Cheerleaders often get a bad rap. By definition, cheerleading is an intense physical activity based on organized routines, containing elements of tumbling, dance, jumps, cheer and stunting…in order to direct spectators of events to cheer for sports teams at games. I tried out for cheerleader at Beyer High School in Modesto. I didn’t make it. Instead, I was one of the mascots (a patriot) my senior year. No, I’m not showing you the picture. Yes, we wore tri-cornered hats. At Biola University, I actually did make it on the cheerleading squad, and had a partner, Nob, who would catch me in various stunts and routines. Since I love sports, being at an event where it was okay to yell loudly and jump up and down, and not get asked to sit down by the person behind me, was thrilling. I consider encouraging others to cheer on their team a noble act. And if you’re a caregiver, having a cheerleader or a whole squad of cheerleaders is awesome.
For most of us, caregiving is not a solo enterprise. (I know some of you are out there on your own, with no other living relative in earshot, carrying the full load. That must be tough.) In our household, I am not alone on this journey. We’re part of the ‘sandwich generation’ with a high school senior, my husband, and parents. We each have a role in the dynamics of how the house runs, and our cooperation is critical to having everything flow smoothly. But above all else, my husband, Art, is the one who stands by my side and hears all my chatter, and loves me thoroughly no matter how sad or elated or confused I am with various incidents that beg the question, “What am I doing?'”
Each of us as caregivers needs an ‘Art,’ a head cheerleader on our team who is supportive and will listen and gets it that this season of life is important for a reason, and cheers us on in our role. I’m fortunate, I have a whole team of cheerleaders, too: four amazing brothers and their wives, one amazing sister and her husband, a super involved aunt, great extended family, incredible girl friends, colleagues and people in organizations on which I can lean…and every one of these people steps in, calls, encourages, uplifts and challenges me at just the right moment. My head cheerleader, though, is in the thick of it with me, participating at each turn with a nudge or a push or a hug.
I need that. Speaking for my caregiving contemporaries, we don’t always tell others how hard it was to watch our loved one get lost, in the kitchen; or be unable to find their watch, on their wrist; or wonder why they no longer have their ID or credit cards in their wallets. We move at warped speed sometimes, doing what is necessary to alleviate any embarrassing moments, and when the dust settles at the end of the day, the weight of what we’ve witnessed feels like it might crush us.
Art and I went to Costa Rica last month and discovered the spectacular hot springs around Arenal Volcano. Soaking in a 104-degree natural pool at Tabacon turned out to be a rejuvenating gift. My cheerleader listened as I poured out how all of the changes that we’re encountering both excited and scared me to death. He didn’t shy away from the mundane matters I get trapped in as we explored different ways to deal with events that would make it easier for all involved. This sharing of such an intimate, trying matter with my cheerleader is a major change for me.
When I say I’m accustomed to change in my life..that would be an understatement. Anyone who knows me knows to keep my address in pencil…that’s because during the past 12 years I have moved so many times I have stopped counting. We moved into our home in Denver in June saying “THIS is it.” The boys just laughed, “whatever, mom.” While it’s not always been easy, they’ve come to understand the positive elements of change, and how we have become so much more adaptable. I used to envy those I know who’ve lived in one place…for their entire children’s lives. I’m still happy for them, just no longer envious. Our path is different, winding, full of detours and roadblocks and we’ve become stronger with every turn.
I hope you find your cheerleader, who joins you along that path and decides this course is one you can both take together. Much of my day does not involve direct interaction with a cheering squad…but when I get time to breathe, cook, unwind, take a walk, chat…I love re-connecting with Art and the rest of my cheerleading team who will catch me when I jump or cheer me on to go for the goal. Thank you each and every one.
I am not alone. Fortunately, there are many resources for caregivers and lots of tips for reducing stress. They include staying in touch with family and friends, identify what you can and cannot change, set realistic goals, make time each week to do something you want to do, try to find time to be physically active, and try to keep your sense of humor.