I skied with my children two days this week.
It was one of those surreal, later years parenting moments in which my mental frame flickers between decades. I listen to my teens laugh with their friends as they plot their attack on the Pats Peak. “This will be a very different sort of hill than we skied in New Zealand,” someone sagely points out. I don’t zip up one snow suit, no one needs help getting his feet wedged into ski boots. I don’t remind one single child to visit the bathroom before suiting up. No one cries. I don’t have to say, “Sit down before you fall down!” even once. Everyone knows where his mittens are. I am not left to pick up eight boots strewn across the changing room floor. My hands feel empty, I flirt with my husband to fill the time. A kid rolls his eyes at us, snaps his helmet on and lumbers toward the snow, “Lunch is at noon! Be late and you’ll miss it!” I call after him, and then, he’s gone.
Of course they aren’t gone. They pop in and out all day, whooshing by me on the hill to check on me and see if I’m okay. Riding a lift up and skiing down a few runs with me before being drawn back to the excitement of conquering the hill with their friends. They wait at the top of the lift, sometimes, to ask me if I’ve done a black diamond yet, and how many times I’ve fallen: “I have. None.”
When they were little skiing was exhausting.
If you’ve ever propped a kid between your knees, bent double and then skied a controlled snowplow down the longest green hill you can find, you know our pain. They eventually graduated to “leashes” as they affectionately called the harness contraptions that allowed them to ski almost on their own. I remember wondering if I could still remember how to actually ski properly, and wondering if I would ever be past the stage of needing to check in at the nursery at the bottom of the hill at the end of every third run to see if the current baby needed nursing or was doing okay. There were tears of frustration as little people learned to stand up when they fell, snap bulky boots into uncooperative bindings, and practiced the very baby beginnings of doing hard things.
I saw the ghosts of my little children all day:
- They sat with me on the lift and we identified deciduous trees by their bark and evergreens by their needles as we passed the time going up.
- A tiny Gabe skidded to a stop and suck his mittens up next to his helmet like pointy ears and shouted, “HORNS UP!” which for some reason used to be his battle cry for mental toughness.
- A small Hannah, braids bouncing, leapt over a little jump with a whoop.
- Elisha grinned beneath too-big-goggles.
- I can still feel Ezra between my knees.
- Gabe peeing through his snowsuit half way down the hill on an emergency bathroom run.
I fell only once in two days.
Instantly Gabriel was standing over me with a worried look. “Are you okay, Mom?” he asked in his (still jarring) deep baritone. He held my poles, grabbed my hand, let go when I winced, and then tried again at my elbow. He dusted me off, gave Dad the “she’s okay” thumbs up from where he watched down the hill, and hovered as I found my feet again. Our roles have reversed. I’m decades from needing it (I hope) but I am now the receiver in the care-taking equation. I have children who out size, out strength and out ski me. Clearly I’m viewed as the one to be padded and worried about.
It was fun to ski with my husband. To watch him swoosh up to the top of a big ridge and stand there, like Bambi’s father silhouetted against the sun, waiting for everyone to pass beneath him so he could leap off of the edge and feel the stomach lurching vertical drop that he loves. Racing down the hill behind him I remembered that this man, who I’ve watched hunched over tiny balls of snowsuit and love for so many years, can really (I mean really) ski! We talked about nothing and everything on the lifts. We were homesick for our skiing buddies in New Zealand. I remembered all of the reasons Pats Peak is where skied the most when our kids were tiny: Well manicured hills with lots of learning terrain, a childcare center that’s handy to the hill and staffed family style, lessons for every ability, and enormous M&M chip cookies that make for family memories even teenagers beg to relive a decade later. I smiled, remembering that the woman I spoke to as we’d arrived was the same woman who found a dry pair of pants for Gabe in an “extras” bin they kept for the purpose, when he was four. Of all the places we’ve skiied, this one is our favourite.