Friday, February 26, 2016

Skiing - it begins here

It's weird to me that I don't remember the first time I went skiing.  I must have been (a little bit) older than McKenzie, and I must have been with my dad...

I don't remember what it felt like the first time I snapped my boots into place, or what my first thoughts were about the sound that my skis made as they cut into the snow (which I love, by the way).  I don't remember the lessons or the direction that I undoubtedly received from my dad, and I don't remember picking myself up from that first fall.

I do remember some of those early feelings, though.  The thrill of riding a ski lift (wait... there's no seat belt on this thing?! Freeeeeeedom! Also, wait... I'm safe up here, right?), the anxiety of approaching the end of the ski lift (I can do this, I can do this, ski tips up, please don't roll down the hill, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease...), the panic each time I reached the end of my zig and had to turn my skis downhill momentarily to get to my zag, the thrill of acceleration that came when I finally got brave enough to un-plow my stance and ride with my skis parallel to each other.

I loved remembering all those feelings as I took my own kids up on the slopes for their very first time last weekend.

"My only goal," I told a friend the night before we drove up the mountain, "is to leave the mountain with smiles on all the faces."

You see, something had possessed me into believing that I could take four kids, (none of whom had so much as breathed on a pair of skis before, all of whom had wildly different ages and temperaments), strap some slicked up pieces of plastic to their feet, place them on top of a mountain, and then get them all down without dying, without breaking, and without unhappy faces.

A goal that, I realized about an hour into the morning, was lofty and ambitious at best.  Impossible and spasm inducing at worst.  Just renting the skis and getting outside took monumental effort.  "Um," I said to Brian before we even touched our skis to the snow, "this is much harder than I thought it was going to be."

Most of the Hard came from the fact that Timothy was grumpy.  Grumpy three-year-olds have a super power of infecting everyone around them.

He had been so excited the previous day.  He'd followed at my heels happily chanting and singing an original song that he most likely would have titled Snow Party (if he were in to naming his original pieces) since the lyrics went, in a catchy rhythm, something like this: 'snow par-ty! snow par-ty! snow par-ty!' and I found myself singing along as I loaded the suitcases with coats and sweaters, wool socks and cotton gloves, hats and ski goggles, ski pants and coats, snow gloves and boots...

But now, listening to the fifth tantrum of the morning, it was apparent that all the excitement from the previous day had died.  Now he was just plain grumpy.  He was layered from head to toe in snow clothes designed to keep him warm, but they only served two purposes in his mind: to restrict his movement, and to make him sweaty and hot.

Of course, being hot is no fun for anyone but most of us have learned how to solve our own discomforts or, at least, to express them in coherent words. Timothy is getting better at this, let's be clear, but he'd forgotten all of those newly acquired skills and spent most of that first hour standing in line to purchase tickets, standing in line for skis, and wailing.

Actually, it was hot.

I was hot.

Even outside.

So, before we even snapped our boots into our skis, we started taking off layers.  Off with the hats, off with the goggles, off with the coats, off with the gloves (it was so warm I even skied some of the afternoon in just my short sleeved shirt tucked into my ski pants).  Once the layers were off, things started to improve... and once we were on our way up the Magic Carpet for the first time (a fantastic conveyor-belt-for-humans thing that took us just 20 feet up the smallest slope and let us off to snail crawl back down), the smiles started for him - - - and they didn't stop until he was buckled back into his car seat at the end of the day, five minutes down the mountain, snoozing peacefully.

Though I tried to split my attention evenly among all of the kids that morning, what ended up happening was that Timothy took 97% (since, when I wasn't paying attention to him, he was incapable of standing still and never actually grasped the concept of how to go, or how to stop, or how to turn, or how to function at all on a pair of skis), Miles took 2.5%, and McKenzie and Carson got a quarter of a percent each.

Despite my lack of attention, McKenzie and Carson caught on quickly and were soon ready for bigger and better things, ie, the bigger magic carpet which took us about 50 feet up the mountain, then they were ready to brave the real ski lift and ride to the very top of the bunny hill.  

