It starts last winter, when my daughter Grace and I went cross country skiing on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. I had purchased children’s skis for Grace three years earlier, but had only recently invested in my own set. (Picture an 8-year old gliding along and her mom jogging through the snow alongside.) Winter was winding down and we were both eager to get out before the white powder gave way to mud.
Moving two long sticks in smooth parallel lines can be trickier than it looks, especially when you’re trying to ski around trail walkers and dog poop, but before long we found a pleasing rhythm. As we neared the Mercy College campus, I felt confident enough to ski down a small slope to the left of the trail. I can’t remember if Grace made it down the hill without falling, but I clearly remember my first run: it ended in a tangled heap of skis and limbs.
Let me be clear—this was a very, very small hill. I believe downhill skiers call the beginner slopes bunny trails. This hill was the equivalent of a baby rabbit. Nevertheless, there I was, unable to release my skis and unable to get up off the ground. Further disclosure—you might think that because I have a young child, I’m relatively young. Not so. I turned fifty last fall and suffer from chronic back problems and a general out-of-shape condition (which I intend to address any day now.) I tried pushing myself up, but my wrists threatened to give way. Any twisting could throw my back in spasms of pain. Humiliated, I flopped back into the snow, resigned to lying there until my frozen body was found by cyclists in the spring.
Grace tried to help, but there’s only so much an 8-year old can do. Eventually, I managed to pull myself up using a technique that Grace suggested and we started for home, my pride hurt more than my body.
Fast forward to January 2012. A rare Saturday snow punctuated the middle of a mild winter. Knowing that the window of opportunity wouldn’t last, we gathered up the skis and poles and walked over to the Aqueduct Trail. This time we easily hit our stride and before long we had reached the college and the little hill. I might have skied right past it—why tempt fate?–but not Grace. Not only did she want to try downhill skiing again, she also wanted me to give it another go.
I had a choice. I could be the over-the-hill (pun intended) mom who gives up when faced with a challenge or I could show my daughter that when you fall down, literally and figuratively, you get back up. And you try again.
So, I stood at the top of the very little hill and counted to three. I remembered to bend my knees and lean forward. I concentrated on staying upright as my skis traced parallel tracks in the snow, moving at a surprising, frightening, exhilarating speed. And I did. At the bottom, I raised my pole in the air and whooped “I did it!” Pushing my luck, I tackled that hill three more times. On the fourth run, I fell again, and once again, had trouble releasing my skis and getting up. But this time, it took me slightly less time to recover. And at least I went down trying.
Every outing with my young, strong, flexible daughter involves a whole lot of joy and just a tiny bit of fear. Fear for her safety, but fear for myself; that I will twist my ankle climbing rocks in the woods, or further hurt my back, or dislocate a shoulder that once plagued me with frequent dislocations. But I don’t want to be that mom. I want to join in her joy. I want her to be fearless, so I try to be fearless too. At least in small ways. And on bunny trails.