The Power of a Cheerleader-Part Two

(Backstory-Part One is an essay my mom wrote on cheerleading, parents, and a present.)

On his last Christmas (December 2004), my grandpa gifted to my mom a briefcase. A super-deluxe, multi-pocketed, briefcase-to end-all-briefcases. My mom didn’t understand why, as she was mostly a stay-at-home mom then. But she accepted his gift and when he died a week and a half after that Christmas, she put the briefcase up, my family made a quick trip to Pennsylvania for the funeral, and then our life in Andover, Kansas went on as normal.

Or so I thought. Later I learned (and I was eight at the time, there’s no reason why she would have told me then) that in those months after my grandfather died, my mom had fallen into somewhat of a depression. She woke up every night in sadness, her daily activities were muted, and she couldn’t figure out the briefcase.

My mom never has been and never will be a sports-oriented person. Growing up, she was always reading, never went to her school’s football games, and (if we’re being honest) thought cheerleaders were a little dumb. I can’t imagine her surprise when I, at seven years old, threw down my book and said “Mommy, I want to be a cheerleader.” Like the supportive parent she is, she signed me up, probably half-hoping I would try it, figure out it wasn’t my thing, and go back to my books. Spoiler alert-that wasn’t the case. I didn’t set my pom-poms back down until my senior year of high school. Everywhere I went (vacations, the grocery store, the car) my cheers came with me. Saturday mornings in elementary school meant waking up early, putting on my perfect pleated skirt, and yelling my little heart out for the Andover Cyclones. I loved that at least for a little while, my sole purpose in life was to tell someone “good job!” It didn’t matter if my team was winning or losing the game-I was there to encourage the team, to remind them they were great.

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On one of those Saturday mornings as my mom was sitting in the bleachers watching me perform, she realized why she had been feeling so down. Just as I was cheering on my  team, her father had always cheered her on. He was always on the sidelines of her life, waiting with a pom-pom and a smile. He gave her that briefcase because he truly believed that one day she’d be able to fill each and every pocket with something important. I know from experience-most people don’t pay too much attention the cheerleaders. They hear us yelling, they see us clapping, but for the most part, we’re peppy background noise. And for my mom, that background noise was suddenly gone.

I’ve known this story for a long time, but I never truly understood it until yesterday. As a birthday gift, my mom ordered for me business cards. Don’t get me wrong-I absolutely love them. They’re pretty and polka-dotted and make me feel so important. Not to mention, they came in their own little carrying case, etched with the phrase “let’s do lunch”. I was so grateful for this newfound glamour, but just like the briefcase, I was confused. Who on earth would I possibly have to hand out a business card too? But then I realized- I’d spent so long on the sidelines cheering others on that I didn’t know what it felt like to be the one on the field, to be the one being cheered on. And although she would never classify herself as “peppy” or “athletic”, my mom has been on my sidelines my entire life, doing battle on my behalf with pom-poms and a pretty bow. She truly believes that I am important enough to own business cards, that I’m special enough for people to want to take them.

As a cheerleader in high school, I sometimes wondered whether the players cared about our encouragements, or if they even noticed. But now I know the power of a cheerleader. When I’ve got the ball and the big guys are coming at me from every direction, that one voice on the sidelines can make all the difference.

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