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Learning Curve

Fall Line
posted: 03/17/2005

I try to be a good parent, to get my boys to eat their vegetables, to say "please" and "thank you," to not weaponize every object they pick up. However, I am not a contender for Mother of the Year. I buy the 99-cent apple juice jug instead of the $4 vial of gently pressed organic blueberry juice. I don't sweat hot dogs or cartoons, I'm hit-or-miss on details like matching socks and combed hair, and I can't always manage to control my vocabulary when I drop my skis in a heap after slipping on some ice heading to the lifts. My parenting style is more big-picture than detail-oriented, more focused on values and priorities than on any set of abstract rules. Consequently, my kids have Pop Tarts in the base lodge for brunch, but they sure love skiing. Of course, I blame this on my chief role model: my mother.

I had a very cool mom. (OK, she is still mine and still cool, but has been absolved from day-to-day duties.) One of my earliest ski memories-from a day so cold the snow squeaked-is of seeing her bare hand gripping a credit card, patiently scraping snow from the bottom of my boot and hearing her calm, gentle voice urging me to step into the binding.

For moms, teaching young kids to ski is backbreaking work. You shlep, haul, bribe, cajole and wrestle-all before getting out of the lodge. And then, when everyone is dressed, fed and re-fed, noses wiped and boots buckled-when the slopes and the relief of gravity are moments away-you get the dreaded "I have to go to the bathroom." More days than not, by the time I actually get to the bootscraping stage, I am muttering curses, neither calmly nor gently, and wondering why we mothers agree to suffer this ordeal.

We do it because we know that as soon as the skiing starts, the whining (primarily ours) is replaced by laughter and the sheer thrill of speed. I am also motivated by an obligation to honor my mother's sacrifices, to offer my kids the same rich memories of skiing and the great outdoors that her efforts afforded me. cConsidering that my husband and I live in New Hampshire, it's either teach our kids to ski or regularly uncork an afternoon bottle of wine, so on most winter days we head for the J-bar after school. Because I have nowhere near my mother's reserve of good cheer, I also rely on skiing to provide occasional moments of unbridled joy in counterpoint to my typical buzzkill style of parenting.

My first such opportunity arose on a sunny six-inch powder day last spring, when I introduced my 3-year-old son Chauncey, my eldest, to the concept of playing hooky. That morning, my friend Polly suggested we take a family ski trip up to Bolton Valley. Polly's two sons are each two years older than mine, polite, friendly, good-looking and would be inclined to swing from vines if the vegetation of northern Vermont permitted such sport. They are studies in perpetualmotion, yet somehow she keeps her cool, largely due to her extensive training as an emergency room nurse.

Always eager to rendezvous, I checked my younger son into daycare, she dropped her older son at school, and we both met at the mini-mart where she purchased the supplies that would be the key factors for the day's success. Stuffing our pockets with candy, we drove the final few miles up to Bolton together, the kids winding each other up for adventure.

For a couple of former downhill racers, Bolton Valley is an unlikely paradise, but with small children in tow it is darned near perfect-large enough to be interesting, but intimate enough to allow kids a healthy degree of freedom. They can round corners ahead of their parents, wander down main runs without having to negotiate high-speed intersections and embark on far-flung forest adventures that always wind up at the baselodge.

Loose reins and hero worship motivated Chauncey to a day of firsts: riding the ropetow by himself, weaving through powdery glades, catching air in the terrain park, pushing out of a start shack and racing thhrough a few gates. Whenever the boys' spirits flagged, Polly would command them to "Bring me your lips!" and she'd poke in a Lifesaver or Mento or some other small treat. Our only brush with a meltdown was when the chair dumped me near Chauncey while unloading and we collided on the ramp. A swiftly produced gummy shark remedied the situation immediately. We lunched on pizza and fries and all the foods a good mom would consider absolutely forbidden mid-week. When you're playing hooky, you might as well go for it.

As I drove home and Chauncey drifted to sleep, I pondered what memories he would take from this brilliantly executed mission of motherhood. I fantasized about his first real skiing memories, the mental snapshots around which he'll construct a lifelong love for the sport. Of course, we can neither influence nor fathom which impressions warrant a memory. In my self-congratulatory reverie, I failed to recall that my enduring childhood memory from an epic spring trip to Mammoth, Calif., was of my brother skipping a rock into my eye at Hot Creek, and that the highlight from my first trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo., was the same brother putting a firecracker in an egg.

The next day as I drove Chauncey to preschool, anticipating that kids might be jealous and parents might be miffed at the slacker mom among them, I casually tested the waters for his version of our big adventure. "Buddy, what was the best part of yesterday?" Silence. Then, "I don't know." More silence, then, "Mommy, remember when you fell on top of me?" I guess it beats a rock in the eye.

DECEMBER 2004

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