I can’t say I was really happy yesterday morning when I got in my cold car around 7:30 to drive an hour and 45 minutes north to go skiing.
In fact, when I saw my girlfriend later that morning on line to take the gondola up to the top of the mountain, I told her that the only thing that could make the day any better was if there was going to be some kind of math involved. “Are we doing any word problems later?” I joked as we inched our way up to the front of the endless line.
My 12-year-old son, on the other hand, was practically giddy.
I heard him hop right out of bed when his alarm went off at 6:30 and then he poked his head inside my room to see if I was getting up.
“A few more minutes, buddy,” I told him, probably not in my cheeriest voice.
When I finally lumbered downstairs 15 minutes later for coffee, he was sitting on a stool at our island eating the toast slathered with peanut butter that he’d made himself and already dressed in warm layers for his day on the slopes. The night before, while I sat on the couch and watched “How to Get Away With Murder” and pretended the following day wasn’t happening, he was busy packing up all his ski gear in a backpack and laying out his clothes for the next day. He even put my skis and boots in the back of our SUV.
I am a reluctant skier. I came to the sport later in life and never found it very natural to strap sticks to the bottom of my feet and shoot down a mountain. It ain’t right.
But my ex-husband was passionate about the sport and back in the day, I really wanted to be the kind of girlfriend who was up for anything. You know, the Cool Girl. The one who, according to Amazing Amy in Gone Girl, “is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.”
But I don’t think I ever totally fooled him. For one thing, I’m a scaredy cat and not a really good sport. I’m sure I didn’t make things easy. But God bless him, he was patient with me. He helped me put my boots on and carried my skis and poles around. He followed me down the mountain and reminded me to bend my knees, lean forward and not swing my arms around. In fact, to this day, I still hear his voice in my head as I make my way down a mountain and adjust accordingly.
When our kids were old enough to hit the slopes, he’d get them all ready for a day in ski school – stuffing little bodies clad in pajamas and turtlenecks (this was before all the fancy long johns came along) into bibbed snow pants and putting all the right socks and boots and gloves on all of those little hands and feet – and wrangle them over to their lessons. Then later, he’d take them out himself, showing them the proper way to get on and off a chairlift and skiing backwards down the mountain as they followed behind, their little skis making a “pizza slice” as they plowed their way through the snow.
A couple of times he even took the older three kids away for the long President’s Weekend to ski with his sister and her kids while I stayed home – secretly relieved – to take care of our little guy. While I sat on the couch, watching movie after movie and drinking red wine, they mastered moguls and learned to ski through wooded glades and by the time I got back out on the slopes with them a few years later, found myself once again the slowest and most remedial skier in the pack.
So when my marriage was finally ending, I joked that at least I’d never have to ski again. “It’s the silver lining,” I’d like to tell people.
Except my kids missed it. While I saw it as one giant, expensive hassle that resulted in staring down a steep, icy slope with frozen toes, they grew up thinking that nothing could be more fun. And because we’d taken them away on a bunch of ski trips over the years, they also associated it with cozy nights sitting on the floor with their cousins playing Spit and Rummy and splashing around an indoor pool.
While I was going through my divorce, my girlfriend offered me her condo in Stratton, VT for a weekend to take the kids skiing and I saw it as an opportunity to prove to myself that I could do things like that by myself, even though I still had a 6-year-old to manage. The trip started badly when I discovered, after I’d gone and rented all four of them equipment from a local ski place, that our fairly new SUV didn’t have the proper bars on top to clip on our old ski rack. I’d have to shove them inside along with all our bags and helmets and groceries I’d bought for the long weekend.
And that’s when I sat down and started to cry in the family room with my daughters looking on. But in the first of what would be many times when the kids would rally around me, the girls assured me we’d be able to fit everything inside our truck and even though we were probably pretty squished on the five-hour drive north that Thursday night, not one kid complained.
