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Millard West parents Tony and Amy Miceli cheer for their son Mateo after winning his heat in the 100 Yard Butterfly during the boy's Nebraska State Swimming prelims at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Neb., on Friday, February 23, 2018. 

My toddler’s first year of ballet wrapped up last week with a surprisingly wonderful recital.

You see, I had fully expected to have the non-dancing, scowling child up on the big stage for all the world to watch. Or perhaps I'd have the crying dancer who had to be dragged off stage by her sweating mother. What I hadn’t expected was that my kiddo would totally nail the adorable choreography, performing it exactly as her teacher had intended.

Was that really my kid?

As I retrieved my munchkin after her final dance, I glanced at the other moms. I realized that, somehow, the year had flown by and I hadn’t really gotten to know any of them. At all. I mean, I didn’t even know a single person’s name. I only knew the labels with which I referred to them in my head. There was the “smiley mom with the cute baby,” the “mom who looked like she hated me,” the “mom with the good shoes” and, of course, “super social,” the mom who talked to everyone and already seemed like the homecoming queen of the dance moms.

But I’ve been here before. All three of my boys played baseball and basketball when they were younger, and my oldest daughter did her time with softball, dance and soccer. Looking back, the first year of their activities (or two or three) had been full of similar relationships.

I remember the baseball coach whose wife yelled in a glass-breakingly high voice (I called her "screechy"), the soccer mom who aggressively coached from her lawn chair on the sidelines (she was "yelly mom") and the basketball mom who kept track of every player’s stats as she watched from the bleachers ("stat mom"). We didn’t really know those other parents, but we exchanged small talk between halves and eventually learned their names.

Those caricatures gradually became our friends, morphing from random strangers to the kind of friends who often feel more like family than mere athletic acquaintances. We traveled to tournaments with them, shared meals with them and relaxed by countless hotel pools with them. We cheered their children’s successes as if they were our own, and they did the same with our kids.

Somehow our shared competitive experiences forged bonds strong enough to still exist today, long after the tournament seasons came to an end. Those parents still support each other and the kids — even if only on social media. They electronically cheer as the kids move on to things like graduating college and getting married.

My toddler has a rattle in her room that she adores, even though she’s long outgrown rattles. But she loves to tell me the story of how, when she was a baby, one of the basketball moms bought it so she would be happy at her brother’s games. She reminisces about how they called her “lucky baby,” and she fully believes the folklore that her bottle-guzzling, infantile presence at those Amateur Athletic Union games somehow contributed to the team’s success.

Spoiler: It didn’t.

But regardless of who’s right (not her), we’re both sentimental about that red plastic rattle because it was given to her by our dear friend, the woman we’d once referred to as “stat mom.” It’s a plastic symbol of golden memories; a rattling reminder of what a gift unexpected friendships can be.

Will any of the dance moms become more than just a label? It's hard to say. But I look forward to the surprising joys — and friendships — that come along with watching yet another kiddo grow, make friends and experience the joy of competition.

***

Lynn Kirkle is a writer and lives in Omaha with her husband and five children. She writes twice a month for momaha.com, and can be found on Twitter @LAPainter.

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