Cheerleaders and Nuns

We once had a daughter who was not much more than a giggly blonde roll of baby. She had no ankles or wrists, just creases where connections with hands and feet should be. One morning as I was slow roasting a pop tart she descended the stairs – stairs she has descended often, as a princess, as Kimberly Locke, as a fashion diva, as a two year old who missed the first step and had a miserable experience with gravity – but at some point during the descents she changed. In five years cataclysmic metamorphosis had progressed so daily that it lulled me to sleep and rendered delusions that I was still the father of a baby girl. The giggly roll of blonde baby had moved away and a much taller, more slender, sandy blonde with a fashionable haircut now called me dad. She had wrists and ankles. One day she will descend the stairs a lady; at such point I will be a mess.

Little girls become something far different with age. Who will she be?

It was not many mornings later that I caught a Southwest jet to New Orleans. Their motto is, “You’ll like where you sit because you can sit where you like.” I’m not sure that is the Southwest Airlines marquee motto, but it is the last slogan you read on a well placed placard before boarding the plane. I think the idea works for the first 157 people on a 160 passenger plane. Being passenger 158 the slogan becomes, “Please be seated.” When you’re in the fifth grade and the last kid to be picked up by the bus in the morning the slogan becomes, “Sit by the kid that will torture you all the way to school”, for his is invariably, daily, routinely the only seat left. When you’re thirty something the slogan for the last kid on the plane is, “Please sit by the nun.”

I flew to New Orleans with a nun.

Whenever you hear a line containing a Baptist preaching and a nun you are looking for the other part of the comedic trinity – an Indian, a Polish guy, a Rabbi, or a blonde. The third part of this comedic trinity would be a flock of cheerleaders, about thirteen of them, and ironically all of them about the age of thirteen.

The nun (passenger # 6), and I (passenger #158), sat in the seats we liked – surrounded by cheerleaders (passengers # 53 – 66). For the sister and I, liking where we “sit” would become a spiritual journey.

Nuns and cheerleaders come from the same biological substance – little girl – but they are not the same.

Apparently cheerleaders have weak, tiny bladders, are somewhat hearing impaired to the point they only hear only very high, shrill, annoying frequency tones, are mildly bipolar, and are not proficient in science, biology, or physics. The sister and I tried to read – me the Book of Esther, and she some sort of Catholic prayer book. The sister tried to explain to me the nature of her prayer book, but as she spoke in a low and holy tone cheerleader number seven announced to her daddy (4 rows away), that she needed to go potty. We (in this instance “we” no longer designates the sister and I but the entire rear section of the plane) heard this announcement just before takeoff, at 10,000 feet, at 20,000 feet, at 20,010 feet, at 29,998 feet. With each announcement the urgency of the request grew. At 30,000 feet we were all rooting for daddy to let the child go.

While she was gone we enjoyed several other high pitched conversations from cheerleaders 1 – 6 and 8 – 13.

· When you flush the potty of a plane does it rain in Mississippi?
· What is it in gum that makes your ears pop?
· According to cheerleader number three, cheerleader number nine had a serious need to grow up.
· Cheerleader number seven provided us a spirited description of the airline bathroom.
· With every passing song on her iPod, cheerleader eleven went from expressions of euphoria to downright disgust. Cheerleaders twelve and thirteen for the most part agreed with her musical critiques, adding their own. Never has there been displayed such a pantheon of emotion. Observation 1: No one has ever told cheerleaders that headphones piping highly amplified music in your ears will encourage you to talk much louder than normal. Observation 2: No one has ever told cheerleaders that the purpose of headphones is to privatize your musical experience. Theoretically no one else can hear the music as you hear it, therefore no one is enjoying your singing.

You get the picture; the sister and I were surrounded by high pitched, emotional chaos. According to Southwest Airlines, we liked it.

In the midst of this the sister and I talked religion. She told me about her holy life, I told her about mine. I was in jeans, she wore a black habit. As we talked a male flight attendant approached and explained to the sister that he had gone to Catholic school back in New York some thirty years ago. As he continued to recount the experience I would learn that apparently nuns can be violent. He told us how many times he had his knuckles rapped with a ruler and that he still has sinus problems from the chalk dust that was dislodged as he was hit upside the head with an eraser – repeatedly over the span of several years. He did sound a bit nasal.

I grew nervous. I smiled because I was apparently in a seat I was destined to like.

After he walked away I tucked my hands into the folds of the seat cushion/ flotation device and the sister began to instruct me on how to be a good shepherd to my congregation. I listened with seminarian intensity. She was wise, very godly, very dedicated, and apparently proficient with rulers and erasers – neither of which, because of terrorists, is allowed on a plane.

Honestly, I really enjoyed our conversation. Honestly, the cheerleaders were comical and entertaining on an otherwise boring flight. FYI – my wife was a high school cheerleader back when iPods were called Walkmans and used tapes.

So what will my little girl become? Where will she fall on the scale of woman between cheerleader and nun? Biology and slow roasted pop tarts will shape her body, but God has made me, for now, the steward of her heart. With every inch she adds to stature, it seems that innocence slowly erodes. She is learning that people can be mean, not everything can be believed, and that some people deserve a well placed eraser upside the head – but it is illegal in the Alabama public school system. Public education needs nuns. My daughter loves Hannah Montana, but as heart steward the last few public appearances of Miley Cyrus have made me nervous. Her life is becoming a commentary to my daughter on the dangers of growing up in a beautiful world. It is my responsibility to interpret the images. In a media driven culture it is impossible for me to shield her eyes, but it is my duty to instruct her heart.

She is learning. I must take the time to teach.

If God wants dads to raise godly girls, why does He make them grow so fast? She is on a dash toward woman; my only hope is to make a hard charge toward God. As her heart is shaped, so must God hold mine. I must be diligent to read His Word so that I can rightly interpret and discern the messages and images of our culture. She is good with the label “wrong”, but she also wants a list of ingredients, “why is ___________ wrong daddy?” It is really hard for me to pull a parental cop out and tell her to ask the preacher. She knows him. She sees him. She reads him daily.

Dad, your child is growing ankles, changing, morphing, reading, learning, watching (you and Miley Cyrus). Don’t give your child’s heart to Disney. Be God’s man and shepherd the heart of your child.

*** Props to nuns and cheerleaders for being so inspirational to dads with daughters and blogs.


Jason Dollar said…
This is both hilarious and informative. If ever preaching fails (which it better not) you should write comedy stories, collected together into books, with inspirational lessons.

I've got 2 girls now ...

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