Friday, February 10, 2012


Dear Spike,

It wasn’t one of my better parenting moments.

You weren’t yet three years old, but you were determined to learn how to snowboard like your daddy. And for weeks ahead of time, that’s all you could talk about.

People who know more about these things than I do say that you’re supposed to start little rippers out on skis. But having never been on two planks before, I wasn’t in any position to teach you — and we couldn’t really afford to pay for lessons —so I figured we’d just find a tiny little board and play it by ear.

We headed up the mountain, I bought a pass (little ones ski free) and we climbed up the stairs to the rental shop.

When we got there, the guys behind the counter looked more than a little disapproving.

“You should really start her on skis, dude.”

“I don’t know how to ski, so…”

“We’ve got lessons.”

“Yeah, we’d just like the gear, but thanks…”

“She’s really not big enough to control a snowboard.”

“But that’s what she wants to do, and I’m going to help her do it.”

I looked down at you. You looked back and nodded. To me, that was enough.

They had a tiny board, and though the boots were a bit big for you, with a few extra pairs of socks we made them a little more snug.

“OK,” I said. “Now all we need is a helmet.”

The guy behind the counter slid over a little black skull-protector.

But when I went to put it on your head, you screamed.

That was, of course, exactly the moment I should have disengaged.

And that was, of course, not what I did.

I begged. I pleaded. I cajoled. I corrected. All the while you were crying. “I’m scared to put it on,” you sobbed. “I’m too scared.”

I could feel the dudes behind the counter looking over at me, shaking their heads in disgust. But screw’em, I thought. They didn’t know how much you’d been looking forward to this. But getting that helmet on your head was no longer about helping you meet that goal – it was about proving them wrong.

And that, of course, was wrong of me.

But try as I might, I couldn’t get you to consent to wearing the helmet.

Still, I’d backed my ego into a corner. I walked out of the rental shop defiantly, holding a screaming two-year-old in my arms, fully aware that I must have looked like the shining example of a bad ski dad.

I took you up to the lodge, bought some hot chocolate and began to negotiate. You wanted to snowboard, but for reasons I still don’t understand, you were scared of the helmet.

I ended up spending the next couple hour pulling you in circles around the lodge. We took a picture. Then we headed back up the stairs to turn in your gear.

“And how did it go?” the rental guy smirked.

“It went great,” I lied. “She was fantastic.”

Truth is that he probably couldn’t have cared less. Whatever. I just wanted to be right.

That was in the spring of 2010. By the time winter had come ‘round again the following year you had recrafted a memory of that day that doesn’t quite match mine. In your version of events, you were “a really, really, really, really good snowboarder.” And when the first snow hit, it seemed that all you could talk about was “going back to the slopes.”

But I’d learned my lesson. And we took things nice and easy. I bought you your very own helmet and we worked together to decorate it with stickers. When it came time to put it on there was no problem.

We probably spent a half-dozen days together at Brighton last year. Most of the time, we did one or two runs on the bunny slopes and called it a day. (It’s good to live close to the mountains!) We bought a harness and a leash so that I could help you stay up without breaking my back.

And now you are four — still, I’m told, too young to snowboard.

Except for one thing.

You shred.

You’ve actually been shredding for a while now — but you get nervous whenever I talk about taking off the harness — so even though I usually just hold the leash with a lot of slack, I do keep holding it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I caught an edge and dumped over. I didn’t want to pull you down, so I let go.

And you just took off.

I caught up a few hundred yards later, grabbed the leash and you were none the wiser.

But it was clear you were ready. When we got to the bottom of the hill, I told you what had happened.

Last week, we tried out a few very short sprints without the harness and leash.

And today, we headed up the Majestic Lift on a glorious “Lilac Day” (that’s what you’ve taken to calling unseasonably warm winter days.)

“OK,” I said. “You’re ready to go the whole way without your leash.”

I expected some pushback. Maybe some tears. Instead you just wiggled your hips toward the slope.

And away you went.

I could hardly keep up.

“I’m doing it!” you screamed. “I’m doing it all by myself.”

And you were. But in every turn you made, in every wobble you pushed through, in every hockey stop you came to, I felt a lot of pride in you – and a little bit of pride in me.

You’re doing it yourself — but you were taking a bit of me with you.

I suppose that’s what parenting is all about. And, of course, that’s the trick — giving more good than bad. And, if we do it right, giving much, much more good than bad. There have been times during our adventures on the slopes where you have probably learned some things from me that you’d be better without.

Ego and stubbornness, for example.

I think, though, that you’ve also learned a bit about the value of patience, of bravery and of pushing yourself to do things even though some people might tell you that those things can’t be done.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s just another way of seeing ego and stubbornness.

I suppose the trick isn’t just learning the good things from your parents — it’s learning how to make good out of the things you learn.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, I tackled you, butted my helmet against yours and kissed your cheek.

“You did good,” I said. “You did so good.”