Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Love/Hate Relationship

I've had the conversation a dozen times or more.  And to be honest, I don't really know how to respond.  Because it's hard to respond when you know the other person is right.  And yet...

You see, the way I see myself and the way I've prepared my life to be, and the way I'm currently spending it look to be in a bit of contrast.  I grew up a vintage-loving old soul.  I crave a more hand-made life, more organic, more intelligent conversation, more dinner party with food made from scratch, local mom and pop shops, and trips to the local farmers market on sunny spring days.  

But.  For the past four years, I've spent hours and hours and hours of my life surrounded by polyester, pom poms and rah-rah nonsense language.  For someone who considers herself to be reasonably cerebral, the words "ooh ongalah", "scurrd" and "we got spirit" take up a disproportionate amount of my life.

When I look at the opportunities in the competitive cheerleading world, I can't deny that there is a part of me that really, truly, wishes my parents had pushed me to do more.  I wanted to take gymnastics - so they let me.  For a year.  And I stopped.  I wanted to take dance classes - so they let me.  For two years.  And I stopped.  I never achieved any kind of success or ability.  I never learned to do the simplest of moves - I've never been able to do the splits, and for all my efforts, the time step was ever-elusive.  I kind of wish I could have been a part of something that big - that required that level of dedication - that they would have demanded that level of dedication of me.

But at the end of the day, when my family and friends say the inevitable statement:  "I can't believe you coach cheerleading," I can't help but agree.

It's vapid and superficial and suffocatingly demanding.  I absolutely resent that in my conversations among those I work with, I'm often reduced to "the cheerleading coach" and all conversations revolve around the phrase, "Hey Liz, how're your cheerleaders?" The amount of time spent on bows and lip gloss and the appropriate height of a ponytail is staggering.  Sure, I've got a flair for the dramatic.  I love a costume and showmanship and the art of performing.  But that 3% of my personality is currently taking up about 47% of my life.

But.  For all the long hours, the frustration and the hassle, there are bits of it that I truly love.   I took on my cheerleading squad because I saw the shambles it was and decided I could help.  What ended up happening is so much more than I ever expected.  The decision to take the squad on came at a very pivotal point in my life.  I was a little lost and lonely and trying to fill a space in my heart.  These girls and their families have become a part of my life.  They've been almost like a family away from home.  I can't imagine where my life would have turned had I not let them into my weird little world.

It's something I do pretty well.  I built that program from scratch.  It's well-respected and gains accolades left and right.  The relationships built through that experience are real.  The leadership, social, communicating and team-building skills the girls learn are real.  The responsibilities are real.  Regardless of whether you believe cheerleading is a sport or not, the athleticism it demands is very real.
Because it do it well - to be successful in this medium -  it requires strength, dedication, and a willingness to give 100% to your team 100% of the time.  It requires so much more than you think it will.  So much more than you think you have.   And I am proud that something like that is a part of my life.

 But.  Damnitall if it isn't expensive and shallow and vapid as all hell.  My parents never wanted me to be "that girl."  And frankly, I really appreciate it.  I don't want to be a stereotype of any kind, and I'd be lying if the cheerleader stereotype was anything but ragefully negative.  Even as a coach, there is an unspoken and ever-present defensive element to the job.  The number of times I've had to justify what I do, to legitimize my time spent, or the needs of the squad - from practice and storage space to required safety and skill training, choreography and music and fundraising- questions of legitimacy a basketball or football coach will never have to answer.   It is unbearably frustrating at times.

But.  But ...

How do you justify the simultaneous emotional split of embarrassment and pride?  How do you maintain a sense of self that is seemingly contradictory to the activity that has breathed life into your years?  How do you find balance between two opposing worlds, continue to grow, and cultivate individual passions without betraying one of them?

I just don't know.

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