Skiing with Kids
I don’t mean to in any way belittle the import of a child’s first steps, first words, first time he hugs you back or puts together a sophisticated question beyond the monosyllabic and incessant, “why?” All of these are amazing milestones in the shared life of father and child, but without a doubt, beyond any comparison, the most mind-blowing paternal experience for me so far has been the simple act of skiing with my four-year old son, Michael.
Skiing with Michael should not be confused with teaching him how to ski. This process involved lots of tears, some fantastic three-year old face plants, hours spent with a tow rope on snowy streets, innumerable repetitions of “french fries” and “pizza” and infuriating cycles and experimentations in layering up and de-layering to accommodate trips to the bathroom. No, none of this was actually skiing. It was just the required price of admission to that fantastic other realm. Skiing with my three-now-four-year old son means he gets off the chair solo, points his sticks down the hill and does it.
Watching Michael navigate the berms and various snow packs, hesitantly shifting from the invincible snow wedge to parallel and back again, I finally had the quintessential father notion, “Holy crap, that’s my kid!” Almost as if up until that pristine moment framed by blue sky, white snow and green trees, I hadn’t realized that I was responsible (at least 50% give or take) for bringing this little person into the world. Before then I was just buckling him in and out of his car seat, changing diapers, dressing, feeding, protecting, scolding, rewarding, and generally remaining in control of his little world. With two sharp metal projectiles snapped onto his feet, the wind in his face, and me a hundred yards uphill, Michael was holding the steering wheel, slamming on the gas, and we both were loving every second of it.
Letting go is big part of being a parent. Wifey and I constantly debate the merits and risks of allowing greater autonomy for our children. I usually lean toward anarchy and she towards North Korea, but that might have more to do with our genders. Letting go had hitherto never been presented in such as crystallized perfect form as it was when my son first really began skiing independently. Could I tuck down the hill and save him before he slams into a pole, a tree, a gaggle of retired Texas vacationers serpentining their way down Ridge Run? Sure, maybe I could make it in time to prevent the world’s largest old-people-frozen-yard-sale, but right before I lower my upper torso in a desperate attempt to avert disaster, my son looks up, notices the impending collision, digs in his edges and adeptly navigates away from the startled seniors.
Trust. Does this mean that I trust him now and have never really trusted him before? Not entirely. I trust him to play with his younger sister and not clobber her over the head with balls and bats and heavy objects… at least not too frequently. I think perhaps that it’s a different level of trust. The consequences at twenty-plus miles per hour, even with the helmet emblazed with masking tape reading “My Dad’s phone number is…” are just that much more severe. And it’s not that I know the consequences; it’s that he does. He understands and I trust his understanding. Skiing has done this for both of us in a way that no other activity could have.
In closing, I’ll let my son have the last word.
“So Michael, what do you like the most about skiing?”
“I like falling down.”
Skiing with Kids, To Do:
- Have patience, lots and lots of patience.
- Use bribery, lots and lots of bribery.
- Only go out under perfect conditions: blue sky, warm sun, and adequate nap.
- At some point, when he is ready, throw him down the hill. You’ll be surprised or horrified.
Skiing with Kids, Don’t:
- Buy lots of expensive gear; instead, beg, borrow, rent, swap, and steal.
- Expect to be out cruising the slopes right away—you’ve got to put in the time hunched over, backwards snowplowing, with wet gloves and a smile on your face, saying, “You can do it.”
- Go directly to the chairlift.
- Have an aversion to hot chocolate breaks.