“I still think I don’t want to go to practice tonight,” she said. It was the only thing she said, and it was notable as much for the fact of its utterance as much as what it uttered; she doesn’t speak to us in the morning. We’d hardly spoken of this since Tuesday night, when she cried all the way home and bellowed that she was never going back. She’d been wrestling the matter to the ground silently while we watched.
“That’s it then,” her mother cautiously interpreted. “If you don’t practice tonight you don’t compete on Saturday. You’re quitting.”
She looked down at the countertop where she sat for one, two, three beats. “Yeah, it just takes up all my free time and I don’t need to be talked to like that anymore, like I’m lazy and nothing I do is good enough.”
I stood still and tried not to intrude on the announcement or the hard labor that it took to give it. But we were late for school, so I ventured “Okay . . . you can give it the day to be sure and we’ll talk about it again after school.” She didn’t answer, but grabbed her coat and backpack and made for the door.
We were in the car home from school barely a minute when she came back to the subject. “I still don’t want to go tonight.”
As flatly as I could, I probed, “You want to be done with cheer?”
“I thought about it all day,” she explained. I didn’t doubt her. She’s thought of hardly anything else these past several days, weeks in fact. She did “research” on it today, though, spelunking the depths of TikTok and YouTube for videos with the #cheer hashtag, no doubt looking for testimonies to support her conviction. She found it a’plenty, to hear her tell it: accounts of former cheerleaders with eating disorders and anxiety and depression. I didn’t begrudge the search for support, but something about relying on TikTok to make a major decision made me wobbly.
“More than anything you see on social media, how you feel about the activity and what you want is what really ma–“
“Yeah, I know.”
We drove a few more blocks before I moved to matter to its inevitable terminus. “So when we get home I’ll call your coach and tell him you’re not coming tonight and that you’re finished with the gym.”
She hesitated but a moment before she answered. “Yeah.”
And that’s how it happens that hours in your week suddenly become available and that entire weekends open up, hotel reservations, car rentals, and flights are cancelled, and you text the only other parent from the team you know, the one who has given Daughter rides to practice in a pinch, to wish his kid the best. That’s how you find yourself controlling your volume and tone on the phone with the coach who tells you he’s been coaching for 35 years and has never had any problems, an assertion that conveys all the problems you didn’t know you already knew. You tell him that a serious concern for the kid is the way athletes who leave get talked about by the coaches, and he protests, “Oh no, I’m an adult. I don’t talk about people when they’re not there.” You know from your own observation that is false. And so you wish him well and hang up, and when the gym manager calls later to inform you that they are processing the early cancellation fee you agreed to, you consider it a worthwhile investment.