Dallas Cowboy CheerleaderFrom the first time I saw them and their blue and sliver poms poms shaking and big hairdoos bouncing, I desperately wanted to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. For years I dreamed of the day I'd be out there high kicking and dancing along with them, and pretty much considered it to be my destiny. Though my home was in Nebraska, my heart was out there on the field in Dallas strutting my stuff.

The nuns at my Catholic grade school weren't so impressed with this ambition, and wouldn't hang my drawing of my future self on the wall with the others during vocations week. But they couldn't convince me that being a nun would be more fun. My best friend who lived across the street shared my dream, and we practiced routines we made up for hours on end.

A few nights before Christmas my fifth grade year we got together with her family for an annual gathering, and our mothers told us they had a gift for us to open then and there. Getting to open something before Christmas was unheard of, so it was all sorts of exciting. But nothing could have prepared us for what laid inside the boxes they gave us.

We were instructed to open them simultaneously, and as we did, what we saw was beyond our wildest dreams. There wrapped in tissue were lovely blue silk shirts, white shorts, and fringed vests complete with our very own names own names on back. And there were pom poms. Oh yes, there were pom poms. This was back in the day before Amazon or Etsy; you couldn't just Google up "Dallas Cowboy uniform for 10-year-old girl" and have them sent your way. Rather our mothers had made them themselves, painstakingly taking care to replicate the real ones as best they could -- with a few tweaks for modesty. No belly shirts for us! But we didn't care; we looked like our idols.

We wore those uniforms everywhere we could. From the mall to the skating rink we strutted around town as proud as can be.

Over the years my dreams changed and shifted, and eventually my passion for politics and journalism pushed the pom poms from my sights. But I do still watch Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on TV each week with a certain amount of nostalgia and longing for what might have been.

I still have the uniform and keep it hanging in my closet. While it's yellowed and a bit worn, every time I see it, I smile. It was one of those gifts that was so perfect, so unexpected, and so special, I can think of few in my life that have come close to touching it. For one, it showed that even though I'm sure my parents weren't nearly as excited about the prospect of me becoming a professional cheerleader as I was, that they were supportive of my dreams. They didn't try to shoot them down or tell me that being a teacher or a doctor would be a better choice; they let me dream. And that is one of the best gifts I can imagine giving any children.

So as we approach the holidays, and I search for gifts for my own children, I'm always on the lookout for that one idea that will make them giddy. Not just something on their carefully crafted lists, but something that speaks to them and their passions and lets them know I get them, that I support them, no matter what. One that will make them look back someday and say that was the best gift they ever received.

What's the best gift you've ever received?


Image via Julie Ryan Evans