For my first paragraph, I'm going to finish every sentence with an exclamation point! Because I spent all day Saturday at a thing called Cheerfest which was a big cheerleading exhibition for all the squads in Ainsley's league! And there was just so much excitement and cheer and Spirit (with a capital S!) there that the voice inside my head is saying everything like a cheer! Go, lunch! H-O-T-T-O-G-O my roast beef is hot to go! Say what!? Woot, hot to go!
Okay, that's totally out of my system. Almost!
It was great seeing my kid finish out her first cheer season doing a great job in her routine and ending it all with a big smile on her face. And watching the youngest squads doing their precious little cheers (with most of their signs upside down) was so very cute it made me actually tear up with adoration of children not my own. But I learned something at this event, which took up all of our morning and most of our afternoon, something that will serve me well if this is what Ainsley's going to want to do for a few more winters:
Cheer parents are crazy.
I've heard stories about soccer moms and even swim moms in our area being completely and totally berserk and pushing their kids to be little Olympians before they're eight years old and chewing out referees and getting private coaching and in general taking something that is supposed to be fun for their child and turning it into a blood sport. I had no idea that cheer parents (not just moms--the dads were nuts, too) in a league where the cheerleaders don't even compete (the flyer I got called it "Just For Fun"--don't know what flyer these other crackerjacks were reading) would be so...serious.
"Do you have your water-bottle shakers?" a co-worker asked me on Friday. Her teenage daughter is an assistant-coach for one of the youngest squads.
"Do I have my what now?"
"Your water-bottle shakers. You know, where you take an empty water bottle and fill it halfway with beads in Ainsley's team colors so you can shake it when she takes the floor. Most of the cheer parents will have them."
"I think Jason and I are just going to go and quietly observe this year. We're new. We're just going to take it all in and see what all the fuss is about."
She gave me a sympathetic smile that said, "You have no idea what you're in for, but best of luck to you."
Her smile was right.
When Jason and I got there, all the parents were huddled into the cafeteria of the school hosting the event. Parents did have water-bottle shakers, and not just half-assed ones that simply consisted of an empty bottle and something inside to rattle and make noise. That would have been for amateurs. No, these "spirit bottles" had custom-printed labels on them in the girl's team colors and sometimes with the girl's picture, and usually neatly tied pieces of curling ribbon around the neck in the team colors. Most had craft beads inside, which to me seemed a pretty easy way of making some noise with the team colors. Others, though, had dyed beans inside them. Think about that for a minute. Beans. That had been dyed. Had I made a "spirit bottle" I would have just thrown some white navy beans in there and called it a day. But I would not have been a dedicated, crazy cheer parent. They DYE their beans. For reals. I don't even know how one would DO this.
It just made me want a "spirit bottle" of my own. Preferably filled with a margarita.
Some parents were wearing t-shirts in the kid's team colors that had been custom-made with their cheerleader's picture and words of encouragement. Parents spent money to wear t-shirts saying, "Hayleigh's Fan Club!" or "Extreme Cheer Parent of Kaitlynn!" Those without the where-with-all to have custom t-shirts at least dressed in their kid's team color with huge pin-on buttons showing their child's picture. Those that didn't have easy access to a button maker wore a megaphone pin with their kid's name artfully written on it. Even the dads wore these things. Most carried some kind of sign or banner that wasn't just made with dollar-store posterboard and a Sharpie; some were felt or cloth and looked like something you'd find at a craft fair. Others simply had to have been made at a print shop; they were on the same kind of plastic board used for political yard signs.
And then there was me and Jason.
I was just proud of myself that I got Ainsley to the event good and on-time and with her uniform neatly on her body and her hair tied into a tight ponytail. I thought I had done my job. There were many, many other things we would have liked to have done for 5 hours on a sunny Saturday, but we were there, proudly supporting our daughter. Is that not enough?
No, apparently. No, it's not.
"One of these things is not like the others," I said to Jason as we sat at a table in our team's designated area, looking at how we didn't quite fit in with the spirited chaos around us. There was a clear difference between the parents of Ainsley's squad and the rest of the parents. We were all just there; everybody else was there with flair.
Her squad always has struck me as the rag-tag misfits of the league. Kind of like the Bad News Bears, or the Wildcats in that great Goldie Hawn movie of the 80s (remember their cheerleaders? That's kind of how Ainsley's squad looked most games.) They were formed a month after the rest of the squads because they had initially signed up for another local instructional league, which ultimately hadn't had enough girls to form a team. The rival league, out of the goodness of their hearts and a healthy sense of capitalism, absorbed the now-defunct league. Most on Ainsley's team had never cheered before and were just along for the ride.
And oh, what a ride for the kids and their unsuspecting parents.
I was feeling like a guppy in the shark tank until they herded us to the gyms and got us seated for the squads' grand procession into the gym. I might not have had a spirit bottle, or a spirit t-shirt, or a megaphone pin, but I have a loud voice. And I can holler for my kid as well as anybody who's spent hundreds of dollars on custom clothes and accessories to cheer on a 7-year-old who, allegedly, is just doing this "for fun." I am a little bit white trash, after all. I know how to make a scene and make sure everybody knows which kid is mine.
If Ainsley felt at all slighted by a lack of outward displays of spirit from her parents, it didn't show. Her small squad, which had not been looking good on their long, complex floor routine in their last practice, pulled it off and looked as good as the bigger squads who had a month more to practice. Our little cheerleader looked great out there, if I do say so myself. Her coach made each girl a simple rattle bottle that they used to cheer on other teams, and gave them each a little white "cheer bear" dressed in the squad's colors after the award ceremony. It beat the heck out of the sad little carnation her dad and I bought for her last-minute after noticing all the other parents walking in with bouquets of roses to give to their girls after they finished. And that's fine by me.
Ainsley already is looking forward to next year and is making up her own cheers to bide the time until next winter (she tried some of them out during the UK game Saturday, but sadly, they did no magic.) So next March, I guess we'll be back at Cheerfest, better prepared.
Though I draw the line at t-shirts that say, "Extreme Cheer Parent!"