Friday night arrives and I sit with the others in the sacred section of bleachers beside the band and directly in front of the 50- yard line. We are a formidable bunch with our matching royal blue t-shirts and dark sunglasses, cameras posed for that perfect action shot, camcorders whirring in anticipation. The girls march past us, buns bobbing, and I search hopefully for my daughter, then exhale when I spot her once again sitting alone in the stands, looking down at her jazz shoes that have yet to dance on the field. Another failed try-out and once again she would not be performing at half-time.
I mutter under my breath, “What a bunch of bull…”
“Splits!” cries the booster president beside me as she clicks furiously at her camera. “This is my favorite part! Aren’t they amazing?”
I nod in agreement. I had not missed one performance. The Pacesetters are award winning, their toes practically grazing their ears as they high kick in sync to “Living on a Prayer”, then leap and land in a line of perfect splits.
Splits happen, it seems, just not to my daughter. And that is how I find myself after years of reminding her to sit like a lady, cross her ankles, keep her legs together, encouraging her to do just the opposite.
I try reasoning with her the next day. “It’s all in your head. If you set your mind to it, you can do anything,” I lie, knowing full well if there were a hundred dollar bill in the parking lot, my hamstrings would shrivel into knots before letting me pick it up.
There is only one game left, I remind her and I have yet to capture one photo of my daughter on the field. I suggest hot baths and stretches. She rolls her eyes dramatically and taps out something on her phone. Pilates or yoga will increase her flexibility, I counter, just to have her record me at an unflattering angle so she can send her friends video vines of my double chin. I promise her fresh baked chocolate chip cookies if she will only practice, a bribe that never failed to produce when she was younger. But now she is older with a smartphone and a mom she thinks is anything but.
“I can’t do it! I’ll tear a ligament!” she cries and storms off into the kitchen. “And I’ll make my own freaking cookies!” She picks up the can of PAM for emphasis and sprays a cloud of cooking oil all over the pan and most of the floor.
“That’s it! Give me your phone,” I order, grabbing it from her hand and placing it out of reach high on a shelf.
“I’m waiting for a call. Give it back!” she roars, a demon in a pair of black practice hot shorts far smaller than any lingerie I wore on my honeymoon.
I take a deep breath and speak slowly, as if addressing a rabid dog. “Practice your splits and you get the phone back.”
She stares me down, fury flashing across her face. Planting her hands defiantly on her tiny hips, she slowly slides one foot in front of the other and with agonizing precision, proceeds to lower her body until she stops abruptly 12 inches from the floor. Then a split personality possesses her and she begins to cry.
I feel instantly guilty at her unexpected show of weakness. After all, the only thing I stretch these days is the truth. “Look, that’s better,” I cheer. “You’re almost there. Just try to hold it one more minute.”
The shrill ring of her phone pierces her concentration and she jumps up. We dash across the Pam coated kitchen tile, skidding into each other, leap for the phone and with a horrible tearing sound and a scream, land in a tangled mess on the floor.
“Mom, look!” she cries, waving her cell phone in the air like a pom -pom. “I’m doing the splits! I’m doing the splits!” She rubs her legs in disbelief. “But I definitely heard something tear. I hope I’m ok.”
“That would be my pants,” I guess as I clutched my lower back and struggle to get up from the slippery floor.
Friday night arrives and I lie in my bed propped up with a pile of pillows, a heating pad set on high against my back. My daughter stops by my room on her way out, hair sleeked back in a bun, wearing her blue and white game uniform and a broad smile.
“I’m really sorry you won’t be able to see me dance,” she says as she hands me a plate of freshly baked cookies. “The doctor said if you would do your stretches, your back would get better.” She pauses. “You know the pain is all in your head. You could get out of bed if you set your mind to it.”
I roll my eyes at her, wave her away and reach for the Advil on my nightstand. My back is killing me. And suddenly, I have a splitting headache.