My bones and my brain cautioned me not do to do it. I ignored them both.
As I watch U.S. gold medalists Lindsey Jacobellis and Nick Baumgartner break Olympic age records, I ponder, Perhaps I’ll compete in the next round?
I’m on Team Winter now after recently learning to ski at the same time I’m getting AARP cards and mortuary brochures in the mail. I never expected to learn to ski at this age, however, due to COVID-19, I couldn’t avoid it.
My family was in our ninth month of lockdown in Los Angeles. I have an active 14-year-old son, and the second wave of lockdowns was more miserable than the first for him, obliterating hope that relief was near.
Online learning was all the worst parts of school and none of the good parts. The lack of socialization was taking its toll on our entire family — most of all our son. I’d find him curled up in a ball on his bed in the middle of the day, dejected and bored. To help him, I devoured adolescent psychology books.
The book that impacted me the most was “He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe in Himself” by Dr. Adam Price, which is specifically geared toward parents of teen boys. Price notes that boys must learn so many things that they care nothing about in school, and he suggests parents ask their kids what they’d like to learn. And so, I did. Without missing a beat, my son declared, “Snowboarding. I’d like to learn to snowboard.”
We drove several hours north and rented a reasonably priced “rustic” cabin in Lake Tahoe. It had no internet and no TV, and we couldn’t walk anywhere. It had its own kitchen, which enabled us to cook our own food, avoid restaurants and stay safe. We went to Sierra Tahoe Resort, a 30-minute drive from our cabin, where we found reasonably priced ski passes and lessons.
I had tried skiing twice before in my life – once at 17 during a high school class trip (“That’s fine, I’m done”), and once when our SoCal-born son was 7 to introduce him to snow. My most salient impression of skiing was ABC Wide World of Sports’ “Agony of Defeat” TV commercial of a pro skier’s nasty wipeout.
Normally, during trips to the snow, I tell my family: “I’m going to sit in the lodge with a book and cup of hot chocolate – you enjoy,” except all the lodges were closed as a COVID-19 precaution. This time, my options were to stay in the cabin, sit in the car or sit outside in the cold and wait.
An important lesson in Price’s book is whatever you want your child to be open to or do – you go first. Your teen might not be listening to you, but they are watching you. Price explains that you want your teen to develop a sense of self-efficacy in life like the “Little Engine That Could” who says “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” all the way up the mountain. With deep trepidation, I signed up for my ski pass and rented my ski gear.
Thanks to the pandemic and Price, more-than-middle-aged me signed up for ski lessons while our son signed up to learn snowboarding. The instructors asked me, “What are your goals?”
“Avoid death,” I replied.
I went up and down the mountains over the next week. I was really and truly terrified. Doubt ran through my mind: I run a PR boutique, there must be 4,000 emails in my inbox that need my attention. I need my limbs — why am I doing this? My body trembled as I got on and off the ski lift, while small children zoomed past me on the mountain. Determined to be a good sport and allow my son time and space to explore snowboarding, I forged through my fears.
I prayed I wouldn’t break anything, triple-checked our health insurance and pizza pie’d my way down the mountain. As I watched our son learn to snowboard, I was impressed by how many falls he had to endure to learn the new sport. He persevered and, inspired by him, so did I. A big bottle of Advil was my new best friend. At one point, my longtime skier husband asked, “You’re having fun, right?” to which I growled back, “Are you kidding me?”
Our son took to snowboarding, and it was glorious to see his enthusiasm over learning something new. I was grateful to give him something fun to safely enjoy outside since everything else in his world had been canceled. It was great for our family to be outdoors together, and (in hindsight) it was good (although scary) to be pushed (far) out of my comfort zone.
I thought of Price often, especially on the days I wanted to run away and quit but kept chanting my new mantra: “I think I can, I think I can…” We returned to that mountain four more times that season and even explored others, which served to give my son something special to look forward to in between our ski trips, lifting his spirits while his lethargy and disillusion dissipated. It was our family’s mental health antidote to pandemic stress. To my surprise, by the end of our journeys my terror was gone, replaced by enjoyment. I wasn’t afraid of the cold or falling down mountains anymore.
I was skiing. I couldn’t keep up with my snowboarding teenager, but I showed him that you can have a good time doing something you suck at as I eventually mastered beginner slopes. I could share in his enthusiasm, waving encouragement from the chairlift. My husband joked that I was a snow bunny, and my now speedracer, snowboarding son teased I was a slow bunny.
At the end of the ski season, a mailer from the mountain appeared in my mailbox offering a 20-percent discount to sign up for the next year. Coincidentally, AARP was also asking me to sign up. I bought the ski pass instead.