Dani Stone

I Hear Laugh Tracks

You Can’t Try Out If You Don’t Go In – Why I Never Shook The Poms


My son recently auditioned for a singing part in Rock Band, the extracurricular middle school activity that begins tomorrow. He’s already in Jazz band, Choir and knows he’ll be seated prominently at the drum set when Rock Band begins but he wants it all. The Phil Collins of Rock Band, the drummer who anchors the performance while simultaneously belting out lyrics that will have the audience chanting, “Su-Su-Sussudio.” Can anyone tell me what that song was about? Almost 15 years later and it’s the earworm I still sing along to yet have no idea what I’m actually saying.

class of 89

Me rockin’ some high-waist jeans with my friend, Shelley E on graduation night.

At 12 years old I admire his pluck. Sure, it’s the same pluck that often has me pulling my hair out and asking myself what I did in my youth to deserve his pluck-ing nonsense but as my husband often says, I’d rather have a kid with character than one we have to pull out of his shell.

As parents we never know what kind of impact we’ll have on our children and to be honest, that scares the hell out of me. If they inherit my ability to face adversity with an inappropriate joke or their father’s knack for numbers – fantastic. However, if they learn to eat their feelings like their mother or see life from a pessimistic slant like my husband, then we could be creating a couple of hot messes right now.

We’ve always encouraged our children to take a chance, put themselves out there and try new things. The older they get, the harder this will be. By middle and high school they’ll be brooding little hormone factories and the opinion of their friends will matter more than the two people who gave them life. Whatever. I’m not bitter. Okay, maybe a little bit. During those awkward acne-covered teenage years, taking a chance and failing miserably with the potential for behind-the-back snickering can seem like a big risk so “blending in” is often the safest tactic. I know this all too well and years later, I’m still kicking myself.

Do you smell a flashback coming? Me too. Hold on. *insert wavy flashback lines here*

The year was 1986. I was a junior at North High, a school rich in tradition and pride. During the 80s, our band, cheerleaders and pom pon squad were the best in the city. Pep assemblies were full-on parties and I always walked into the gym feeling excited. Which was quite different than when I usually entered the gym where feelings ranged from anxiety about what ball I would be hit with that day and how much activity I could actually engage in without causing my butt-length head of double-permed hair to frizz.

I was enamored with the pom pon girls. I wanted to BE a pom pon girl. Sure, I enjoyed the cheerleaders too but they were performing at a physical level ratcheted up well beyond my skill-set. Ask me to do a cartwheel or high kick and I would reply, “I’m not in the circus. My body does not make quick lithe springy movements.” But ask me to dance a choreographed number to Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It” and this little 5 foot 4 inch bundle of sass was ready to pick up my spirit-shakers and move. At least, I thought I was.

The glorious day came for pom pon tryouts. I was psyched, ready, probably ate a raspberry Zinger from the vending machine to calm my nerves and then I headed for the gym. I stopped at the door, my heart pounding, and suddenly the negative thoughts crashed over me like a wave – a dream-killing wave. What if you’re no good? What if they think this is a joke? What if you fall down? What if you fall down and the popular girls who will also be judging you (in more ways than one) start calling you, “The Big-Haired Girl Who Looked Like a Jackass?” What if. . .  

The gym door was the closest I ever came to pom pon squad tryouts. I turned around and walked away. No spirit-shakers. No choreography. No red and white ensemble. Which is a shame because I’ve always looked good in red. In an instant I banished myself to a future of watching from the bleachers above the gym floor instead of performing on it. All because I was too scared to try. I’ve often wondered how that one decision altered my life. Because I’m dramatic that way. Would it have meant different friends, jobs, boyfriends? A desire to go to college before the ripe old age of 26? I’ll never know.

Update: Jacob found out that he was not chosen as a singer for Rock Band. When he slumped into the car and told me, I reacted the way I always do when my children have something sad to tell me, I exclaimed, “Ohhhh, honey, I’m sorry,” then patted his arm and offered him a snack.

After the requisite arm-patting and snack-feeding, I told him I was proud of him for trying out, and that we don’t know the reason he wasn’t chosen but it could’ve been any number of things. Then I reminded him he would still be the drummer in Rock Band and I couldn’t wait to go see him play. After one more packet of fruit snacks he was in a better mood.

So instead of Phil Collins he’ll be Tommy Lee from Motley Crue. Hopefully, minus the forest of tattoos, drug addiction and marriage to a blonde bimbo. Because when we say, “try new things,” I hope the only things he’ll reach for are the stars.

9 thoughts on “You Can’t Try Out If You Don’t Go In – Why I Never Shook The Poms

  1. Love it. I’ve had way too many of those too-scared-to-try moments in my own life. I encourage the kids to “go for it!” whatever that “it” is. Hopefully our babies learn from our mistakes.

  2. Oh honey. You almost lost me at Sussudio because that was the song I had to do the routine to when I tried out for pom. And failed. Or flailed. Or flailed and failed. Whatever. Great post, great mom, great kid. xo

  3. I relate to this so much more than you know. Or maybe you do. I DID go to those tryouts a sophomore, confident my Marshall poms experience would translate to the high school world. It didn’t. I’d like to say it’s better to try and fail but I think my frumpy look and mushy moves sealed my unpopular fate for the next 2 years. Which, yes, was probably better for me in the long run. But it’s a sucky memory too.

    Anyway — love the pic of you and Shelley!

    • See, this is where we differ in opinion because to me, you WERE popular. We’ve discussed this before. I was a big fan of Erin Perry and always wanted to join you on the yearbook staff. Why didn’t I try and join THAT? Who knows? Maybe I didn’t realize I had the skills. Sorry you had a bad experience. *hugs* Fruit snacks?

  4. Oh I think all of us relate. I never tried to do poms but was offered a lead singer spot in a band in college–and just didn’t. They heard me playing guitar and singing through my window. I knew I couldn’t in public, not then anyway. I had to build the confidence. And that band did really well without me.

    Look at you now: beautiful, confident, making your dreams come true. Pom squad wouldn’t have brought you here. It might not have brought you to a good place at all. Eating disorders, insecurity and addictions often cone out if going “on dispkay” before you are ready.

    Perhaps at that moment you needed to walk away. To open a different path.

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