ODE

DIS­COM­FORT AND DELIVERANCE TO MAM­MOTH AND BACK

SKI - - CONTENTS - By Tracy Ross Tracy Ross is a Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award win­ner and the au­thor of The Source of All Things: A Mem­oir.

Can a 13-hour drive fu­eled by Dori­tos and teen at­ti­tude be the an­swer?

By the time Hatcher, his buddy, Quinn, and I reached the Ne­vadaCal­i­for­nia bor­der, Dori­tos and Mon­ster En­ergy farts sat­u­rated my nose-hairs, N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Comp­ton ham­mered my eardrums, and I fan­ta­sized about driv­ing 13 hours back to Colorado. It was June. We’d loaded the Rogue with our gear. We could’ve done the job at nearby A-Basin. But back in April, when Hatcher’s life took a nose­dive into bad grades and bad be­hav­ior, I in­voked our fam­ily’s motto.

Ever since Hatcher and his two sib­lings could un­der­stand the con­cept of bar­ter­ing, my hus­band and I have par­ented by the maxim “Give a lit­tle, get a lit­tle.” It means do what you’re told, try to be good, and con­trib­ute pos­i­tively—to your fam­ily and com­mu­nity—in the hopes that your fam­ily and com­mu­nity will re­spond ac­cord­ingly. Of all the kids, Hatcher had lived the motto. From first grade on, he’d been an over­achiever. But last win­ter, our rule-fol­low­ing, au­thor­ity-pleas­ing son had mor­phed into a rule-break­ing, au­thor­ity-ditch­ing dis­pleaser.

Co­in­ci­dence or not, it started with Novem­ber’s elec­tion. Soon af­ter, he fell into what my friend cor­rectly named an “ex­is­ten­tial de­pres­sion.” The man­i­fes­ta­tions: ditch­ing class, dropped grades, and a be­hav­ioral is­sue that landed him a three-day sus­pen­sion. As pun­ish­ment, Shawn and I thought to take away his one true love, ski­ing. But when I asked my ther­a­pist for her ad­vice, she said, “In­stead of pun­ish­ing him, why don’t you give him an al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tive? He thinks the world is bad. Why not show him some good?”

Our fam­ily’s core nar­ra­tive—as sim­ple as it sounds—is that ski­ing makes peo­ple bet­ter. “Do what you’re told, be good, and con­trib­ute pos­i­tively un­til the end of the school year,” I told Hatch, “and I’ll take you on a ski­ing road trip.” His eyes lit up. He said, “How about Mam­moth?”

I’d en­vi­sioned some­where closer, but three months later we’d made it to Mam­moth. On our first night, Hatch and Quinn left me to go “scope chicks” at the skate park. The fol­low­ing morn­ing, they lapped the begin­ner ter­rain park over and over—and over and over—while I soloed Cor­nice Bowl.

I fol­lowed them to the park on day 2, hop­ing for a peek into their “in­ner world.” I’m gonna say it—watch­ing them was pretty bor­ing. Hatch slid rails while Quinn snow­boarded along­side him, film­ing him with his iPhone. Then Quinn slid rails while Hatch did the same, again and again. The one time I found them en­dear­ing was when they lost it at the top of the lift af­ter re­al­iz­ing that they were sur­rounded by the kings and queens of corks and spins that fre­quent Mam­moth’s Un­bound Parks in sum­mer. Shaun White had rid­den in front of them. “Fol­low him to the big park,” I said. “Go watch him!” They both squirmed. “No WAY!” shouted Quinn. “We’re not GAPERS!”

But that mo­ment was a win­dow into some­thing—their in­no­cence. They sounded 14, looked 14, and ex­pressed a view on the world that was so 14. It warmed me to them, and for sev­eral hours, I shad­owed them in the begin­ner park. I did the same the fi­nal morn­ing. And I think my stick-with-them-ness meant some­thing.

On the ride home, as Quinn snored in the back­seat, Hatcher opened up. He told me he’d been de­pressed be­cause he’d lost his faith in adults. I took it to mean me, too, and started there and then to par­ent more care­fully. But this ski trip, and my ef­fort to show Hatcher that I both wor­ried for and loved him deeply, had al­ready made him a lit­tle more solid about his place in the messed-up mo­ment.

We went home, and I saw ac­tions so­lid­ify be­hind his words. He’s been our kinder, more af­fa­ble Hatch, who still finds hope in ski­ing more than any­where in the world.

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