Sunday, January 16, 2011

You never know

He wasn't happy. He didn't want to be in the parking lot of the ski area watching his sister schlep herself and a pair of rented skis across the road to the trail where a group of colorfully clad classmates are waiting.

But the lesson wasn't for him. He was too young to participate.

"Next year buddy," I tried to be reassuring. "Next year you will be old enough to go, too."

Cue waterworks.

So I did the only thing I could think to do; I picked him up, snowshoes and all, and carried him across the road and joined the group.

"We'll just follow along," I said to myself as I set him in the snow.

As the class started to slide awkwardly into the woods he muscled through the snow with ease if not grace.

"They're skis are longer than mine," he started to complain. "They aren't slipping."

His sister -- who was trying diligently to turn around by making "stars in the snow," or keep her skis straight out ahead like "French fries," or shape them into a wedge for controlling her speed -- was having a hard time staying upright.

So when he pitched forward and face planted into a drift of pure white powder I knew it wasn't an accident. He just wanted to do everything the other kids were doing, even falling.

It's funny how you can see their minds turning sometimes. You notice the smile in their eyes when the big ideas come to them. You know it as if you'd thought of it yourself.

When I picked him up and stuck him upright in the snow he was giggling. It's an intoxicating laughter, enough to make you think you know everything about your kids.

Yet, as one kid is muscling through the winter landscape, the other is struggling to stay on top of it. She's doing what the instructor advises, but everything is new and awkward. Her skis cross. She falls. It's hard to get back up. People are watching. Some kids are speeding past her with a combination of co-ordination and fearlessness. She falls again.

I put myself in her place and help her up again. I see the tears and try talking them away with "dust-your-self-off" encouragements.

She just stands there.

I smile painfully at the instructor, whose made the same assessment of the situation: Things are not going well.

Soon the class will be over. I walk, she skis next to me and we don't speak of what has happened.

I assume she's not going to want to return, though I don't want to make it official.

She's getting older, more aware of how things look if not how they seem. I have to be careful not to put things in her mind that weren't there to begin with.

Of course I'm not thinking about any of this as I trudged and she swooshed along the snow-covered path toward the final hill of the day. I'm just thinking about next week and what types of acrobatics it would take to get her out here again. I'm replaying all the variables I know of and imagine "if at first your don't succeed" speech falling victim to the "Because I said so, that's why" edict.

When we reach the rest of the group, I stay silent as she tells the instructor she'd rather walk down the last hill. But I smile when she changes her mind. As she starts downward, It takes every ounce of my flabby self-control not to reach out and catch her as she starts to wobble and lean backward.

She steadies herself and stays upright, and I bend over backwards in overdone praise. Her eyes glaze over.

I know that last bit of hill wasn't enough to erase the hour-long frustration of skiing. I fall silent again.

She schleps the gear back across the road, still sniffling. I'm afraid to ask, yet she volunteers: "That was really fun. I can't wait for next week."

As my children head toward the lodge together I stand in the parking lot with an odd sense of relief, but also an unsettling wisdom: You just never know.

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