Monday, March 03, 2014

the bunny slope drill sergeant

The last week of January, we took the family on our second-ever ski trip.


Because our school had teacher workdays on Thursday and Friday, we made the decision to take the children out of school on Tuesday and Wednesday and treat ourselves to the wonder that is mid-week skiing.  Since the temperatures had been colder than average, and there had been record amounts of snowfall in the region, we felt fully justified in our decision and believed the experience of staying at a ski-in, ski-out cabin, would be well worth the expense.


We arrived in Snowshoe, West Virginia on Tuesday evening. The temperature when we pulled up to our cabin was 10 degrees.  By Wednesday morning, when we ventured out to the slopes, the temperature was -8 below zero, with a windchill that lowered the temperature to -22.  But it was so beautiful and aside from the bone chilling cold that would freeze any exposed skin in less than 10 minutes, the conditions were truly magnificent.


When we arrived at the mountain, I vetoed Charlie's opinion that we enroll all four of our children in ski school, because it was $150 per child, per day. For as much as Charlie wanted to just ski with me, and not be slowed down by our little people who he didn't think could keep up with us, my opinion was that the triplets had ski school last year and since both Charlie and I have been skiing for 35 years a piece, my theory was that we can teach them and save ourselves $450 a day, or $1800 for the four days we were planning to be there.


But since Henry could hardly stand up on his skis, it made sense for us to enroll him.  So while Henry slid off with the rest of his tiny tot ski school class, Charlie and I took the triplets out on the mountain.  By the end of the first day, they were doing fantastic and able to keep up with us on all of the green (beginner) and several blue (advanced) runs.  Henry appeared to be doing well, too. At least every time we saw him - he was upright and smiling ... probably because the ski school offered his tiny tot class hot chocolate with marshmallow breaks every 30 minutes. Aside from the -22 degree temperatures, Wednesday was the perfect ski day.


When we arrived on the mountain Thursday morning, our beautifully desolate slopes that we'd experienced the day prior, were now populated with northern Virginia families that had also retreated to the mountains for the teacher workdays.  What we didn't anticipate was that there would be so many people, the ski school would be overbooked and there would be no space in the class for Henry.  So when we were told that he couldn't register, Charlie thought that our next best option would be to sign him up for snowboarding lessons. And yes, maybe, snowboarding would be a good option.  But I have this mental block that our children must know how to ski before they attempt snowboarding.  Why? Because I don't know how to snowboard, so if our children get stuck, there's nothing I can do to help them except tell them to walk down (or up) the mountain for assistance.


So when Charlie told me that he'd signed Henry up for snowboard lessons for Thursday through Saturday, to the tune of $450, but first we'd need to stand in line for over an hour to exchange his ski gear for snowboard gear ... it wasn't one of my most gracious moments. We are here to ski, not snowboard and I will not spend $450 on glorified babysitting after losing more than an hour of skiing because we have to first exchange his gear.  And that is how Charlie and I began what would shape up to be our most miserable day in skiing history.  We were both upset because skiing for a family of six - even without ski lessons - is an expensive endeavor.  So expensive, that we opted to pack our own food each day and had our children eat snacks in between runs.

A snowy tapas picnic, if you will.


And yet here we were, not able to really get our money's worth out of our trip, because we had Henry who could not ski, there was no space for him in ski school, and one of us would have to stay back with him, while the other one skied with the triplets and I'm trying my best not to think about how much it is costing us per minute, just standing there debating what to do.



As a compromise, I took the triplets out skiing for an hour, and then I'd trade with Charlie, who would take the triplets skiing, while I'd stay with Henry on the bunny slope.  So on and so forth we'd do this, until just after lunch time, when William and Elizabeth decided to hang back with their father and Henry for a little longer to warm up while I took Carolyn skiing ... just the two of us.

As Carolyn and I were preparing to trade with Charlie,  I called him on our remote-controlled radio and told him I was on my way and to get ready to switch.  That's when he told me that William, Elizabeth and Henry (and I quote), "Had had enough skiing and were playing at the indoor playground for the rest of the day."


They are playing at the PLAYGROUND when we have forked over fortune for lodging and ski equipment, and rental gear, and full-day lift tickets after "only" skiing for a total of three hours that day?  My response, upon hearing this news, made my prior ungracious moment, from earlier in the day, appear regal.  Worst of all, perhaps, was that we were on an RC radio, so anyone who was on the same channel heard me. Oh, sometimes, you can hide your anger from the world, and sometimes not.

