As a Dad of two “performers” I have struggled to find where I fit in this part of their lives. The stage scares me; I prefer writing to performing, so being on a stage would be the last place you would ever find me. My kids are really good at what they do, one being a dancer, one being a competitive cheerleader. They love the stage, they love practicing and performing.
Yesterday was the first “cheer comp” of the season. It was not really a competition, but more of a showcase for her gym. There are six or so locations for her gym and they all come together and perform their team routines. It was actually a pretty cool event. At these competitions there are a lot of rivalries. My daughter will say “that’s such and such, she cheers at so and so and they only win cause they cheat”…. You know, things like that. But, at this showcase it was all positive. The girls were all cheering each on, all rooting for each other. It was pretty cool to see. We also have family that goes to another location so we got to hang out and my youngest got to watch her two cousins perform, which is always fun.
On these high stress performance days, I have settled into my role. I can’t do a ponytail; I can’t put eyelashes on or help with the uniform adjustments, or anything related to a 5,6,7,8 count. So, I try to take their stress and put it on me. I’m the emotional punching bag.
My wife does all the prep work, all the hair and the makeup and handles the insanity that is getting ready for a performance. If I see they are about to put the wife over the edge I step in and make a Dad joke or maybe say something that annoys them so they put their stress or anger on me. My kids both get incredibly stressed on performance days. The sky is falling, nothing can ever go right on the morning of a performance day. I know I can take it, even though they are RUTHLESS. I know the words and feelings are temporary. I know all the work they put into a performance. I get to see all the “behind the scenes” stuff. When they perform on the stage my heart feels like it might explode. I can’t breathe the entire time they are out there. All their stress they had before the performance is put on me while they are out there. Sometimes the teams do well, sometimes the number is fantastic, but I will never know that. I can’t take my eyes off my girls when they are out there. When I see them after I usually can tell by their attitude but if I can’t I just say “You were great” and I wait for the “thanks” or the “you didn’t see that stunt fall, we did so bad” to know how the rest of my day will go. If the performance was great I know that I won’t have to be the emotional punching bag for the rest of the day. If not, I’m ready for it. I keep my helmet and gloves close by just in case.
The next day, after the stress is gone, my kids go back to being exactly who they are. We talk about the day and we have real conversations about what happened. I try to value their opinion as often as I can. I know it’s an 11 year old or a 14 year old saying it, but lots of times I learn from them, so I don’t just discount their opinion due to age. We sort of them reset the clock, hug it out and then I make another dumb Dad joke and we are back to normal.
I’m always trying to find my place in this house. Living with three strong, smart and beautiful women I have learned that for the most part you get to be the punching bag. I never get to really throw any punches, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. My kids are constantly challenging themselves, stepping outside their comfort zones to experience things I would never even dream of trying. With those challenges comes a lot of stress, lots of moments where they question themselves.
Watching my kids on stage is one of my greatest joys in life. It’s my reward for all the other little moments. The punching bag stuff I’m joking about a little bit, exaggerating for effect…But the truth is, they let me be a part of all of it. They know I can’t teach them a toe touch jump, or even understand what language they speak when they talk about dance or cheer, but they know I will listen. I will say some dumb joke or cliché about “reaching for the stars” or I will do a spin in their room to take away a tiny bit of their stress and make them laugh at just how un-athletic I have become. So when they hit that small turn or stunt on that stage my heart skips a beat because I know the HOURS that went into just that one little part.
Living in this world, raising two beautiful girls is awesome. They are incredibly complicated little human beings. It seems like I am trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle, only every time I think I have it solved they add another thousand piece section to it.