The term "time out" means different things to different people. To sports people, a "time out" is a strategic ploy to make the most of what remains on the clock. It is used to regroup, evaluate and hopefully salvage the situation. To parents, the term relates to a disciplinary action. Kids who misbehave get a "time out" until they are prepared to act with civility. A sports "time out" is time sensitive, since you are trying to make critical decisions on the fly. A disciplinary "time out" is more of an isolation chamber, where time itself is supposed to be the agent of behavioral change. Either way, a "time out" is a set period of time when you are out of the action. How wisely you use that pause determines how well you play the game.
This whole last ski season was, for me, one big "time out," in both meanings of the term. It was all for the best of causes, for the care and feeding of our second son. By then we had successfully gotten our older son up and running on skis, but he required the full attention of one parent. By New Year's I had yet to get on skis, and by mid-February I had still not managed to ski with my husband. Mostly, I walked up the hill with one child on my back while my husband skied with the other, both of us taking extreme care to maintain their humor. Occasionally, a woman skiing down the trail would stop with a sympathetic comment. Wait until next year, they promised. You will get your life back. Meanwhile, we fielded phone calls from single friends who were skiing powder, callously reporting the snow depth in Vail, Jackson, Snowbird or Squaw. I tried not to be bitter, and instead sought to use this "time out" to some advantage.
In a sports "time out" you must make an instant analysis based on a snapshot of your situation. It forces you to stop, review and quickly plan how to put that game into the win column. The challenge is to know your immediate needs and address them with immediate action. Merely getting the whole family outside, whether on skis, on foot or in a backpack, was a victory in itself. Sneaking in a few runs was a bonus. As far as a strategy, our only goal was to make sure that every outing was positive. That way the entire family would cultivate at least the desire—if not yet the ability—to ski.
The elements that contribute most to a positive experience are sometimes the simplest, like the ease of accomplishing anything on a warm sunny day and the miraculous, spontaneous gift of powder. A "time out" makes you cherish every minute of every day on the hill. It makes you recognize the basic luxuries and efficiencies we take for granted. The fact that snowmaking can make any trail decent in the leanest years; that high-speed lifts can make even two hours of skiing significant; that base lodges can be endlessly entertaining and that french fries and hot chocolate can get most kids to do anything. Prior to parenthood, I'd rarely taken the time to appreciate these things.
Compared to the sports "time out," the disciplinary "time out" is less urgent but more contemplative. In fact, the parental admonition that usually accompanies a disciplinary "time out" says it all. It sounds something like this: "I want you to stay here and think about what you did." Indeed, how did I get here? From looking out only for No. 1, to now being, on a good day, a very distant third priority? Clearly at some point in time I decided that I didn't want it all to be about me anymore. For athletes, that's the hard decision, the intractable move that takes us forever away from the zone of "Planet Me," where we lived so comfortably for so long.
Looking around, I see many of my friends and former teammates reacting to the same situation with a certain degree of disbelief. You think you are giving up just a bit of your edge, sharing center stage instead of owning it. Then one morning you wake up and life is so not about you anymore. Nothing is the same. Your first impulse may still be to grab the skis and geet out of the house fast on a powder day. Instead, you listen to a new voice that chides, "Get over your bad self!" And you find yourself making a snowman in the yard instead of making first tracks.
"Time out" is an opportunity to clear your head and figure out what's important. Do I really need more miles on snow racking up runs on my personal skidometer, or are a few runs snowplowing and steering a little person through a brand new experience just as satisfying? When you have the time to pose the question, the answer is perfectly clear.
Once last winter, when I did manage to get out skiing, I found myself at the side of a ski race and something caught my attention. It was a woman wearing a bib and carrying a clipboard, as she gingerly crossed the course to get a better view of her gates. A gatekeeper. She would have looked just as natural decked out in an apron ferrying sheets of freshly baked cookies across the kitchen. But she was here, uncomplaining, planted at attention on frozen ground. The vision scared me. This was the ghost of gatekeepers past and future. It was my mother, and possibly someday soon, myself. Then it finally occurred to me that it's payback time. I'm at the cash register in the circle of life.
This metaphor dogs me, especially when I'm around my parents. They spend a great deal of their time on the road going to ski races, as I once did. Last year they went to Colorado in November, to Sun Valley in January and to Quebec and Winter Park in March. Of course, my mom no longer has to gatekeep. They probably have kids that come out to do that. How perfect; how absolutely poetically just. Now when I go home, I occasionally have the urge to ask my dad and his Masters racing friends to keep their après-ski chatter down so I can put the kids to sleep. So far I've been able to resist. I can't quite get myself to substantiate the total role reversal.
Instead, I quietly reenact my parents' labors, schlepping gear, wiping noses and negotiating each near meltdown into a positive spin. A mere few runs seems like more trouble than it's worth, but I try to see the bigger picture. "Time out" has taught me that every outing, however short, is a step toward preserving our options. Maybe, if we keep up the effort, keep it fun and convincingly pretend this is the way every family spends its free time, we can assure that skiing will be part of our lives forever.
Some moments, the answer to all my "time out" pondering crystallizes, and the purpose of this hare-brained plan is so clear that the sacrifices seem inconsequential. Like when our 2-year-old throws himself down in the parking lot like a Greenpeace protester, daring us to peel him off the snow and out of his bindings. "I don't want to go home! Keep skiing!" He probably should have gotten a "time out" for that, but sometimes when you're laughing too hard you have to let those things slide.