARAH and an immediate urge by me to just jump up. In the 2.4 seconds it takes a varsity squad to call out the next couple Stomp-Clap-Claps, I had a quick vision of me decked in my fashionly orange and black high fiving all my new friends the following year. Alas, BLEEKER was called and I sighed a little. "Too much to hope," I thought," being called first. And curses for having such a popular name." A couple other names [I can tell you them if you really wanna know] were called before there was another Stomp-Clap-Clap, Stomp-Clap-Clap, . . . and you all KNOW I was dying a little bit, because SURELY this was my moment. Before I could make a complete fool out of myself, they Stomp-Clap-Clapped Sarah Tempkow onto the freshman squad and they rounded the team out with a fifth and an alternate. No third Sarah. Statistically, it was silly for me to have hoped. . .
Fast forward 19 years. My dancing queen of a daughter declares her intentions of being a middle school cheerleader and, not lying here, I was immediately washed in the emotion of not making the squad. I was very pragmatic about the whole failure thing as I walked the long walk down from the gym, past the waiting moms, to the parking lot where I waited for my mom. I battled to keep my composure as I reminded myself of what a long-stretch it would have been for me, a bonefide dork, to make the automatic upper echelons of the social strata. All those years later and I found myself immediately prepping Kenzie for the odds that she wouldn't make the team. I had many a practice convo in my head so I could help cushion Kenz's cheer fail fall easily when the bad news came [much as my mom did after she picked me up in the blue mini-van when she got off work that afternoon 1991.] LUCKILY (and purely for my sake of missing out on that moment in parenthood - which I am sure will come in other ways - do I consider it LUCKY) Kenz made the team and is living the life of a SMS flying tiger cheerleader. Rah Rah.
Since I know what the other side of being rejected from the cheer squad feels like, I am so thrilled that I, in a way, know what it's like to make the team. I'm sure it's similar to ANYTHING that someone tries out for and wants badly. However, I've come to the conclusion that I am not really living my life through my daughter and her whole cheer experience. God knew what he was doing and making the cheer squad in 1991 really wasn't for me [in many ways, I am sure.] Frankly, the whole cheer culture kinda baffles me and I have a hard time keeping up with all the people that move in and out of the popular circles. I've seen other moms who were cheerleaders themselves and are literally coaching their daughters through each nuance of the team. And that's sweet, I'm sure, for them. I can really only remind Kenz that she's supposed to actually watching the game instead of people watching . . . I don't know where she'd get that tendency from . . . I am happy for my daughter. I am happy she has found what makes her happy.
So tonight we hosted a little holiday party for the squad and they came and ate and gift-exchanged and Just-dance-3-ed. It was fun. And they were cute. My cousin, Jerolyn, whose daughter is also on the squad came to help me with set up and take down. Towards the end of the party, these cute girls were laughing and dancing and living a good life when Jer grabbed my arm and said, "They're living the dream." We both laughed since she, too, hadn't made the cheer squad she tried out for (eat your heart out 7th grade Burley Jr. High squad...) and it made me a little misty. Honestly, I want all my kids to be able to live out all their dreams, whatever they my be: cheerleader, spa-coordinator, Tony Romo replacement, ninja, or a video game junkie who gets to stay in his pajamas all day. That's a role of a mom, I think. One of the roles, at least; to be that person who celebrates all those dreams our kids may get to live. Even if the dream is cheer leading and it was our own dream unrealised.
*Post-script. I have known a lot of wonderful people in my life who are cheerleaders (because, let's face it, once a cheerleader, ALWAYS a cheerleader.) I have profound respect for them and I love them dearly. The cheerleaders from 1991 (through 1995) were my friends and I've since had other women in my life who have used their mad cheer talents to rah-rah me through some of my most difficult times in life. And I love them.