A few weeks ago, my daughter stood in the middle of a soccer field and scowled her deepest, maddest, meanest scowl. Her teeth were clenched, and her lips were curled back like an animal about to bite.
She was furious at me.
My offense: yelling from the sidelines, telling her to watch the ball and take it. Go!
I’ll be honest, my cheering sounds a little like yelling. I think it comes from when I was a cheerleader in elementary school and I was absolutely convinced our school’s basketball team did better when I was louder. I feel like the decibel at which I yell is directly connected to my children’s ability to do their best.
The girls only had five teammates on the field and no subs for the 10th time, and the weather was vacillating between sweltering heat and stinging wind, so I was maybe even louder than usual.
And my daughter was ticked. She turned her back and sauntered back to her spot on the field, figuring out her best options for subversion.
I stopped yelling. I wasn’t trying to make her upset; I was trying to be supportive.
I don’t remember my parents screaming from the sidelines at my athletic events, but I do remember hearing my father’s whistle, and it was a sound that could stop me in my tracks. It was the whistle he used to get our attention when we were spread out in my childhood neighborhood in Oklahoma. If he couldn’t see us, he’d let that whistle rip, and when we heard it, we knew we were to run home. It hit a pitch that could pierce your eardrum — it was loud and strident, and there was no ignoring it. To this day, I wonder how he learned to whistle like that.
When I heard that whistle, I used to think I was doing something wrong. But I learned that it was my dad’s way of being heard — and, more importantly, it was his way of making sure I knew he was there for me, supporting me and cheering me on at every single swim and track meet.
Support is so important, and it’s something I’ve learned firsthand from my parents, who learned it from their parents.
Some things you just can’t do on your own.
Last summer, I ran a relay race from Logan to Park City. It was my second time doing the race. The first time, I did it with some of my best friends. This time, I only knew one person on the team, and we both joined at the last minute.
In 28 hours, I learned how much help I really needed. When other runners stopped to get water from their team in the midst of a long run, my van just kept on driving. When other teams cheered each other on, mine was silent. When I had the chance to sleep, my driver cranked up the show tunes — and “Les Miserables” took on a new meaning.
About halfway through the race, I was sick, angry and tired, and I wanted to quit. I pulled the driver aside and told him I wasn’t going to run my last leg. I wasn’t going to kill myself for these people, and there was no chance they would be finishing the race in time anyway — the pace was too slow and we were well behind schedule.
I started my last section, planning to stop just as soon as I couldn’t go any farther. I had my hand on my cellphone as I jogged up a hill, sweat pouring down my face on the hottest day of the year. I was about to make the call to quit, when, like a mirage, a man at a table on the side of the road smiled and gave me some encouragement. He gave me some water, a cold cup of Coke and a freezing wet washcloth to cool me down. I nearly cried, I was so grateful to him. With that support, I realized I was only a mile from the finish line.
I made it. I was still mad, but I was proud.
So, daughter, I’m sorry if my voice is shrill, or if I yell so loud I make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. I only want you to hear me. I only want you to know I am here, I will always support you and I will never stop being your cheerleader.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.