Inner Pom-Poms

At school here in SA you have to choose a sport each term, and one of the options at Evie’s school is “pom-poms”!  (We Brits would call it cheerleading, but I’m loving the new name.) Many times since we arrived here I’ve wanted my own set of pom-poms to SHIMMY IN CELEBRATION but having teenage sons means that any outward signs of pride or excitement are outlawed. My virtual pom-poms are tucked away on the inside but they’re no less real. Seeing as it’s 6 months this week since we landed on South African soil, here are some of my moments.

To be honest some of them might seem minuscule to the untrained eye but the fact that our kids have even got up and got dressed at all leaves me speechless, especially when it’s dark and zero degrees. Yes, dear reader, they’re onto a winner – our expectations have plummeted to mean that hey, turning up at school AGAIN has become a genuine reason for praise.

Evie last term won the coveted title of Window Monitor – ha ha! She was in charge of the long stick with the twiddly bit on the end for opening and closing the windows in her class. I know, right? Pressure!! I was secretly proud of her because we all know that every girl in that class wanted that long, twiddly stick and somehow Evie had it. Fist pump.

I’ve watched the kids doing homework by the light of a phone torch if the electricity runs out. Little faces and books lit up in the pitch black. I’ve barely been able to watch as Finn joined a rugby team  with Hairy Mammoths whose legs are the size of my waist. Men! With beards! And bandages and scary parents and 15 years of life experience growing up in their rugby-obsessed homeland. The first time Finn nipped through them all and scored a try it was all we could do to restrain ourselves from running onto the pitch. I am in awe that he would even attempt to join in with such a thing (isn’t chess an option?) but he insists “Muuuuum, it’s no big DEAL, stop goin’ on about it”. (Humph.)

One thing I love about the culture here is that SUPPORT of sport is encouraged. Sometimes the whole school is required to support the team and it’s not an option to stay at home in your pyjamas. And so it is that often on a Saturday morning you’ll find us on the edge of a pitch somewhere being swept along in a flurry of hysteria. Our middle child has found his niche in the band – whooping up the crowd into a frenzy. Here’s a little snippet to click on:

I have BEGGED Evie to audition for pom-poms but she has taken up hockey instead. We were a bit taken aback at the sight of her with her shin pads on, outside her socks, looking like a mini Iron Man and she immediately started practising in the garden – check out Ronnie on duty as head coach. IMG_2695 (1)Evie’s first tournament came around quickly and she was in a 5-a-side team, with number 5 being a no-show. (Inner pom-poms were trembling on high alert.) We yelled our heads off “NO!! No that way, THAT way!!” , “OK, chat LATER, keep RUNNING!!” It was agony and hilarity in equal measure. And oh the elation/ relief when our Eves somehow knocked that ball in. Her face is indelibly marked on my brain. Listen, it was ‘only’ the F-team, with one man down, and I’m not telling you any results! I’m just proud she gave it her best.

And this is how it has been for my kids to be honest – survival. Sometimes by the skin of their teeth, and sometimes with flushed cheeks and misty eyes. Sometimes just until they get home then they fall apart and I don’t blame them. It’s really really tough to do a cross-cultural move at their age – they’re feeling their way out here, figuring out where they fit.

To celebrate our 6 months here, we bought a trampoline to replace the one we made them leave behind. As darkness fell and Colin put the last springs on by torchlight, the familiar sound of screaming and bouncing began to filter in to the house. Also filtering through: parental guilt that threatens to swallow you up, “what have we done to them, look what they’ve given up, it’s taken too long to get this trampoline, they’re now without youth groups, comfort, lifelong friends, an education system they understand..” The temptation to feel guilt is real. But here’s the truth, and it’s just as true for all parents, but maybe I’m reminded of it more at the moment: the whole point of parenting is not to make everything OK and happy and perfect for children, but to prepare them to leave us and go into the world. I have to consciously trust God with my kids, and to believe that every challenge they face is building muscle onto them. I can’t rescue them from everything and neither should I. Who can know how this experience is shaping them? Who can guess what kind of adults they’ll be, and how this move will have shaped them? All I can do is pray, and say “this is really hard, but you can do it” even when I’m in grief and uncertainty myself. (And of course, keep my pom-poms safely on the inside.)