Teach your kids how to ski, but don’t try to make them into some­thing they’re not

Powder - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - Kim­berly Beek­man is the for­mer ed­i­tor-in-chief of the late Ski­ing Mag­a­zine. She likes piña co­ladas, and get­ting caught in the rain. By Kim­berly Beek­man

The kids are al­right

Some­where along the way, John Irv­ing got ahold of the plot line for my life. My plan was to move to a ski town, get mar­ried, buy a car that made both left and right turns, and spend my mid­dle age proudly mold­ing my rough-and-tum­ble tom­cat kids into lit­tle rip­pers.

Then some­thing hap­pened. Well, a lot hap­pened. In­stead of hav­ing the two kids, I got Cate, who deemed the neigh­bor­hood play­ground slide to be “not a good idea” af­ter care­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion. And in­stead of a quirky but happy mar­riage that I kept in­tact by agree­ing to non­ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­fore noon, I got sin­gle mother­hood and weekly Al-anon meet­ings.

When it came to par­ent­ing, I felt equipped to han­dle many dif­fi­cult sce­nar­ios—“mom, I’m a py­ro­ma­niac,” “Mom, I’m a vege­tar­ian,” “Mom, I hate Bruce Spring­steen”—but the one I was ut­terly un­pre­pared for was ex­actly what I got: “Mom, I am not a skier.” She even went as far to say she wasn’t “outdoorsy,” a state­ment she stood be­hind even af­ter I told her it would not ex­cuse her from soc­cer prac­tice, to which we were presently late.

Where were the muddy foot­prints on my freshly mopped floor? The bikes strewn across the lawn? The worms in my Tup­per­ware? Most of all, where was the in­ces­sant begging to ditch school and go ski­ing? In­stead, I had note­books full of art­fully drawn strep-throat germs, a closet hung with purses, and anx­ious ques­tions about whether or not the poi­son con­trol is a real com­pany.

This tested my pa­tience, but even more it tested my re­solve to raise a skier. She was scared of ev­ery­thing—the liftie with the scan­ner, the sound of the chair­lift bump­ing over the bull­wheel, the feel­ing of slid­ing on snow. I low­ered my ex­pec­ta­tions, en­vy­ing (and se­cretly hat­ing) all those par­ents In­sta­gram­ming their 5-year-olds on the sum­mit of High­land Bowl. But mostly, I wor­ried. A lot.

I knew her fear was rooted in a be­lief that this world was not a safe place—where her fa­ther could fall through the cracks of ad­dic­tion, where the ground it­self was not to be trusted. I thought ski­ing could save her, the same way it saved me af­ter I lost my own fa­ther to the same fate when I was 6. Like the pat­tern of a pine cone, the cy­cle was re­peat­ing, and I wanted des­per­ately to give her the same source of con­fi­dence that has fed me through­out my life.

So, I kept push­ing. And she kept push­ing back. Poles thrown, hot tears fog­ging up gog­gles, legs twisted up like a pret­zel. We had stand­offs. Re­fusals to stand up, ski down, or speak in any lan­guage other than a wail. She made dra­matic procla­ma­tions while sit­ting on the top of a mogul on her first black: “Just leave me here, Mom—leave me to die.”

And still, I pushed. At the very least, I thought, she will know how to ski. Then she can de­cide for her­self when she gets older whether or not she likes it.

Mean­time, at home, ex­hausted from tear­ful bat­tles over learn­ing how to do a cart­wheel or catch a ball, I de­cided to buy a hot-glue gun—that ubiq­ui­tous magic mom-weapon—and we spent a few evenings build­ing houses out of card­board. I en­rolled her in gui­tar les­sons. I praised her for her self-as­signed re­search projects about ocelots and pere­grine fal­cons. We worked on tak­ing small risks, like go­ing on night­time walks in our PJS and col­or­ing out­side the lines. I taught her about Pi­casso, whose art was per­fectly im­per­fect, to show her that there is so much beauty in things that don’t look like they should.

And then some­thing else hap­pened. The child who re­fused to make eye con­tact with oth­ers and speak when spo­ken to started to find her foot­ing. She laughed more. She talked to strangers on the chair­lift. And, yes, she even ven­tured off the cat­track here and there. In third grade, she came home from school and in­formed me she was go­ing to run for stu­dent coun­cil. We made Star Wars–themed posters, she de­liv­ered a speech to the whole school promis­ing a longer lunch pe­riod, and she won. While the par­al­lel turns re­mained un­mas­tered, the child trapped by fear was be­com­ing free.

I would be ly­ing if I said I don’t still hope ski­ing will catch for her. I selfishly want to spend time with her do­ing what I love in the moun­tains. But I re­al­ize now that my job is re­ally just to help her find what she needs wher­ever it lies—in art or writ­ing or (hard swal­low) fash­ion de­sign—and just keep that glue gun handy.

Cate is 10 now. I have dragged her ski­ing all over the world with me, to Wyoming, Mon­tana, Colorado, Utah, Europe, and Chile. She can get down most blues and even a few blacks—mostly with­out tears—but she is not a skier. And I am—mostly—ok with that.

Photo: Steve Ogle

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