I skied in a mad rush to the lodge, clop-clopped through the lodge in my ski boots, and upon seeing my three children who were having a grand time running around barefoot, bellowed THEY BETTER GET THEIR SKIS BACK ON AND GET OUTSIDE ON THE MOUNTAIN! 

Meanwhile, my husband shook his head in dismay and sarcastically said, "Excellent, Jen.  This is really fun for everyone, isn't it?"


Do I detect criticism?!



I don't remember everything that I said, but it was loud and angry and borne of the frustration that happens when you have expectations for the way something is supposed to go, and it isn't going that way at all.  My response was something along the lines of, "SKIING IS FUN, WE LOVE SKIING, AND WE DIDN'T JUST SPEND A SMALL FORTUNE SO OUR KIDS COULD PLAY IN A PLAYGROUND LIKE ONE AT MCDONALD'S SO THEY BETTER GET THEIR LITTLE SELVES WITH THEIR LITTLE SKIS BACK ON THE SLOPES BEFORE MY HEAD ROLLS CLEAR OFF MY HAPPY SHOULDERS!"

People stared.

People who tried not to stare craned their necks to eavesdrop.

One guy was nodding his head in agreement and laughing because maybe he could relate?

Charlie was afraid to leave me with Henry, and Henry was afraid to be left alone with me - but my auditory expression of frustration continued at an elevated acoustic range, and soon enough, Charlie and the triplets were on their skis and back out on the mountain. That's when I turned my attention to a tantruming Henry who told me he didn't want to ski anymore because he didn't like it and he couldn't do it and NO! NO! NO!


There is a psychological, birth order reason - I'm sure - Henry tends to give up easier than he should at certain activities.  When he suspects that he can't keep up with his siblings, rather than try and fail, he instead pulls the baby card.  But I absolutely knew that he could ski, and I knew that once he did it, he'd really love it. And I know these things, because I'm his mother.  Charlie likely knew it too, but he was worried he'd turn him off from skiing forever if he pushed him too hard. I don't believe it's possible to push kids too hard when it simply comes to trying something and at least, giving it your best shot.

So in a "beatings will continue until morale improves kind of way" I told Henry that he COULD do it, and I didn't want to hear any more of his defeatist attitude.  I told him to wipe the tears off his face before they froze and then I made him tell me, "I can do it!" over and over again, until he was nearly screaming at the top of his six-year-old lungs, "I CAN DO IT! I CAN DO IT!" 

After a few runs down the bunny slope with Henry wiping out left and right, I held him between my skis and had him lean on my poles.  Once we accomplished one successful run, I took him to the top of the mountain and told him we were going to ski the whole way to the bottom.  He was concerned. And rightly so, because skiing down a 2-mile stretch with a little chap between your skis isn't the easiest thing in the world to do and I was fully aware that my thoughts of what I can athletically do often eclipses the reality of my ability.  But I still had some adrenalin coursing through my veins from my outburst an hour earlier, so I pointed our four skis down hill, and off we went.

You can do it, Jen!



Midway down our run, we (almost literally) bumped in to Charlie and the triplets. They were stunned to see us skiing down the mountain and as we went past, I gave Charlie a proud look that conveyed, "Yes, I know, I'm totally awesome, right? This is how you do it, Sweetie Pie!" and then I caught an edge and promptly fell down on top of Henry. Once we recovered, we skied the rest of the way to the bottom, receiving only some minor assistance from siblings on the flat terrain.


When we were within 200 yards of the lift, I pulled up my poles and had Henry ski the rest of the way down, practicing his pizza cut / snowplow stop, until he pulled along side Charlie at the chairlift.  We did another few runs with him skiing between my skis, and Charlie's skis, and the children were so thrilled that their little brother was out there skiing with them. That is how we wrapped up the day on Thursday.


On Friday, we set off - determined that we'd continue skiing with Henry, and teaching him ourselves. After we did two runs with him skiing and holding our poles, we set him loose to ski on his own. He made it down every run, turning, stopping and soon hitting jumps along the side of the runs like a pint-sized pole-less skiing wonder. All the while he'd be crouched with his arms on his hips, loudly singing, "DA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA BATMAN!"


By Saturday, he was nearly leading the charge down the hills and when I jokingly asked him if he'd had enough and wanted to take off his skis and go play at the indoor playground for the rest of the day, he hollered, "WHAT?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I LOVE SKIING AND WANT TO DO THIS EVERY SINGLE DAY!"

It made my heart soar because he absolutely meant it...


And that's precisely how I feel, too!