Tears For Cheers—But Not The Happy Kind

My daughter and her special abilities cheerleading team competed performed at our Provincial Cheer Championships this weekend. The kids loved it and they beamed under the spotlight. It was a beautiful moment in time. It was the kind of acceptance and inclusion we parents of kids with disabilities long for.

So why did I leave feeling completely gutted? 

The coaches and volunteers who have helped shape this team into a world class cheering force, are amazing. I don’t even have the words to express my admiration. Ironic, since I’m a writer and everything. They believe in these incredible kids and are giving them the opportunity to feel the power and pleasure of working together as a team.

This is to say, it’s all good. I am very grateful. But, I’m still allowed to feel the feelings, right? And I’m not talking about the rosy ones. These are dark little suckers. 

There were tears this weekend. Yes, some were the proverbial “happy tears” that leak from parental pupils that just can’t contain all the pride. But some were ugly. The ones you hide by pretending to blow your nose or try stop from spilling by holding your breath or swallowing hard to push down the burning lump in your throat.

I posted this photo of my daughter proudly clutching her team trophy with the caption: “Team Eternity cheered their hearts out at today’s Provincial Championships!”

They did cheer their hearts out and got a trophy. All the special needs teams got one. They’re in a non-compete division so this means everybody wins. I have no issue with that. It’s great. 

My daughter doesn’t care (or even notice) if her team wins or loses. She’s sincerely just happy to be there. And to be wearing that enormous bow. 

This was only her second cheerleading meet ever. At the first one, the special abilities teams were interspersed with the traditional teams. I swapped out the word “regular” for “traditional” there because referring to the other teams as regular implies that our kids are somehow irregular. Um, I might be overthinking this. I’m clearly a little sensitive because usually silly semantics and labels don’t bother me. 

Anyway, at the first meet I had no idea what to expect. It was loud and chaotic, and my eyes were darting all over the place. When I saw Avery grinning from ear to ear on top of her team pyramid, I cried happy tears in earnest. I was moved and touched and all the sweet things. I left feeling light and proud. 

As I sat in the stands this weekend and waited for Team Eternity, I was excited, just like before. But then something changed. 

All of the special abilities teams performed back to back and I noticed the wide range of abilities. Like, really noticed. I wondered how the mama of the girl who was struggling to stand was feeling. I felt for the little one who was crying, seemingly disorientated by the bright lights and the loud music. Empathy turns my stomach. But of course, I’d rather feel it than not. 

As soon as the first special abilities team took to the mat, most of the judges got up and left. Time for a break. I’m not judging you judges. I’m really not. People need to pee. People need to stretch their legs and fill their coffee mugs. I GET IT. It just stung a little that they saw this as a convenient “break” in the program. 

Again, I’m probably just being over-sensitive but whaddyagonna do? Feelings happen. 

As for the woman seated behind me… I’m not a violent person, but I wanted to slap her. When the first adaptive team came out, she was like, “What’s happening here? Oh waaaaaait. These are the special needs kids.” It was like a little Oprah uh-huh moment, only rude. By the time my daughter’s team came on, she was talking loudly on her phone, not paying attention in the least, just killing time until the break was over. 

So, that sucked. 

What I also found difficult was watching the dozens of competitive teams comprised of girls (mostly…there were a few boys) my daughter’s age—her chromosomally intact peers with their sparkly outfits, winged eyes, and bouncy hair. 

I found their physical abilities to be jaw dropping. The way they moved with such confidence and skill. Not to mention their sassy dance moves and dramatic facial expressions. They were fantastic. I’m not meaning to take anything away from them. They obviously train hard and love what they do. I clapped and cheered for them enthusiastically and sincerely because they’re amazing athletes. But just, ugh. 

I love my daughter like crazy. I wouldn’t change her for the world. It would actually be a disservice to the world if I did. 

And I’m incredibly proud of her team of young people.

But sometimes I just find it a little heartbreaking. For many reasons. If you’re a parent, of a typical or an atypical child, you can easily imagine. 

This was just one of those times. 

We’ll continue to go to cheerleading competitions. And even though for us, they’re more “performances” than competitions, I’ll be hooting and clapping and crying happy tears (and perhaps some ugly ones depending on the day and who’s sitting behind me) and cheering on our very special team. 

Go Team Eternity…soon to be Team Canada!! Did I mention they won the bid to compete (yes, compete for real) representing Canada at the World Cheerleading Competition this April?

We’re currently trying to raise funds to cover some of the expenses that come with travelling outside the country to compete.There, I said it again…COMPETE!! This is game on, folks. 

This is our Go Fund Me page. Please feel free to spread it around! 🙂 
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  • I have no doubt your beautiful daughter did amazingly well and was a star – is a star. She and her team get higher marks in my books every single time. They work harder than anyone else to be there and to focus and work together. Just being in the loud space that you were in could be completely overwhelming for many of them. I read this post because I hear you and I see this too. I recognize there are many times when the rest of the world right now acts as if special needs groups, teams and children are somehow an affront or an inconvenience or less than the typical children and the typical teams. I HATE that and I reject it and I want to punch people in the face who think that way. For instance – Oh that’s because the teacher’s time is always taken up with that special needs child. Oh my daughter – typically developing mini genius of course – doesn’t get enough teacher attention to be her best because of all the IEP kids. I feel like right now sadly this is bigger and more noticeable than it was a few short years ago which sucks.

    • Hey Paula. I’m not sure why my face appears here instead of yours. Sorry about that! LOL! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It’s a tricky situation. We all want the absolute best for our kids, but it’s sad when that means kids are lumped together and labeled and treated as separate.

  • First and foremost you’re nothing short of amazing for not slapping the woman behind you. I don’t know that I could practice that much restraint. I didn’t notice the judges leave their chairs but that is probably because I am upfront screaming my head off for every squad.

    Never in a million years did I ever think my daughter would cheer on any squad and I was beyond excited to find our squad a few years ago. My daughter has truly bloomed and come out of her shell more than I ever imagined. I had no clue her love and passion for cheer would help her excel so much – next year she is trying out for a traditional squad instead of a special needs one.

    Have fun at World’s and we need to meet up at Nationals.

    • I’m thrilled to hear that your daughter loves cheer so much. So does Avery! I was feeling out of sorts this wknd but said to a friend, “It doesn’t matter. None of it. The kids matter. And Avery loving cheer matters. That’s all.” Yes, all but three judges made themselves scarce. I don’t blame them. It’s such a long day. Any chance for a quick break must be a relief. The woman behind me though. She was just a jerk. No excuse for talking on your phone like that during ANYONE’s performance. See you at Nationals for sure!!

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