But Miles progressed a little slower (probably something about only getting 2.5% of my attention), and was struggling and trying his best to keep his skis with the front together and the back wide apart  in the 'pizza' position I had taught him during that 2.5%.  He was not ready to go up the bunny hill when McKenzie and Carson were, but Brian excitedly said 'sure he's ready! Let's go!' and I knew that if we waited until I thought he was ready we probably never would have gone up.

Side note: this illustrates one of the major differences in the way that Brian and I view the world.  His philosophy is Just Do It, and mine is If It's Worth Doing, It's Worth Doing Well.  We're so cute and balance-y.

Just Do It won out on this one before I really even got a chance to voice my opinion, and I suddenly found myself swooped into the line for the ski lift, barking instructions to the kids. "McKenzie and Carson, listen very closely to me and I will tell you what to expect..." You see, I needed to ride with Timothy, Brian needed to go with Miles... and that exhausted our supply of adults - which left Carson and McKenzie on their own.  I prepped them as best as I could and then looked to Brian with a rather panicked expression.  "They're going to do great!" he pepped.  Okay.  Hopefully they won't need therapy later in their lives as they recall the time their parents left them to fend for themselves for their first time ever on a ski lift.

And wouldn't you know, not one of us fell getting of that ski lift at the top of the hill.  What's more, Carson and McKenzie looked like they had done it a hundred times.  I can prove it - I got it on video. But the video is super boring... I was hoping for at least a tense little wobble.  That was pretty much the last time I saw McKenzie and Carson until lunchtime.  They took off down the hill and caught the next ride up seamlessly.  Well, I suppose. I guess I have no idea how seamless it was as I never actually saw them.  

Anyway, after Kenz and Carson took off, Timothy and I started down the hill at a rather slower pace and it was quite clear that he had no idea what was going on, and had no idea that he was supposed to be concentrating on learning something new.  He was happy to hold my hand and was clueless to the lifeline it was to him.  He'd look around, skis going every which way (even backwards sometimes), and only stopped to think when his skis would cross and I'd stop, point to them and say, "Uh oh - your feet are like a puzzle.  Can you solve that puzzle?" (He's quite into puzzles these days and was thrilled each time his skis provided an opportunity for him to solve one... which was harder than you might think.  The top ski has to be identified first, you see, and then you have to figure out which way it needs to move in order to get untangled.)

I found that it was much harder to stop when you're stopping two people instead of just yourself. There were several awkward stances and a few times where I just had to pick him up and position his skis the way I wanted them.  "Do pizza," I coached.  He'd look down at his skies and, without moving them an inch exclaim, "I'm doing it!"  He was so excited and so cute that I just simply could not correct him.  "Okay, let's go!" and down we went.

Halfway down that first run, I turned around to see how Brian and Miles were getting along.  Miles was sitting on the slope, obviously unhappy, taking off his skis in a huff.  I watched Brian pick them up and slowly ski down to me as Miles stomped angrily down the hill towards us.

"So, he's done," Brian explained.  "He's not going to put his skis back on."

"Uh, no way," I retorted.  "He most definitely is going to put his skis back on and he's going to ski down the rest of this hill."

"Linds, I just don't know what I'm doing... I can't help him."

"That's fine... do you think you can take TK?"

Blank stare.

"Well," he finally said, "yeah.  I can probably just carry him down the mountain..."

Side note: that is one super handsome man on those skis there...

Brian and TK left just as Miles was approaching.  I put his skis down in the snow and heard him say, "I am not going to put those on ever, Ever, EVER again!"

"Yes, you are.  Quitting right here is most definitely not an option, Miles.  We are not quitters in this family.  You will put the skis on, and I will teach you how to get down the rest of this mountain.  After we reach the bottom we can discuss whether or not you want to go back up, but we are not discussing that here.  Now, let me help you get your skis back on your boots."

He complied grumpily and I started teaching.  I watched his demeanor change slightly for the better with each word of praise and when we finally reached the bottom I asked, "Now, how do you feel about going up one more time?"