We were up bright-and-early the next morning to catch the 8:15 shuttle from the condo complex to the mountain, standing outside with all of our bags and equipment in the freezing January air, when after a while, one of the maintenance guys drove by and told us that the shuttle did not run on weekdays. So we shoved everything back into our truck and headed over to the mountain and when we pulled into the lot, saw that the shuttle bus was loading passengers to take them to the lodge.
We made a mad scramble to get all the skis and poles, helmets and bags out and over to the shuttle and I ushered all of the kids up the steps and into the back. It was the kind of bus that I imagined was also used to shuttle migrant workers around to jobs, with a big, open back where passengers stood and held onto poles.
The kids and I pushed our way into the bus that was mostly filled with silver-haired retirees, who were probably taking advantage of the smaller crowds and cheaper pricing of weekday skiing. I ordered all of the kids to hold onto something and started counting heads.
One was missing.
“Where’s Nick?” I shouted, and the three older kids just stared back at me.
“He’s over here,” came an unfamiliar voice from the back of the bus, very near the opening where I could barely make out trees rushing by as we headed towards the mountain. And then I saw my 6-year-old standing really close to that gaping opening.
“Can you grab him?” I yelled to the nice woman who’d alerted me to his whereabouts and she yanked him away from the opening and held him by the shoulders until we pulled up to the ski lodge.
I bought lift tickets and clipped them to everyone’s ski jackets, wrapping the long sticker onto the wire and thinking how easy it had looked when the kids’ dad had put our tickets on us all those years. The little guy went to ski school and the other kids and I spent the day going up and down the mountain.
But in the end, it wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. Something was missing. And maybe it was the expense of it all or that teenagers had no interest in going anywhere with just me, but we never went again.
I’ve gone a couple of times with girlfriends since then and took my youngest to learn how to snowboard at a place about two hours from here, and I waited in the lodge while he took a lesson with some friends.
But he’s been dying to do it again. And it’s not enough that his dad is taking him away for a weekend to ski this month. He needed to go skiing with me.
So when a couple of families in town were heading to a mountain in New Jersey to ski on Sunday, he was all over it. Initially I said I’d take him but just hang around the lodge while he skied with his buddies because A: I don’t really need to ski and B: I’m not the richest cat right now. I’d rather spend that $65 on a manicure and a pedicure or when the kids and I go to Hong Kong next month.
“Why don’t you see if Dad wants to go skiing with you, dude?” I suggested.
But he looked at me with those big blue eyes of his and said, “But Mom, it can be our thing.”
“I’ve never even seen you ski,” he added.
I mean, who around here even wants to do anything with me any more? Pretty much nobody. And soon, this kid won’t want to either, as evidenced by his actions last summer.
And for as much as I complain about skiing, there’s really no better family activity. Nothing beats having a teenager trapped next to you on a chairlift on a long ride up a mountain or laughing over dinner at night on who fell during what run or who was the last to the bottom of the trail (usually me).
So that is how I found myself on Sunday standing on a line akin to one you’d find waiting for Space Mountain on Good Friday to rent the kid a snowboard for the day. We stored our bags in lockers and made our way outside and I marveled for not the first time at how easy my ex had made all of it look. And after a rocky first run that found my son on his butt more than standing upright on his board, he quickly found his rhythm and we had a great day. Even though he had two buddies to fool around in the terrain park and see who could catch the most air, he also wanted his mom as part of the pack.
After one run we stopped at the bottom to take some pictures of our group with our phones and I asked my friends if they’d take one of my son and me. As we stood with our arms around each other’s waist and our helmets touching, he said, “I really like seeing you ski, Mom,” and I cursed myself for being such a dick earlier that day. For even considering not doing something that would bring him so much joy.
It’s like those old MasterCard commercials, in which I’d tally up the costs of our ski day – the lift tickets, equipment rental, $4 slices of pizza, my lost beauty sleep – and then tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the end result was truly priceless.
(And look, there was even some math involved.)
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