By Mary-Colleen Jenkins
Photo at right: A little skier cruises down the slopes. Photo courtesy of Mary-Colleen Jenkins
This is a question that has cropped up time and time again as I’ve watched my kids go from little pizza-wedging tots on miniscule skis to lanky teenager-ish skiers who outgrow their gear every damn year. (This last is the cause of annual parental groaning and rending of garments.)
What kind of parents let their kids ride on lifts dangling high above rocks, cliffs and trees? Lifts with no safety gear keeping kids in the seats? Lifts that blow in the wind, or that get lashed by sleet and rain?
What kind of parents let their kids strap waxed boards to their feet so they can hurtle down mountains at X miles per hour over slippery slopes, through trees, on narrow traverses just inches away from cliff faces?
What kind of parents let their kids engage in activities so dangerous they have to sign waivers against liability? Waivers that refer, literally, to death and dismemberment?
Well… um… it looks like we are that kind of parents. Along with a comforting number of others who are, apparently, just as bad as we are.
Years ago I stood on a slope in utter disbelief as my 4-year-old, so tiny she had to be picked up and put on the seat by a lifty, sat alone on the lift chair, legs straight, skis just barely clearing the edge of the seat. Right above my head she went, a tiny fluff of down perched high above the snow. I’d been spying on her class from behind a rise, and she had no idea that my heart was pounding in my throat as I realized she could fall off that thing.
What was I doing, allowing this to happen? What if she was terrified all alone up there? What if the worst happened? What kind of parent lets her little kid ride up a lift by herself?
I watched until I saw my daughter, bright in her red and blue, ski off the lift and stop at the top of the run while she waited for her class to catch up. Of course, she stayed on the chair. Of course, she stopped and waited for the others. She had been trained. She knew what to do.
At lunch that day I casually asked what she was thinking as she rode the lift all by herself. Was she scared?
“Oh,” she said. “I was thinking about how pretty the view is from up there.”
Two years ago I caught up with Michael in the middle of a run as he fumbled with the camera.
“Where are the girls?” I asked.
“Over there on that rock.” He pointed up to where our 8-year-old stood on top of an outcropping.
“But, that is so high!”
“Oh, it’s only about 8-9 feet.” He said.
What kind of a…?
“Okay, go!” he yelled. And—Zip!—she took a beautiful leap off that rock, stuck the landing, and rushed over to us with a flourish. Pink-cheeked, eyes aglow, she said, “Did you see that, Mommy? It was so fun!”
Skiing is fraught with dangers, and yet we persist in sending our precious cargo off into that very danger, trusting that they’ll handle it and come back to us whole, tired and happy. When I stop and think about it, it might strike some as a terribly risky type of parenting.
But, then I remember the tales I’ve heard about kids getting into sticky situations in the apparent safety of civilization. Broken arms from monkey bar falls. Coffee table incidents. Skateboard wipeouts. Sledding accidents. Blackberry-picking injuries. Peanut allergies. Bad drivers.
We can look at the world as a battle against the dangerous “what ifs”—What if she falls off the lift? What if she doesn’t? Or, we can look at it as a place of adventure. Sure, skiing is a dangerous activity, but it offers myriad chances for kids to burst out of their insulated day-to-day lives. It helps them develop an adventurous spirit. And with that comes confidence, thoughtful consideration of possibilities and an independence that is often hard for kids to find in the urban jungle. (And, frankly, often it’s harder for parents to let kids build independence in the city than it is out in the mountains.)
Every year a new crop of pizza-wedging tots shows up on the mountain, parents beaming proudly on the outside and perhaps quailing on the inside. The kids have no choice but to come along for the ride. But, it is the hope of every parent I know that their kids will love skiing as much as they do and that they will be rewarded by that intangible sense of self and freedom that comes from strapping on those boards and rocketing down a mountain at a ridiculous rate of speed.
Winter weekends call Mary-Colleen out to the snow, but during the week she can be found warm and dry and working with words. Jenkins is a freelance editor, writing coach, and writer of two blogs, Too Fond of Books (toofondofbooks-sea.blogspot.com) and Along the Branches (www.alongthebranches.wordpress.com). You can find her on Twitter at @EmceeReads.
Catch up with all the previous posts of “Tales from the Lift Line” below.
>> I. Waiting for Winter
>> II. Dorothy and Oz
>> IV. Vittels
>> VI. Olympians
>> VII. Emergence
>> VIII. Nickels and Dimes
>> IX. Nickels and Dimes Part II
>> X. Letting Them Run
>> I. The Beginning
>> II. When Seeing is Believing
>> III. Expeditionary Forces
>> IV. Velocity
>> V. Pack Rat
>> VI. Dude
>> VII. Expectations
>> VIII. Don’t Cry in the Trees
>> IX. The Sounds of Silence
>> X. Known/Unknown