"One more time?!?!" he said with a smile as big as his face.  "Not one more time... I'm going to go up one more time and one more time and one more and one more and one more, and I'm not ever, Ever, EVER going to stop!"

Parenting success.

That was the end of the struggle for the day.  Everything after that point was beautiful.  Every. Single. Thing. Miles and I hung out together for the rest of the morning, and he was thrilled with how awesome he was.  Which thrilled me.  "Oh, ye-ah," he'd fist pump and head nod to himself when he reached the end of a steep section without falling.  He mastered Pizza Skis and was soon turning down those hills at a clip of .004 miles per hour.  I did a lot of encouraging, 'try to do French Fry Skis now!  I think you're ready!' but he was too terrified to put them parallel, so, remembering my goal of happy faces, I clipped right along with him.

We eventually did have to stop, but just for pizza.

And to take off our boots for a little while.  And to try on other people's boots, just for fun.

After lunch, I brought my phone out of my pocket to capture a few moments... I'd been a little too busy focusing so intently on keeping all of my children alive during the morning to be fumbling around with my phone, but after lunch I only had to worry about keeping TK alive. The other three were doing a fine job of it themselves.

I soon found, however, that keeping TK alive required almost all of my attention (remember the 97%?) so you can see that mostly the pictures were limited to the times we were trapped on the ski lift. 'Trapped' is a relative term, of course. 

I couldn't figure out how to get the depth in this picture without being able to move... but it was a view that stirred fear in my heart... it was striking to me just how much air was between the bottom of Teek's skis and the top of mine... and then again how. much. air was between the bottom of my skis and the top of the packed snow beneath.  He's such a little person.  And that is such a long fall... I would have liked him to be a little more 'trapped'.

If I would have been able to devote more attention to my camera, I would have loved to have captured McKenzie's face as she sped as fast as she dared - eyes literally sparkling with exhilaration and pride, chin up, mouth halfway open in a beautiful crescent smile, hair whipping along behind her.
I would have loved to have captured the way Carson's unzipped coat flapped in the wind behind and out to the sides of him, his arms outstretched like wings, his hunched over form putting all his strength into skis that were pointed downhill (to go fast) in pizza position (but not too fast), smiling from the courage he'd dug deep to find.

Miles, his perfect ski hair bouncing along to the beat in his own head, traveling at .004 miles per hour, never, ever diverting from the comfort that the Pizza had become, punching the air and feeling like the world was his.

And Timothy, hanging on to my hand, skis pointed in all the wrong directions, smiling, and laughing, and chatting away unceasingly.  Stopping to touch the snow his skis shaved up, and looking so. darn. cute.

"Mom! Watch!"
"Hey, Mom!  Did you see that?!"
"Mom! Mom! Mom! Watch me!"

Over and over and over I watched.  And then I'd ski down to a better vantage point and watch again.  I watched, and I watched, and I watched.  I clapped and I cheered and I pumped my fist as the kids went soaring past me, and I delighted in seeing them feel proud of themselves.

This picture was taken at the top of the hill just before our last run down.  I didn't even have to ask for the smiles on those faces.  They were simply there, just waiting to be captured.

And at the end of the day, I realized that I hadn't even thought once about skiing myself.  I had never wished to leave the bunny hill in search of jumps or narrow passageways surrounded by pine trees. All those winters skiing... all those Saturdays when I felt like nothing could be better than having the cold wind biting my cheeks while listening to the sound of my skis as they cut back and forth propelling my body rhythmically, comfortably, down a steep slope.

All those Saturdays that felt as if nothing could be better than that moment...

How could I have known that none of those moments would compare to this one?  This one of standing still with my face pointed towards the top of the hill, waiting to catch a glimpse of my own child coming down.  This one of traveling at a snails pace, or of holding the tiny hand of my own child and leading him, laughing, down the snowy slope.

So, in addition to those beautiful smiles up there, mine shined all the way from my heart.  Because I now know something that they can't quite yet...

I know what it feels like to share one of your own treasured moments from the past with your children. And to watch them start making it their own.