Saturday, September 17, 2016

I wanted to be a cheerleader.

When I was seven years old, my parents packed up the house and everything we owned, put my sister and I in the back of the car, and moved us from Burleson, Texas to Oklahoma City. I remember it like a movie scene, staring out the back glass off the car with tears streaming down my face, gasping for air in between sobs as I watched the culdesac of Tracy Lee Court fade into a distant memory on the horizon. My seven year old self was being forced to leave everything I knew and loved because a new church had hired my father as pastor three and a half hours away. I was leaving my elementary school, my friends at church, my best friend Sarah and our matching dresses. I was leaving our house and my bedroom, and my box that housed my imaginary friends, a family of toads. In my seven year old mind, I was losing absolutely everything I held constant and dear in my life. And upon my arrival in Oklahoma, apparently I didn't do much speaking for a while. I didn't do much of anything for a while. My mom says she couldn't understand why I wouldn't get off the couch.

She and my father took me to a child psychologist. I remember the elevator ride to the top of the building. I remember the doors opening to a hallway filled with glass windows looking into large offices. I remember kid friendly posters of smiling families on the walls.

In the quest to find out what was wrong with this seven year old girl who was listless most of the time and seemed so sad and wouldn't budge from the couch after she had just been separated very suddenly from everything she loved, this doctor in his infinite wisdom had me draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I drew a picture of myself as a Mansfield Tiger cheerleader.

My babysitter back in Texas was a cheerleader at Mansfield High School, and it was the highlight of my year when she gave me a uniform to play dress up in. So on the page I scrawled a girl with dangly earrings covered in big swaths of Tiger yellow and black on the page.

She's angry, the doctor concluded. Yellow and black all over a seven year old's paper equals angst. That's silly. She just wants to be a cheerleader, my mother concluded. They both were right.

Eventually I got off the couch, started school in Oklahoma and made wonderful friends that I still talk to today. I tried out for the cheer squad in seventh grade and fulfilled my lifelong dream of finally becoming a cheerleader. Oklahoma ended up not being the gradeschool disaster I feared it would be. But all these years later, something still sticks with me about that ordeal of packing up and moving and not being sure of my new surroundings that summer after second grade.

How many times in life do we take difficult situations and complicate them more than we have to by not just acknowledging that things are tough, breathing through them, and letting them be until they pass. That's hard to do. As humans, most of us don't like stress. We want to fix the uncomfortable thing as soon as it rears its ugly head, and move on about our lives unscathed. But that's the thing about life. Those situations that pop up in life are there to teach us something- even if it's just how to react, to ourselves or others, during the hard times.

I'm sure it seems fairly obvious now, looking back, to both my parents and myself that a visit to a child psychologist may have been a bit of an overreaction. Or maybe it wasn't. Maybe my parents did recognize that as a seven year old I was deeply sad about leaving my home and my friends and they needed resources to help me. Either way, moving to a new state and beginning a new life can be an immensely stressful time for a family. Being there for each other, communicating about feelings, and moving through the difficult moments together during the adjustment are all normal things that should happen during the course of such a huge event in a family's life.

Letting the feelings breathe. Letting them be. Acknowledging them, their importance, and letting go of them as easily and as often as they came. With or without the broo-ha-ha of an appointment with a child psychologist.

Sometimes we want to kick and scream. And that's okay. I still move in and out of days where I want to kick and scream and say WHY IS THIS HAPPENING AND WHEN WILL IT STOP? But that little voice in the back of my mind still says to me, it will stop. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. I have to believe that. My dad has always told me, "If you don't like the way things are right now, just wait. They'll be different tomorrow." Then he laughs and says, "They'll probably be much worse tomorrow, but they'll be different!" And he's right, that's the nature of life. Everything changes and the pendulum swings. In the meantime, I have to let myself be angry and frustrated when I need to. And then I have to let go of that and make room for hope, even if it's just for a minute. Because that three hour tearful drive to Oklahoma doesn't last forever. How we move through the difficult moments is a choice we make. We breathe, we let the feelings come and go in waves, we fight, we kick and scream, we enlist the help of experts; the time passes the same regardless. Hopefully we come out the other side having learned something; even if it's just that we will survive-- and someday, finally get to be a cheerleader.