Ahh, the sound of teaching kids skiing:
“SKIS! YOU LISTEN TO ME! YOU DON’T LISTEN TO ME! AND I HATE YOU! AND I HATE . . . GRRR . . . SNOW!!!!”
I sat on the bunny slope in my ski pants, watching from a safe distance about thirty feet away. My son was on his back — or something — his legs gyrating in amusingly-animated pretzel shapes. He was having a moment. I let him. We both needed a break.
An instructor on a ski bike rode up beside me.
“Is he ok?” she asked.
“He’s fine. He just does this sometimes.” We both watched as he growled and grunted while flailing his arms as he writhed. “I’ve told him what he needs to do. He gets emotional. He just needs to vent. To internalize it.”
The instructor laughed. “Yeah, they get that way sometimes.” She had seen her share of young frustration in teaching kids skiing. Skiing is probably one of the least natural things a human can do. It’s almost as bad as working in an office.
“He’s really mad at those skis,” she observed.
“Yeah, it’s the skis’ fault. Skis and snow are conspiring against him.” She smiled.
This was our first day skiing together. The boy had been in group classes three times over the last two seasons. He said he enjoyed it, and when I picked him up after class the instructors were all smiles. But I saw through that. I know my son.
The first part of our day together was filled with panicked gasps and frustrated ranting, even with me holding him in front of me and coaching him. “Get those legs wide, Henry! You need to go wide and point your toes in! Lean forward! Pizza slice! Pizza slice! There, you’re doing it! Whoops! No. . . no . . . no . . . . ahhhghh. . . ”
“IT’S TOO HARD! NO! I’M SCARED! THESE SKIS ARE TOO SLIPPERY!”
“Listen, everything you ever do in life will be hard when you start. Everything. Learning to ride your bike: Was that hard?”
“Ye . . . yes . . . ”
“What are you scared of? What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Falling down?”
“Yes . . . ”
“How many times have you fallen today?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did it really hurt?”
I lost count of the times he fell. Just picking him up all those times had exhausted me.
The instructor nodded and traversed the slope on her bike, stopping beside the boy. “Hey, what’s up buddy?” She asked in the tone that most adults use on kids. It was the sort of tone I only use when I’m trying to patronize other 40-somethings. I can remember feeling insulted by that tone when I was — like — five or something. That’s why I don’t use it.
I heard him say something cranky to her about about his skis. Then, he got to his feet. Suddenly, he took off down the hill with his skis in the ideal-for-kids pizza slice form, made it about twenty feet or so, then awkwardly twisted into a left turn and stopped. He was still upright.
“There! You see! You just need to keep your weight forward,” said the instructor. She glanced at me and smiled, then skied down the hill and past the boy. I nodded and thanked her.
I’m sure she imagined she had provided the single tip that had been missing — the same one I had been trying to remind him of for over an hour. The same one each of his classes had tried to teach. Maybe it sounded different coming from her. Maybe that treacly little voice is actually persuasive. Maybe he was suddenly embarrassed by his own behavior, knowing it wasn’t just dad watching him.
Whatever it was, it seemed to work. He started gaining more confidence with each run. After a few more trips up the magic carpet and down the bunny slope, I asked him if he was ready to ride the lift with the big people. He smiled.
After the molasses-slow double lift dropped us off and I helped him with his mittens yet again, we both stood at the top of the Hart Prairie green run. The start is almost steep enough to qualify as a blue run if it lasted more than a short distance. He nodded at me, turned towards the slope, narrowed his eyes, shuffled forward, and took off.
And quickly fell.
And he kept falling, again and again, halfway down the hill.
But each time he fell, he got up more quickly and easily. The frustration was disappearing. No more rants. He was finally doing the things I had told him about keeping his skis against the incline and not pointed down the hill when trying to get to his feet. But by the time we got to the halfway point, he wasn’t falling anymore.
“That’s great! You don’t need to stop when you make your turn. Just keep skiing!”
And then, I saw him descend a short distance, make a left, then twist into a right without stopping. I caught up to him, flashing a thumbs-up. Big smile. Gleaming eyes.
He had linked two turns. He had become a skier.
And although the day was draining on both of us — enough to make him sleep the whole way home despite the open windows and Black Sabbath — and was full of frustration and anger and rants and misplaced blame, there was one thing I never heard him say: