I find myself in a mixed marriage. No, not the whole Jew-non Jew thing. I mean something far more divisive: ski versus non-ski. And that intermarriage has provided me, this past week, with a vivid tableau of the parenting experience.
In those dark and bleak days before he met and married me, my husband had to find joy in his life somewhere. I get that. And so, he became an avid skier, making sure to ski several times a year, familiarizing himself with black diamond trails in various beautiful locales.
In contrast, I placated myself in my pre-husband life with literature, travel and film. All things athletic, for me, run the gamut from “uninteresting” to “horrible.” Especially since an incident several years ago which I will call “Jordana Gets Trapped On A Live Volcano During A Flood” (true story), I have developed a attitude of Cold War détente toward nature: you leave me alone, I leave you alone. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I definitely see the merit of looking at beautiful natural vistas through picture windows while sipping a glass of wine. But the window glass should be strong, so that no living things with fur or claws can come near me, and it is generally better if my seat is heated.
Yet love does strange things to people. And that is why I found myself shopping at the REI sales in early February, convinced that I would set off the ‘not particularly outdoorsy’ radar the second I walked in. I found myself buying gear that I had never previously heard of — “neck gaiter”? – in preparation for something I never thought I’d be doing: a family ski trip to Colorado.
Coming from a long line of gym class losers, I never expected to find myself on such a sporty trip, or to be encouraging my boys, 6 and 8, to partake in something so risky. Coming from a long line of Jewish mother worriers, I found my nervousness kicked into overdrive as the departure date grew closer. I kept thinking about the untimely death of Natasha Richardson due to a ski mishap. I kept envisioning my two little boys in various states of traction after a day of ‘ski school,’ or as I call it, “leave your children with complete strangers to do something gratuitously dangerous for the day.”
“It’ll be fun!” my skier friends reassured me. “The boys will have a great time.” It didn’t help that one of my good friends said this while holding his broken wrist that he’d gotten on his most recent ski trip. Eek.
But the day finally came, and I gritted my teeth and dropped the boys off at ski school, outfitted with their new ski clothes and their rented helmets, boots and skis. In all their gear, they looked like little aliens. I made sure the ski school had my emergency contact number, and nearly vomited every time my phone rang all day. That was fun.
Perhaps needless to say, not one call was from the official Grim Reaper of ski school. In fact, the boys loved it, and came back to me at the end of the day tired and happy, excited to return the next day. And the next day came, and so did drop-off, and I found my stranglehold grip on nervousness starting to relax a little bit.
Over one of many relaxing hot cocoa stops with the baby (my little smiley alibi for not skiing myself), I thought it over and realized that in order for this trip to work, I would have to let go. I needed to let go not only of the boys themselves, but of some internal part of my mother self that is always imagining potential disasters – perhaps you can relate, dear reader? Yes, it is true that (shudder, pu pu pu) bad things can happen to people while skiing. But to spend the entire trip certain that they would happen would be insanity – perhaps even literal insanity.
It was time for me to fess up to the real reason for the nightmares and apprehensions: the simple fact that with my two older boys, I’m crossing a parenting bridge of sorts.
After all, during the first few years of a kid’s life, the kid has you in a vice grip. The small person needs you all the time. You’re changing clothes and diapers, spoon-feeding food, and rocking the little person to sleep. Sometimes, they cry if you even leave the room. You’re exhausted. If they’re up at night, so are you. You are a goddess to them, with the power to grant wishes and to deny them. You are their world.
But slowly and inexorably, you get to a point where they walk by themselves. And then, before you even know it, you are realizing that they are, metaphorically or literally, off to conquer their own mountains, with or without turning around to say goodbye.
It’s surprising and shocking when that day comes. One day out of nowhere, you find that you are still needed, but not in the same way you were before. And holding on tighter with fearful visions of potential calamity or disaster won’t make it change. The thing to do is to give them the tools they need, bring them to the bottom of the mountain, gracefully step back and squint into the sunlight as they glide away from you.