I was propped up in the Emergency Room at Long Island College Hospital, my right leg swollen, a bull's eye forming underneath my calf from a tick bite when I decided to audition for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. As a 52-year-old mother of two, I figured my odds of making the team were good and that this mid-life crisis was going to be easier than my first. A decade earlier, I had wanted to be Cher and have locks that tumbled to my waist so I had 18 inches of Indian hair melded to my head. For a while I looked good until I brushed my extensions so much that they fell out in clumps.
The triage unit was ideal for contemplation. A drug addict was chained to a bed beside me and a cop was stationed in our room. Compared to the convict, I was lucky. All I had to do was take antibiotics, find a trainer, and audition with 1,000 other girls, (average age 21) none of whom dyed their hair every three weeks to hide the grey. I decided to wait until I got home before I told my daughters, my beleaguered husband, and my German Shepherds.
"Mom, you're insane," my 21-year-old Eliza said, "can't you have a normal mid-life crisis? You're 52, not 42. Technically it's not mid-life. You won't live to be 104. Have an affair or buy a Porsche."
"What fun is that?"
She rolled her eyes. "Mom, you're too old to be a cheerleader. You can't jump, you're on crutches, and you hate football."
I shook my crutch at her. "Where does it say you have to be a certain age to have spirit?"
"You don't have spirit, Mom, you're neurotic. You've been watching too much TV."
Even before the Lyme Disease made me couch-ridden, I had been indulging in cathartic television to escape my job as a professor and grading endless freshmen essays on 19th century German poetry. I loved Real Housewives with savvy, smart-mouthed Moms who dressed expensively, went out, and were ecstatic to have sex with their partners while the thought of staying up past nine o'clock made me exhausted. Reading anything that required concentration made me crazy and I would have lost my mind if I hadn't discovered the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders on Hulu.
I watched three seasons straight, wept at the tearful auditions of young hopefuls, cringed at their grueling studio practices, and prayed they would squeeze into their uniforms. I was mesmerized by pom-poms and glitter but it was the kick that grabbed me. Every cheerleader could knock down a 6-foot-5inch man with one blow. I wanted in.
When my leg healed, I found a trainer and told my new guru, Brad, about my goal. "Sure. When you do want to start?"
"You mean you'll do it?"
He shrugged. "What have I got to lose?"
You? Nothing, I thought. "Really? You think I can do it?"
"The doing's up to you," Brad said like a Buddhist master. "I'm only your side-kick."
"Great pun," I said. He didn't get it.
For weeks, I swung from ropes, bounced to technetronic disco, and ran timed sprints. I felt like a hyperactive dog in a kennel. When I looked at myself in the mirror, my bewildered face didn't resemble a cheerleader.
"Hang in there," Brad told me, "you're doing good."
"I'm doing fine," I said, correcting his grammar.
I would have continued at this pace if it hadn't been for my daughters.
"Mommy," my 8-year-old Tamara said, after a grueling session of "kranking" (operating a bicycle-like device that requires rowing and pedaling) "you're beautiful."
My older daughter was practical. "Mom, it's about the glitter, right?"
How could I tell her that at 52, just when I thought I had mastered motherhood and wanted a brood of children, I was no longer fertile? The decade when my body defied gravity and I was unaware of the word "tankini" or the Land's End swimwear catalogue -- when I was convinced my unpublished novel would rival The Great Gatsby-- I was ending my first marriage. Instead of dancing in Dallas and cheering in a stadium, I was testifying in divorce court in Houston. But I was passing the baton. It was her turn to audition.
"We'll get you a Beyoncé outfit," she suggested.
"Done," I said.