Thursday, July 28, 2011

Confessions of a Failed Cheerleader

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

And what would you lose in the process if there was no risk attached? That’s the other side of the question. Sometimes we are afraid of failure. So afraid that we leave the “doing” to other people while we cheer from the sidelines.

When I was in junior high, I wanted to be a cheerleader. Well, actually, I’d wanted to be a cheerleader since I was four years old. Ever since my friend, Cindy, did somersaults across the grass in my yard and tried to teach me to do the same thing. My legs never quite went straight up in the air and my spins through space had a definite ninety degree bend to them. Beginning somersaulters need spotters. Someone who is at least five.

In second grade I learned cheers from my neighbor, Donna. Fourth graders get to do everything. Longing for the day I could cheer for the Neil Cummins Elementary School Cougars, I imitated everything Donna did. And to this day, I can still spell “C-O-U-G-A-R-S”. Really well. In my sleep. But I can’t do a somersault.

Seventh grade. The snake pit of failure. I can feel it like it was . . . today. Why does junior high stay with you so? My best friend, Cheryl, and I stood in the miles of grass on the soccer field with a hundred other girls waiting for the cheerleading tryouts to begin. This was going to be great! I was going to be a cheerleader just like my mom was! We’d be popular at last! I’d get to wear a cute little outfit and . . . show off my chubby knees. I’d learn how to . . . somersault. Doom settled in over me like an Arizona dust storm in July. I glanced at last year’s cheerleaders who seemed to be pointing in my direction and laughing. I’m certain one of them said, “Look at her! All she knows how to do is spell “cougars.” I hung my head and went home.

Not only have I not tried to do something risky, I don’t even know how to be a cheerleader.

Unless you count marriage as risky. I still remember the flack I took when, as a sixteen-year-old high school junior, I accepted an engagement ring from my Air Force boyfriend and wore it proudly for the next year and a half before he finished a tour of Germany and married me. “You need a college experience,” my English teacher told me. “He can marry you when you graduate.” “Marriage is a terrible thing to spend your life regretting,” another adult said. I decided I would give marriage my best shot and do everything I could to be successful at it. I'm not saying that every eighteen-year-old should marry. But despite all the negative advice I was given, I knew I was making the best decision of my life. Forty-one years later, I'm glad I followed my heart.

Deciding to have children was another scary proposition. After all, the world was pretty frightening in 1981 when I gave birth to our son. What were we thinking??? And how selfish were we to bring our daughter into this wildly spinning globe of turmoil two years later? Still in our mid-twenties with only four years of marriage under our belt, we didn’t even own our own home when I became pregnant for the first time in late 1980. Where were we going to put that poor little baby? In a crib attached to our bedroom wall??

So we built a house. We didn’t do the normal thing and buy a used one. For the price of an old one, we could build something new. If we could get a loan. That wasn’t easy in 1981 when mortgage interest rates were skyrocketing at 18%. With $2,000 in savings, we stepped out on faith and accepted a friend’s offer of our choice of lots in her newly subdivided property, drew up some house plans, and began to look for money. A lot of money. Six months later we moved into our house, and for five years I wrote six mortgage checks every month to the six individuals who took a risk on us and loaned us money to build our first house during a catastrophic economy.

By now we’ve owned four homes, raised our two children, rescued three dogs who rewarded us with lengthy life spans, and lost only two Japanese fighting fish. We haven’t declared bankruptcy yet. We put both of our children through college while living on one salary. My husband still sends me love notes every day – it’s just that now he texts them. I still cry when I stop to think of all he’s sacrificed so that I will be happy.

I could have failed at all of these things. I still could. But they’re worth sacrificing for. They’re worth fighting for. Life is a risk. It’s worth it.

I feel a somersault coming on.

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