I wandered through Broadbeach, wondering whether I needed to shake myself and wake myself up. Was this a bizarre dream? Or some kind of not-so-scary nightmare? Surely I wasn’t actually awake and walking down the streets of a tourist-focused beachside suburb. Something weird was going on. I looked around and all I could see were sparkles, extra-large bows, lycra, shiny backpacks covered in that silver holographic material, sequins, over-the-top makeup, fake smiles and high ponytails. I felt like I was wandering though some strange My-Little-Pony-Meets-Barbie world not the beachy-touristy place that I was expecting. After a few enquiries, I discovered that the Gold Coast Convention Centre, located just across the road from where we were, was host to the National Cheerleading Championships and two and a half thousand competitors plus their families had descended on us.
I’m a synchronised swimmer. I’ve gone through all that stuff with sequinned costumes, perfect hair and fake smiles. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Although, if I’m honest, I was really hopeless at the fake smiling bit, I could never see the point. But I have never, ever been around 2,500 synchronised swimmers in full regalia, accompanied by the requisite scary mothers, or possibly entire families come to cheer them along (sic)!
Working as a swimming coach in my 20’s was a great experience: it showed me exactly who I didn’t want to be as a parent. It doesn’t matter what sport we’re talking about here, some parents are just nuts. There was one moment that was pivotal for me. I’d been teaching some 7-9 year old kids to dive in 1.8m of water: “put your arms over your ears, hands together, bend over and just plop into the water”, that kind of thing. After the lesson finished, the head coach came over to me, and with his back to the grandstand where the parents were sitting, he said, “No matter what I say, no matter what you’re thinking, I need you to look really sorry and upset. Do you promise?” Unsure of what to do, I just nodded. “Right,” he said, “One of the mothers has just complained that her son hit his head on the bottom of the pool and now she has to take him to hospital because he may be suffering from concussion.”
I opened my mouth to protest: this was 1.8m of water and the kid couldn’t have been more than a metre tall! Not one of those kids managed to touch the bottom, they even had a competition going to see if anyone could touch the bottom and none of them did.
But the coach cut me off before I could say anything, “I know, I know! You promised to look sorry and contrite! Just look upset, not angry! I was watching; the kid’s lying.”
As the coach carried on with ‘telling me off’, concentrating very hard on keeping a contrite expression on my face, I looked up to the grandstand. The mother, predictably, was looking angry, while at the same time managing to also looking smugly satisfied at my reprimand. The son, little shit that he was, was gleefully dancing behind her, swapping the gloating, victorious expression that he wore when her back was turned, to a helpless one that was full of pain and suffering, whenever she looked at him.
That was a defining moment for me, and for my kids. I swore that I would never, ever turn into a mother like that. It has happened on a few occasions, I have been sucked into supporting one of the kids in what turned out to be a wholly fabricated story, but the child in question has wholeheartedly regretted manipulating me like that.
I’ve never got much involved with Parents Associations at school or kids sports for the same reason: they tend to attract the intense, fanatical parents whose life is utterly devoted to their children’s success. They’re that most dangerous breed of human: Homo Vicarien, humans that live vicariously through their kids.
Today, Broadbeach was packed to the rafters with them. It was a human behavioural experts dream. The female Homo Vicarien wear clothes that match their kids: oversized baseball jackets in their team colours, trimmed with silver, and adorned with glittery lettering, mostly spelling out the troop name. Cheerleading troops have very interesting names: “Force Elite All Stars”, “Xplosion”, “Cheer Factor” and “REBEL 4ORCE”. Astronomical names are big in this world, as are names that have anything to do with explosions.
A more interesting phenomenon were those mothers who had things like ‘Team Tyla-Jaydye’ or ‘2018 Champion: Cheltzee’ embroidered hopefully on the back. Obviously, these ones aren’t the team-player mothers. They’re not interested in the team as a whole or making sure everyone wins, these ones take things to a whole new level. Generally the cause of much bitterness and tension within both the parents and the participants, this breed are only interested in their own child, believing that their child is the star of the team, the one who holds things together and the who wins all the medals for the team. No other member of the team is as important as their child, in fact, it would be fair to say that there would be no team, if it wasn’t for their child.
One lady, who was on the phone having a highly agitated phone conversation that involved many flamboyant arm movements, sported a top with the logo “Queer And Dance” printed on it. I could be completely wrong, since my exposure to the cheerleading world is about five minutes long, but I felt that this was a… let’s say, interesting… name even by their standards. I was dying to ask her about it, but she looked so agitated and angry, that I didn’t have the bottle to go over and talk to her. Instead, I treated myself to a happy few minutes pondering the possible causes of her passion: maybe her daughter was pipped at the post for the championship by her totally unworthy arch nemesis. What if her daughter was unfairly eliminated by some judge who didn’t know what they were doing? Or - ooh, I know – what if they’d had a run-in with the judge before and the mother thought that the judge was getting payback for whatever happened in the past? Perhaps a jealous team member who wanted all the glory, elbowed her daughter at a crucial moment causing her to fall over or mis-step. It could be that another team/competitor had copied their outfits or <sharp intake of breath> they’d copied the oversized, sparkly bows the girls wore in their high ponytails.
I’m not going to talk about the bows. I keep trying and I keep sounding like I’m a complete bitch, which I might be but I don’t necessarily want to sound like one. I’m just going to say this: oversized bows. Sparkly oversized bows.
I’m off to Broadbeach again now. Hopefully, I won’t find myself in the Crystal Empire today.
PS In case you’re wondering, I made the little shit who lied about hitting his head pay. Swimming lessons can be great fun or they can be exhausting and very hard work. He he he.
PPS The mystery of the “Queer And Dance” t-shirt logo was solved a little later when I saw someone else with the same top on. The writing actually said “Cheer and Dance”!
*Image screenshot from Australian All Stars Cheerleading Federation