When I was growing up, our family vacations were always to warm places, where we could sit around, bask in the sun, and do a whole lot of nothing. Sure, I had some friends who went skiing with their families, but not many. To me, the idea of going somewhere freezing cold and spending the whole day exercising to the point of exhaustion seemed really unappealing. People do this, like, by choice?
Then, when I was a young, single twenty-something, living in NYC, I had a change of heart. My friend and I decided it would be super fun to go to Vermont for a long weekend and learn to ski. OMG, we would make such cute little snow bunnies and there would probably be such hot ski instructors up there and did you see these adorable Uggs? Well, as you might imagine, my first ski experience wasn’t quite the MTV promo I imagined it to be. No, thanks to record low temps and a horrible instructor who couldn’t even teach the basics, I kept sliding out of control and off-path, grabbing onto orange mesh fencing for dear life. It was a terrible experience — not to mention a dangerous one — and I swore off skiing for life.
Then, I met my husband who, unfortunately, loves, loves, loves to ski. Ah, crap, I remember thinking to myself when he suggested we hit the slopes for a weekend. He insisted that, with the right instructor, I would like it. And since he was so into it, and we were so in love, and I wanted to be cool, I gave it another shot…and another…and another. Although it was much easier the second and third and fourth time around, I just never liked it. I freaking hate it, okay? I don’t like the sensation of sliding down a mountain. I don’t like that my feet and legs hurt and that my eyelashes freeze. I love my husband, but I hate skiing, and I’m done trying to make things work with this winter sport.
That being said, I do believe that, had I started skiing as a wee one, I would probably enjoy it now. So, my husband and I have been in agreement that it would be important to get our twins on skis while they’re young. I want them to get comfortable with it, before they’re old enough to realize, “Holy crap, I’m hurtling down a mountain at rapid speed!” And I love the idea of my boys having this lifelong bonding activity with their Daddy, while Mommy drinks hot cocoa and reads a book at the lodge.
We decided that 3-years-old (which is right now) would be the right age to get them in ski school. My husband was super into it, buying all of the gear they would need and showing them YouTube videos of kids on the slopes. The boys were into it too, I think spurred on by their Daddy’s enthusiasm.
So, last week, with our precious babies outfitted in snow pants and puffy coats and goggles, we dropped them off at ski school. As my husband went off to hit the slopes himself, I sat there on a bench outside the school area by myself, holding my good camera, nervously pulling at my lips. I was anxious, really anxious. It’s not that I was worried about their physical safety because the hill was basically the equivalent of a driveway. Mostly, I just wanted them to have a good time, to think this was fun, and not to be scared, like I was.
As they made their way towards the little bunny slope, I started snapping pictures and shouting encouragement, my overwhelming enthusiasm masking my heart-wrenching anxiety. As they stomped through the snow in their tiny ski boots, I told them that their shoes were just like Iron Man’s, and kept saying, “Hulk smash!” to remind them to lift their feet up. I’ve never been a particularly hovering parent but, oh, I was hovering now. I might as well have been carrying them through the snow.
When we got to the small slope, there was an uphill conveyor belt called “The Magic Carpet,” with cheery banners of smiling suns and flowers. There was also a colorful hanging-ribbon arch that they called “The Rainbow Forest.” I mean, these people had their kid thing down. I spent the first half hour watching just outside the mesh fencing, snapping pictures, and trying to gauge whether or not they were doing okay. I was so excited for them, I couldn’t stop smiling — it was as though I was learning for the first time too. I knew how fun this could be, and was so happy that they were getting the opportunity to learn the right way.
Ultimately though, I think my presence was actually more distracting than helpful. When both boys started complaining that their goggles hurt, that their helmets hurt, that they were too hot (?!), looking at me with big, sad toddler eyes, one of the instructors politely suggested that I maybe watch from a distance…or not at all. As I walked away, I looked back to see my babies, pouting, uncomfortable, sad. I felt like the worst mother in the world. Are they too young to try skiing? Should I rescue them? Are they afraid?
As I sat in the lodge for the next couple of hours, I felt pulled-apart. I knew that if I stood outside and watched, it would just make me nervous, but in the absence of information, I felt helpless. One of the ski instructors popped in at one point to tell me that the boys actually were hot and she was going to take off their coats since it was about 55 degrees outside. She also told me that they were having a little bit of a rough time, but would probably feel better once they were more comfortable. Oh, my heart! All I could picture were my babies lying on the snow, crying, tearing off their layers, screaming, “I hate you, Mommy, wherever you are!”
I texted my husband on the slopes, saying something like, “Well, apparently, our little babies hate skiing and they’re having a terrible time but I hope you’re having fun at least. This was a stupid idea.” About 20 minutes later, he texted back. “What are you talking about? I’m standing here right now WATCHING them ski and they’re smiling and waving at me.” What?!?! Huh?!?!
Apparently, once the boys had stripped off some of those stifling layers, they actually did start to have a good time. They had a little hot cocoa break and then took to the tiny slopes, ready for action. My husband and I went to watch the last ten minutes of their class and I couldn’t have been more proud of my little guys. As they skied down the slopes, they held their little fists out in front of them to keep their weight forward, “punching the bad guys” and “flying like Superman.” (The instructor clearly picked up on their superhero obsession.) And they were so proud to show us as well. They said they “loved it.”
Afterwards, I literally felt like I would burst out of my puffy coat, I was so happy. Yes, I had spent two hours fraught with anxiety, but in the end, my little guys kept trying and they got the hang of it. It reminded me of their first day of school, the first time they took off on their scooters, the first time we left them for an overnight. As a mom, these experiences are a mixed bag of fear and excitement, sadness and pride. We don’t want to let them go, we don’t want to see them grow up, but then they show us their bravery, their tiny determination, their ability to embrace new experiences, and we know that we’ve done the right thing. I’m sure there will be many more of these moments when I have to suck it up and let my babies grow. At least now I know how good it will feel to watch them fly.
Photo: Jennifer Benjamin