Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wherein my daughter meets a CHEERLEADER!

I do not like parenting advice, and generally I do not give it. But for those of you with children not yet of school age, I offer one tip that could spare you a lot of pain and suffering: Keep your kids home on days when there are school assemblies.

I know what you're thinking: But assemblies are fun and educational! Sadly, you are wrong. As far as I can tell, "school assembly" is now synonymous with "diabolical attempt to convince children raising money for the school district is fun."

Listen, people. I have nothing against public school systems. I have nothing against schools raising money. I vote YES on levies. I swear. Some of my best friends are levies.

However, I do object to my kid coming home looking like a brainwashed Stepford child and extolling the virtues of selling cookie dough door-to-door because someone (but most definitely not my child) somewhere (probably not even in our district) is going to win an iPod. And although she didn't know what an iPod was when she left for school this morning, there was an ASSEMBLY, with music and dancing puppets and (I suspect) crack gumballs being passed around, and now she's pretty sure her life is incomplete without one. And selling PTA cookie dough is the only way to remedy the situation.

Or, equally horrifying and more relevant to the title of this post, she comes home begging to go to Saturday morning cheer camp. Because you don't know this, Mommy, but there are CHEERLEADERS! at cheer camp. In their UNIFORMS! And if you go to cheer camp, you get to eat LUNCH with one.

Did you hear that, Mommy? Did you get that the first 50 times I said it? Because I will happily tell you again. YOU. GET. TO. EAT. LUNCH. WITH. A. CHEERLEADER.

(Cheerleaders being, as it turns out, just like princesses except they are louder and -- although I cannot confirm this -- their pockets might be filled with crack gumballs.)

So when A___ came home last week with a creepy Stepford-ish smile and a permission slip for cheer camp, I turned to my trusty library of parenting manuals, looking for the one with a chapter titled, "What to Do When Your Daughter Is Convinced Something Will Be Fun Even Though it Will Almost Certainly End in Cataclysm the Likes of Which the High School Cheer Squad Has Never Seen." Only -- this is so weird -- I can't find any chapters that cover this. I must have the wrong books.

To be fair, cheer camp is probably an innocent enough way for most kids to spend a Saturday morning. But my kid has SPD, of the auditory defensiveness variety. Loud music and shouting? They don't really work for her. Other things that don't work for her and often end in humiliating public meltdowns: dance classes, crowds, and new situations.

Sounds perfect, right? So I did what any good mother would do: I tried to manipulate her into deciding not to go, to spare both of us the embarrassment of another failed attempt at normality, while pretending not to care one way or the other.

OK, in truth it was a little more complicated than that. I described what it was going to be like and explored with her how she might handle it. I emailed the cheer coach to explain our situation, and we made sure there would be a quiet place for A___ to go if she needed a break. I let her know it was OK with us whether she decided to go or not. And it (mostly) was.

The one thing I did not do, was offer to stay and walk through it with her. My thinking was, if she wanted to do this, she needed to be able to handle it on her own. She can't always rely on me to be there holding her hand. (Plus, although I would not have admitted it at the time ... the tears and drama that ensue every time we're in one of these situations can be damned embarrassing.)

By Friday night she had decided not to go. I felt for her, I really did. She wanted to be a part of this, even though she knew it would be an unbelievable strain on her. Where does an 8-year-old find the strength to say no to what everyone else is doing, for the sake of her own well-being? When most people still can't do that at 13? Or 19? Or ... (ahem) ... 38? I went to bed thinking that, hard as it was, the right decision had been made. I was proud of her.

Naturally, I awoke a little after 8:00 this morning to my husband telling me that A___ had changed her mind and was going.

And here's the humbling part. Because I wasn't up and ready, my husband ended up taking her. My husband who (unlike me) did not feel the need to give our daughter an ultimatum (do it 100% like the other kids, or not at all). He agreed to stay with her for the entire three hours, and he let her do cheer camp her own way.

No, she wasn't out on the floor with the other girls most of the time. She quickly realized (as suspected) that it wasn't for her. Instead, she stayed in the bleachers, with her dad, where I guess the noise level was more tolerable (or at least she wasn't going to get bumped around by the other kids -- which, added to an already-stressed nervous system, spells certain disaster).

But she did get to observe all of the fun from a safe distance, learn the routines, and yes, eat lunch in the vicinity of a CHEERLEADER! On Monday, she will be among the girls who get to wear their camp T-shirts and giggle and shake their booties on the playground. In other words, it seems to have worked out just fine.

Tonight I watched my little girl perform the routines she learned today: shouting and shaking and hip-waggling for all she was worth. There was a big smile on her face and -- am I imagining it? -- just a hint more self-confidence in the tilt of her head and hips than I remember seeing there yesterday.

Assembly or no assembly, crack gumballs or no crack gumballs ... I think this one goes in the "win" column.


  1. I loved your post. As a "recovering cheerleader" who lived for school assemblys just so I could wear the coveted uniform and attempt to whip my classmates into a frenzy over less impressive reasonings than selling cookie dough or whatever, I can appreciate the various struggles and perceptions that these social masks and situations offer. It was wonderful to read how things unfolded for you, your daughter, and how your husband stepped up to the plate. Everyone's unique role and the special outcome for all was simply heroic. Better than an assembly anyday.

  2. made me run the gammut (sp?) of emotions yet again.
    I was laughing super hard at the "crack gumballs" (yes, EVERY time) and then you made me get these wet things on my cheeks that I hate. I think some call them "tears", I call them some other less tasteful names.
    I think that you can most definitely call this a win.
    For all of you.
    Yes, even you, mama.

  3. I love the way you tell a story....and what a heart-warming story this is! Great teamwork! Deserves a half-volume cheer! Mom

  4. Makes a good case for the two-parent household. I like it when the husband comes out looking good. But I also like the way you stayed engaged and watched the good happen outside of your own vision of what might happen, as it were.

    Uncle Doug