True story:  I am no athlete.  In elementary school, I wanted the bus to break down so that I did not have to go to gym. (Once it even did – oh, the guilt!)  In middle school, I dreaded volleyball because I was the one who could not serve the ball over the net.  As I see now with my own children, team sports can bring a great sense of confidence and accomplishment.  But for me, all those years ago, I found little joy in athletics.

It is kind of hard for me to admit, but in my first semester of high school, and for one semester only…

I was a cheerleader.

It is true.  To this day, I cannot recall what motivated me to do so.  My school did not value its cheerleaders.  I was not particularly good at it.  I had no knowledge about football.  I do, however, have the photo that has brought endless delight to my family, memorializing my brief, pretty forgettable experience as part of a squad.

While the Payless saddle shoes have long been retired, I have come to a startling conclusion:  the cheerleader remains.

For almost eight years, I have been my family’s cheerleader. Before the time my children could even understand, through the ages and stages, I was talking up eating, bathing, the potty.  I try to put a positive spin on anything we are doing, to include a three hour car ride, or trips to the dentist or the grocery store.  I have found that the more we talk about what we are going to do, the more prepared we can be, and often, even the mundane can become an adventure.

Last month, my mother turned 69. Holidays and family events with my mother are hard for me, as I seem to compare them to the past, even the recent past, when my mother was, in some ways, more present.  Nine years ago, we had no idea of what was in store for my family or how much it was going to hurt.  It was the very end of our blissful unawareness.  Before.

It is not hard to get my children excited about a birthday celebration. Even one in a nursing home.  My daughter picked out the treats and a special stuffed animal.  After a trip to the party store, we were outfitted with birthday plates and napkins, a balloon and the sparkly birthday necklaces.  On our way, we picked up lunch and arrived ready to celebrate.

We reserved a special room with wifi which would allow us to FaceTime with my brothers and their children, as we did at Thanksgiving. This time, the calls were far briefer.  My mother clearly could not figure out where to look or talk.  I do not believe she knew who she was looking at.  I no longer ask.

She enjoyed her burger and her cupcake, dropping food all over her lap, surprising herself each time she looked down and noticed the stains anew. Thankfully, my husband was there to redirect our children, who, understandably, only stay angelic in spurts.  We wrapped up the party and returned my mother and her loot to her room.

Usually, I relish my role as my family’s cheerleader. I love being part of our wild team.  But sometimes, and only sometimes, I need a substitution.  What a team player I have become.