Last Friday Jonah had the day off from school while no one else did. A friend of ours told me recently that she’d taken her daughter, also in kindergarten, skiing for the first time. “She loved it!” she said of her daughter. “You have to take him!”
I grew up skiing and have so many happy memories of those times. My dad took me for the first time when I was seven or so, just he and I. While I don’t remember learning, I vaguely remember coming home and falling asleep on our brown velvet couch after a long day out in the snow. In the years that followed we went up north and to Colorado on ski trips as a family or with our next door neighbors who had girls the same age as my sister and I. I can picture moments like snapshots of the places we stayed, some nice and some less so, the various colors of chairlifts, runs that twisted through the woods and the places we would veer just off of the run to weave through the trees. In middle school my happiest memories are from ski club, winter weeknights when my mom would pack up and drop off all of my ski gear, always packing a Hershey’s Cookies and Mint candy bar in my bag. We’d stay after school until the bus took us way out to the ski hills where they would let us loose with the responsibility to return by 9:00 p.m. before the bus left to bring us back. It left me with a thrilling sense of maturity and trust.
I switched from skis to snowboarding when I was around sixteen, and have more memories from that time of riding with friends than my family, but those memories are also special in their own way.
I decided that if the weather was right on Jonah’s day off in early March that I’d take him out, just the two of us. He was excited to go. The night before I ran to a sporting goods store and bought him the very last pair of goggles on the clearance shelf, as the stores shifted everything from winter to spring. We dropped the twins off at preschool and headed out to the slopes. As we walked through the rental building getting and I struggled to fasten Jonah’s boots and carry both of our skis and not drop any mittens along the way, I thought of the dozens of times my parents carried all of our gear and their own through snowy parking lots and ski lodges.
We walked out to the bunny hill and I attempted to teach Jonah how to snap on his skis and use the tow rope. After one attempt or so I decided that we needed a professional. I hadn’t been on skis in over twenty years and while I was confident that I could pick it back up again, I didn’t remember a thing about how I’d learned or how to teach anyone else. We went inside and I paid for him to have a lesson; I wished him luck and told him I’d be back in an hour and headed out to re-learn how to ski.
From the chairlift I watched him with his teacher. It wasn’t busy at all and he was easy to spot. I was so very proud of him for trying something hard. I knew that this wouldn’t be easy, but he was out there giving it his best. When I watched him make it a distance on the rope without falling I wanted to cheer.
On the run with me were three girls, probably older elementary school if I had to guess, along with a mom. The mom stayed in the general vicinity of the run, but the girls were mostly off on their own in a world of confidence and skill, weaving over jumps and up along the walls that ran up above the slopes. They were all in fuzzy one-piece animal-suit pajamas, and whooped and hollered and called to one another across the hills. They reminded me so much of my sister and I and our neighbors on those ski trips from long ago.
I checked the time periodically as I took a number of runs, the muscle memory coming back just like riding a bike, and eventually I saw Jonah and his teacher at the bottom of the hill just waiting. It wasn’t yet noon, and I wondered if I’d gotten the lesson time wrong, so I headed back. When I got there the teacher told me that he’d learned to use the tow rope and to stop but had gotten frustrated when they began to work on turning. “I want to be done,” he told me. I thanked her and asked him if he wanted to take a break and get some food.
We went inside and got the kind of junk food that I grew up eating in ski lodges: french fries, a pretzel with nacho cheese, chocolate pudding, and I told him how proud I was of him. We took our time and eventually he agreed to go back out and try again. I think that perhaps I’d overestimated what he could master in the space of a 45 minute lesson, but I was surprised and a little discouraged when he struggled to use the rope or go more than a couple of yards without falling. At one point, while laying on the ground in a heap, he looked up and said with absolute sincerity, “I think I’m ready for the chairlift.” I almost laughed, and made eye contact with an older gentleman who was there with his granddaughter and had helped to scoop Jonah up on a few occasions when I struggled to do so. The next time up the rope when he collapsed halfway up I told him, “I don’t think that the chairlift is a good idea today, buddy.” “Why?” he asked. “I won’t give up.” What was I going to do, tell him that he couldn’t do it? That he wasn’t ready? This is a child who we’ve worked hard to nudge past his perfectionism, and if he felt ready I was in no position to tell him otherwise.
It was a long shuffle over to the chair since neither of us had poles and he wasn’t able stay upright long enough to get any momentum from the hill. I taught him how to get on (the easy part) and at first he laughed and exclaimed that it was SO much fun. Then as we rose he began to get nervous, so I distracted him by taking a photo. I assured him that in all my years on chairlifts I’ve never once seen anyone fall off. I worried about how we’d unload, but I held onto him tightly and we were just fine, but that’s when it got challenging. As we prepared to head down the hill he fell over again and again. I kept reminding him to keep his skis in a wedge, but he couldn’t master them enough to control his speed and keep his balance. We stood near the top and had a discussion about how on earth we would get to the bottom. He suggested we ride the chair down (not an option), then suggested that we take off our skis and walk. It wasn’t that he was scared exactly, it was that he was in over his head and we both recognized it. We literally did not know how to ski him down to the bottom. Finally I decided to put him between my legs and hold onto his armpits. I strained to hold his weight the entire way down as he slipped and attempted to keep his balance and stand, and reminded him again and again to keep his skis in the same triangle shape as my own. I was frustrated and straining to keep us both upright, but I managed not to yell and we made it to the bottom on our feet.
We both agreed that it made sense to call it a day, and as we headed to the rental building to drop off our gear he told me that it had been a great day, and thanked me for taking the day off to spend it there with him. I was so proud of his optimism and joy. I told him later that my proudest moment had been when he challenged my hesitation about the chairlift by saying, “I won’t give up.” I’m a perfectionist who hasn’t always done a great job of persevering through things that I’m not immediately good at, and to hear this boy say such a thing made me think that perhaps we’ve taught him some things through some very intentional parenting.
Jude and Vivienne were jealous, so we told them that maybe next year we’ll take everyone, and maybe then we’ll put the kids in ski school that gives them a better foundation than just a 45 minute introduction. It’s such an expensive hobby that requires so much commitment from the parents who make it possible, and I’d love to give my children what my parents gave to me. We’ll see how things unfold, but this first day brought a lot of beauty and reflection and moments I hope to tuck away forever.