Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Necessity of Cheerleaders

When I think of cheerleaders, I think of a girl from my high school I didn’t know very well and the day she broke her nose. During a cheer practice in the gym, she fell when someone was supposed to catch her, shattering the tiny bones in her face, and spilling a lot of blood on the wood floor—according to whoever passed the story along to me in the hallway between class. I felt so bad for her and even worse for the person who didn’t catch her.

Ironic how that’s the image that comes to mind. Not pompoms or perky ponytails. Just someone else’s pain and the obvious truth that my body and I were never meant to do backflips. Nope. I am no acrobat. (I left that up to my best friend, who was such a gymnast that the boys at school called her Xena, after the one and only warrior princess.)

But I think I’m a great cheerleader. I decided that after my last shift at the Family Support and Treatment Center, where I work as a house parent in the crisis nursery.

When the other kids realized I’m too slow to make tag fun, they went inside leaving Nate (name changed) and I out on the playground. Though Nate doesn’t really notice, I’ve known him since he was four. Our friendship goes back to my early days of volunteering in the nursery. Now he’s six, and I still don’t know much about his past other than that he was adopted out of the system. This kind of info wasn’t really important to me though when I sat down on the grass, and he picked up a basketball.

I don’t think he made a shot until about the fifth try. But when he did, I clapped and shouted, and Nate smiled in the way he always does: with more sweetness than you can believe. A few more failed attempts, and then point number two. I repeated the cheering, and he repeated the smile. And on we went like that. I thought he’d get bored sometime soon, but when he had made the eighteenth basket, I reminded him that he was almost to twenty. He realized how close he was, “Oh yeah! Eighteen, nineteen, twenty!” Soon he scored that nineteen and the twenty, and I cheered and clapped each victory. All the way to thirty-one.

He declared a time-out and sat down on my patch of grass to discuss the events. He was very satisfied with the score. I was mostly surprised by it. Nate has always been resilient and patient, so I take no credit for that. But I was astounded that a little cheering kept him going for so long. Having someone tick off the victories and minimize the mistakes turned a few baskets into thirty-one.

In the haze of summer shade and the quiet of a nearly empty playground, I realized I am great at this cheerleading thing. It’s less messy than I realized, and I think I could do it forever.

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