Sunday, October 30, 2011

"My daughter is too young to be a cheerleader for Halloween, but don’t ask me why," by Jennifer Smith Gray

When I asked my four-year-old daughter what she wanted to be for Halloween this year, she said a cheerleader.
I don’t think so, I thought. But I said nothing, opting for the ignore it and it will go away routine.

It didn’t go away. I was pleased that she didn’t want to attempt the princess hat trick—she had been the cutest one around last year and the year before—but I knew she couldn’t be a cheerleader. I just wasn’t sure why she couldn’t be a cheerleader.

Desperate to nip this in the bud without too much fanfare, I started looking for alternatives that might catch her fancy. We already had a firefighter’s costume. Wouldn’t it be fun to wear that, sweetie? And there was the groovy girl costume, a remnant from my unsuccessful attempt to break the princess mold last year. That would be really unique, wouldn’t it, hon?

As we sat down for a family movie night, I thought that the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse had provided me a way out.

“Honey, what about Minnie Mouse or Daisy Duck? Either of those would be really cute for Halloween.”

She was interested. “They both wear high heels,” she said.

Yes, but you won’t be.

“And they’re both smart.”

Ahh, words to warm a mother’s heart. “Yes dear! They are both smart!”

It was settled then.

But it wasn’t settled. As we scrolled through the Web site with Disney costumes, there it was, right beside Minnie; a High School Musical cheerleader. I held my breath, feverishly clicked Back, and pointed out the robin sitting outside the kitchen window. But it was too late. She had noticed it too.

“Actually, Mom, I would like to be a cheerleader.”

Nope. Not going to happen. Again I ignored her and pointed out some other cute costumes. I even found myself pushing Cinderella and Ariel. Why not stick with what works? Anything but a cheerleader. Or Hannah Montana, I guess, but at least I can explain that one. I’ve nothing against Hannah. The show is entertaining and harmless. It’s the whole world of its young star, the hype, controversy, and gossip that I can easily justify not wanting to introduce my daughter to yet. But, I just don’t feel the same way about cheerleaders.

When I mentioned to my mother that her granddaughter was hoping to dress up as a cheerleader, she chimed in as expected, “Oh, she’s too young.”

My husband was in the dark about most of this, still suffering shock about the $75 price tag on the Minnie Mouse costume I was pushing like broccoli, reason having given way to my gut feeling.

I decided to go for the real test. I’d just ask him what he thought about the cheerleader idea. I figured he would say something along the lines of, “Cool, a cheerleader will be fun!” and “No, of course she’s not too young to be a cheerleader, don’t be such a prude.” I would relax, she would be a cheerleader, and we would all be happy.

Except my mother, but I had already formulated an argument for that discussion.

Cheerleaders are athletes. Why would it be appropriate for her to be a ballerina or a figure skate, or a soccer player but not a cheerleader? They wear short skirts, but so does Little Red Riding Hood, so do pixies and fairies.

You have to be much older to be a cheerleader. Well, you have to be much older to be a doctor or a chef—both universally accepted Halloween costumes for any child.

Is it because cheerleaders are perceived to be promiscuous, mean, or dumb? The movies certainly give that impression, but my daughter hasn’t seen those movies. How can I explain that she cannot be a cheerleader because some people think that cheerleaders are not nice, but at the same time teach her that cheerleaders are, in fact, nice? But then tell her she still can’t pretend to be one?

I played sports in high school. I had good friends who were cheerleaders. They were not promiscuous, mean, or dumb. They were dedicated and gregarious. Is my daughter too young to be dedicated and gregarious? I practiced and trained for my sports, stretched and warmed up, played in front of crowds, and represented the school at competitions.

My cheerleader friends practiced and trained, stretched and warmed up, performed in front of crowds, and represented the school at competitions. On top of that, they learned the ins and outs of every sport and kept the crowds engaged (no small feat at a school with a perpetually losing football team). I’d be thrilled if my daughter wanted to dress up as a point guard, a skip, or a shortstop. So why not a cheerleader?

“So, what do you think about our daughter being a cheerleader for Halloween?” I casually put it out there to my husband.


“I don’t love the idea,” he finally said. “You won’t even find a costume in her size,” he added, unaware that I already had one stashed away in our closet, just in case I ignored my gut feeling. Or that in my online searches, as I hunted for any kind of written validation that a four-year-old was just too young to be a cheerleader for Halloween, I had discovered hundreds of cheerleader costumes for her age group and younger.

But, I had my answer. Guts had it over logic. My mother’s traditional gut, my own slightly-right-of-centre gut, and my husband’s nobody’s-going-to-tell-me-or-my-kid-what-we-can-wear gut all leaned the same way right off the bat. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. Even if it means one more frilly gown for the cedar chest or a $75 mouse.

Fingers crossed that we can get through October 31st without my little princess (or mouse, or mermaid) encountering any four-year-old cheerleaders.

Jennifer Smith Gray is a graduate of the University of Waterloo's English - Rhetoric and Professional Writing program, and has extensive business and technical writing and editing experience. In recent years, she has been nurturing her inner creative writer, working on short stories, personal essays, and memoirs.

When she's not putting pen to paper, Jennifer enjoys exploring her East York neighbourhood with her husband and kids. Jennifer posts some writing here. You can read one of Jennifer's book reviews here.

See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Barrie, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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