Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wait for It

Since we live in the mecca of snow-centered diversion, it is considered a given that our children will learn how to ski.  "Have they learned how to ski?" is as commonly asked as "Where do they go to school?"  And since the slopes are so close and the resort passes for children so cheap--sometimes even free in faith they're cultivating a life-long, eventually-paying enthusiast--many children learn young.  Several of our friends' children began at two or three-years-old; some of Ben's friends are on racing teams this year.

So I'll admit to feeling a little pressure to get our kids out there and on their way to a winter full of downhill adventure.  But that pressure has always been tempered by an awareness that Ben, our prudent, cautious, calculating little man, would need introduction to this sport at the right time: start too soon or too fast, and we may kill any chance of getting him back on skis before his tenth birthday.

We contemplated starting him last year, but the logistics of getting him up with Abby still so small were prohibitive.  So we determined we'd start them both this year, figuring our fearless three-year-old would probably be happy to try anything big brother was doing and hoping the company of little sister would give Ben the added bit of comfort he might need to jump into something new and unfamiliar.   We rented gear for both of them for the season and decided that as soon as there was enough snow, we'd start practicing in the driveway as a warm-up to the big-leagues on the resort runs.

The kids couldn't wait to try their skis.  They'd put them on in the house with their ski pants and helmets and goggles and gloves and try sliding on the carpet, talking about how excited they were to learn.  We all talked about the fun we'd have when it snowed.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans, and we didn't get our first real snow dump until this last weekend, when normally we would have had half a dozen major storms by now.

We saw the weather report Friday and told the kids we'd be able to try skiing Sunday.  When we went to church Saturday night, Abby told everyone she was going skiing the next day.  I prayed the storm would work its magic so as not to disappoint.

The snow indeed began falling overnight Saturday, but it came down slowly, gently, accumulating barely an inch or two by morning.  The kids have no real sense of quantity, so as soon as they finished breakfast, they asked if they could ski.  We told them we'd need to wait a few more hours, hoping enough snow would accumulate to make it even remotely feasible.  The kids busied themselves with puzzles and games but continued asking when they could go it.  Around 10:30 that morning, we decided there was enough snow on the grass to at least get them up on their skis and begin learning some basics, even though our driveway, the perfect bunny hill, still didn't have enough coverage.

Their excitement was palpable as we bundled them up to head out.  With their ski boots on, they tromped like seasoned professionals out of the garage and into the yard.  Josh grabbed their skis, and we all stood at the top of our yard anticipating the maiden voyage.

I was nervous, I'll confess, not sure what to expect from the kids as they experienced the sensation of gliding downhill for the first time.  Would they be okay with falling?  We'd tried to explain how fun it is to fall in the soft, pillowy snow.  Would they mind gathering momentum before knowing how to stop?  We'd assured them they could always fall over if they felt they were going too fast.

Josh helped Ben, then Abby, step into their skis, and they practiced falling over sideways.  He taught them to scoot their bottoms right next to the skis before pushing up with their arms in order to stand back up.  He instructed Ben on how to step widely with his skis to point himself downhill.   Then he let Ben grab his arm with both hands, and they began: slowly, almost having to propel themselves at first, and then sliding freely as the slope increased.  Ben smiled.  He fell over near the bottom of the yard.  And he said, "I want to do it again."  Success.

Abby's start was more eventful.  We think her boots must have been too tight at first, because after one run, she wanted to be done, claiming her legs were too tired.  After we helped her out of her skis, she fell like a tree into the snow, laying there until I came to help her up.

But after loosening her boots and getting her back up again, she made another attempt and then asked for more.

We spent the next forty-five minutes pushing the kids back up the hill so they could slide down again.  After just a few "runs," Ben wanted no assistance other than to help him back to the top, where he could turn himself around, get going, and stay balanced as he slid down.  He even managed to make his "pizza wedge" and stop himself on a handful of occasions.  Throughout our time, he'd say, "This is fun!  Skiing is fun!" through big smiles of pride and accomplishment and delight.

Though Abby's three-year-old coordination left her more dependent on us, she smiled and smiled, letting go of Josh to slide to me for the last few feet of her course each time down.  I'd catch her under her arms and she'd lean back, looking up into my face with a huge grin.  I'd kiss her cheek, turn her around, and push her up once again.  Several runs in, she said, "I like skiing!"

When we depleted the supply of snow in our yard and came back in the house to warm up, Josh and I exhaled a collective sigh of relief.  Our first session went about as well as we could have hoped.  Ben clearly has the coordination and motivation to pick up this new skill and excel.  He absorbed every instruction Josh gave him, learned and executed the skills quickly, and enjoyed the process.  When he begins his official lessons next month, we have no doubt he'll be ready.

And watching Abby's process confirmed that we're right to wait another season before officially putting her in lessons.  She's enjoying a taste of it, but she's not quite ready for the full experience yet.

There are times I second-guess our decisions to wait or slow down on introducing the kids to experiences.  But our morning in the yard confirmed we are wise to listen to our gut.  We really know our kids best, even if it means they're a little behind some of their peers.  Ben's ready, really ready, and he'll probably catch up quickly--quicker, I imagine, than if we'd pushed him into learning too soon.  

When the timing's right, it's clear.  And it's worth waiting for.

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