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SANDY BANKS

Life Changes in the Flash of a Pompom

October 08, 2000|SANDY BANKS

"I'm going to need new shoes this season," she tells me. "These are too tight; they hurt my feet."

"Soccer shoes, right?" I ask casually.

"Right," she says, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror. "But don't get them much bigger. I might not need them next year."

--Mother and daughter,

Aug. 29, 1999

*

It's game day at our house again, and we're caught up in a frenzy of preparations.

But this time, the frantic search is not for mud-caked shoes, missing shin guards or the bright green socks that match her "Strikers" jersey.

"Hair gel!" she shouts. "I need the glitter gel!" And the lip gloss, the hair ribbons, some sparkly earrings and a pair of butterfly clips to hold her ponytail in place.

She pauses for a final turn in the mirror, then pirouettes and looks back over her shoulder, smoothing the pleats of her too-short skirt. Another dab of hair gel and she's field-worthy.

She grabs her gear--a duffel bag stuffed with blue and white pompoms--and rushes me toward the door. "C'mon, mom, hurry. . . . Don't make me late for my very first game."

*

I suppose I should have known it would come to this. I pushed her on, through three years of soccer and two seasons of basketball, but her heart never belonged to the games.

And so this spring, my 11-year-old declared her independence: She would not be playing soccer this fall. She was going out, instead, for the "spirit squad."

I comforted myself by deciding the odds were against her making the team. She's an athlete, not a dancer; quick and tough, not dainty; built for the rough-and-tumble of a soccer field, not the bump-and-grind of a cheerleading routine.

But she practiced every night for weeks, slinging her hips to Ricky Martin, learning to keep time to the music, to bounce and smile and jump on cue. And when the call came telling her she'd made it, she pronounced it "the happiest day of my life."

And to my surprise, I felt pride in what she'd accomplished. She'd conquered her shortcomings and my misgivings. She'd made her mom's nightmare her own dream-come-true.

It's not that I dislike cheerleading. I was once a pompom girl myself. I remember the fun, the camaraderie, the cachet that accompanied a cheerleader's popularity.

But that was 30 years ago, when there were few sporting options for female athletes. There are no bars keeping us off the court these days, no edicts forcing us to the sidelines.

So all their lives, I've nudged my three daughters forward, watching with pride as they played the games I'd watched, took the chances I'd been denied.

Could I muster that same pride now, I wondered, if my middle daughter stepped back from stage to sideshow, content to let the real athletes shine?

*

Who rocks the house?

The Eagles rock the house.

And when the Eagles rock the house, they rock it all the way down

All the way down . . .

They shimmy their hips in unison, a dozen girls in tight shirts and short skirts, ponytails and pompoms flying. The crowd roars as they perform, the action on the basketball court eclipsed for a moment.

But my eye is drawn to a girl on the floor . . . small, brown-skinned, fleet-footed like my own. She is stealing passes, driving the lane, tossing up three-pointers from near midcourt, while my daughter on the sidelines cheers her on.

That is the daughter I thought I'd have--the girl dripping sweat, pausing to adjust her kneepads, not fix her hair.

It's not that I am disappointed, just bewildered . . . and a little scared.

How did this daughter of mine grow beyond my plans for her, my dream that she would live the kind of life I never had a chance to lead? I feel disoriented, left behind, still wedded to the image of a little girl dashing down a field in baggy shorts and an oversize jersey. She is no longer mine to mold. She's forcing me to look at her differently.

I see the swish of a skirt over budding curves and feel oddly betrayed. She is no longer just flexing her muscles but flaunting her femininity. I watch the boys eye her at a football game and wonder if she notices them, as well.

*

I got a call from her soccer coach last week. The team is doing well, she said, but the girls miss my daughter . . . her strong, sure kicks; her lightning-fast speed.

"Cheerleading, huh?," she says, and I think I hear a hint of derision.

"She's just trying it," I tell her, with more confidence than I feel. "She'll be back next year, I think."

Then I watch her later, running like a gazelle across the football field, to join the cheerleaders on the other side. And I still cannot help but wish there were a soccer ball at her feet.

*

Sandy Banks' column runs on Sundays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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