Friday, January 20, 2012


When I was 8, my family moved to Whitehall, Wisconsin. I'm not surprised you haven't heard of this town. I just checked and the population is about 1600. It was even smaller when I lived there, though I did live there at the same time as Newt Gingrich's current wife, Callista (which I just learned, and isn't really a claim to fame). Every year, the high school cheerleaders would host a cheer-leading camp for the elementary school girls, at the end of which the girls would get to cheer at a high school basketball game. In an attempt to help me make friends, and not because I showed any aptitude toward cheering, my mom signed me up.

Having not yet learned that thick-legged, uncoordinated girls do not the best cheerleaders make, I was thrilled. I enthusiastically learned the routine to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" (which also initiated my love of George Michael). I diligently scrunched my cheap little pom-poms in an effort to make them as big and beautiful as the big girls' pom-poms. And I put on my best approximation of the high school girls' uniforms. We were the Vikings, and our colors were black and orange. I had a black leotard. And I had some red shorts that fell slightly into the orange spectrum. There were all I had, and if you looked at them in the sun, they would work.

The night of the big game, I proudly arrived at the school, only to learn that the rival team's color was red. By the time I marched out onto the basketball court, I had been teased so much by the other girls that I was sure all eyes were on me and my embarrassment of an outfit.

Undeterred, the next year I signed up for the clinic again. This year as I diligently practiced, my mom diligently sewed. She was determined that I wouldn't suffer the same humiliation again, and made me a fabulous cheer-leading outfit while juggling the demands of six kids, including a small baby. I don't even know how she got the fabric given how small our town was and the pre-existence of the internets. It was orange, with black godets and our viking logo embroidered in black on the front. And it was awesome. I tried it on as often as I could in the days leading up to the game.

The morning of the big day I woke up hot. And I'm not talking hot like in this picture. I'm talking hot as in fever. Though my mom had a strict rule about not sending us to school with fevers, if I didn't go to school that day, I couldn't cheer. I was heartbroken, and I'm sure my mom was, too. Since it was a low grade fever, and I had no other symptoms, my mom decided to let me go to school and keep her fingers crossed that I would be fine.

I got home from school that day, excited to cheer that night. Unfortunately, my mom had been on the phone that day and learned that the chicken pox was going around. How did you know if you had it? A low grade fever. My mom checked, and found the first few pox hiding around my hairline. I wasn't able to cheer that night. I'm sure it wasn't out of spite over not being able to wear my fantastic outfit, but I diligently infected all 5 of my siblings, including my 6 month old sister. Thankfully, she was young enough that the scars she got when another sibling picked all of her scabs off don't show.

I still got a lot of wear out of that outfit, accessorizing it with legwarmers, heels and a rainbow belt. And yes, I did have a mullet to top it off. Though I rocked it (see above), I never forgot the injustice of not being able to wear it and perform that night. It was my first clear experience with irony.

Chloe's birthday is July 2, so she never gets to celebrate her birthday at school. And unfortunately, her half birthday is January 2, usually the last day of Christmas vacation. Still, she wants to be able to celebrate her half birthday at school on whatever the closest school day is. This year, for whatever reason, I just couldn't get my act together. Weeks had passed and I still hadn't gotten a treat together. Finally, yesterday, I decided it was time. Chloe and I baked cookies. I found my last sheet of labels and printed up tags for the ziploc bags we'd put the cookies in. Nothing fancy, but it was enough for her to feel special.

And then she coughed. A rattling, painful cough. And confessed that her throat had been hurting all day. I cringed, and hoped it was just the change in the weather. I checked on her last night, running the temporal thermometer across her forehead. Fever. As she whimpered and rolled over, I said a silent prayer that she was just hot in her blankets and she would be fine.

This morning I went in to wake her, thermometer in hand. She sat up in bed and said, "Mom, my throat hurt, but I coughed and now I feel fine! I'm better!" But her eyes were too bright and her cheeks too red, and when I scanned her forehead, her fever was even higher. It broke my heart to tell her she had to stay home. "But I was so excited to share my treat today!" she said as her eyes filled with tears. I assured her that we could put the cookies in the freezer and she could bring them when she felt better, and she smiled.

I'm so glad there's such an easy fix for her fever crisis. Her gratification with be postponed, not cancelled. I just hope my mom, who passed away 12 years ago this month, knows how grateful I still am for that cheer-leading costume I never got to cheer in.


Ky Jansson said...

Ruth...your mom was one of the most AMAZING women I have ever met! She knows...and it's because of her, Chelsea has a love for baking :) (this will say from Ky Jansson, but it's really Tani)

Missy said...

First off, where have you been hiding these fabulous pictures because they are beyond awesome.
Second, I'm so sorry poor Chloe is sick and I hope she feels better soon. Love you, Chlo.

Janelle said...

Hi Ruth. It's Janelle from book group. After your Pier 39 restroom story you talked about I wanted to read it myself. So I tried to find your blog and I did! I hope you don't mind.

I blog at

Anyways, I loved these stories and especially the pictures! Love your blog!