By Kate Kole
You know those things that just come naturally to some people? Like running or baking or hitting a tennis ball over a net? Well, cheerleading was not that thing for me. As an awkward 13-year-old navigating middle school, I really hoped it might be my undiscovered talent. And, after a week spent learning the routines, I discovered that linking movement and words and flexibility was not (and would not be) my hidden skill. Still, I went to tryouts and gave it my all. Clumsily flopping my arms and legs in the air, following the movement of the girls around me, and yelling to “Go! Fight! Win!”
On a cold spring morning, I stood alongside my aspiring peers, anxiously awaiting a glimpse of the roster for the upcoming year. To the surprise of no one, my name was not on the list. I suppose I felt the familiar kind of disappointment that comes with failure of any type. And maybe a little embarrassment too, because I had enough self awareness to know what my high kicks looked like. But more than that, I felt relief. I could put the pompoms down forever knowing that cheering wasn’t in my wheelhouse.
Fast forward 20 years and I am a bona fide cheerleader. This time in mom form. And, if I’m being honest, it still doesn’t always feel like my natural gift. I find myself repeating the same non creative chants as my son shoots his ball at his toddler basketball hoop. “Good job, buddy. Try again!” I get bored by the books we read and can only listen to approximately three kid’s songs before feeling like I might lose my mind. When my husband FaceTimes me during a work trip, I enthusiastically ask how things are going, only to half listen to his response as I prepare breakfast and pick toys up off the floor. I root for the people around me, but it’s often with a twinge of something that doesn’t feel good. Resentment? Jealousy? Comparison? I can’t quite pinpoint the sensation, yet I know it doesn’t align with the peppy and supportive vibe that I believe I’m supposed to feel. I’m missing the constant smile and infectious energy. At best, I think I’d be the last girl to make the JV squad right now.
Then, I remember sitting in the football stands and watching our high school cheerleaders do push-ups each time the team scored. One push-up for every point. I wonder how tired their arms were by the end of the game. Or how hoarse their voices were by the end of four quarters. Or how many times they simply didn’t feel like putting on their uniforms and pumping up everyone else for three hours.
Ultimately, I imagine they did it because it was more rewarding than it was grueling. Because it filled something up inside them in a way that nothing else could. Much like motherhood, for all that it required of them physically and challenged them emotionally, the reward was worth more than the cost required.
And with that, I realize, maybe I’m not such a bad cheerleader after all. Sure, sometimes I’m tired and distracted. Spreading peanut butter and jelly on a bagel doesn’t always spark joy. And I often still feel like a child playing dress up as an adult. But hearing my son giggle as we play peek-a-boo? It’s my favorite sound in the world. And getting my husband’s phone call that he’s coming home from work? It’s the best call of my day. And seeing the people I love experience success? It’s the best mix of inspiration and pride.
Playing the support role sometimes feels hard. And it also feels like the greatest gift. To be part of someone else’s story. To stand beside my kid as he experiences all the amazing and terrible things life has to offer and to be the one who gets to remind him, “you can do this” and “I’m on your team, no matter what”. My coordination might still be lacking but I can cheer.
Featured image via Pexels