One of the great thing about your kid finally getting to the age of three and above is you can put them in all-day ski lessons. Much like learning to ride a bike, there will be tears and a few falls but, at the end of the day, your child will come out talking trash, like any respectable snow boarder.
Z has been taking ski lessons every season since he was three. He's at the point now where his confidence exceeds his skills and he would prefer to point his tips straight down a hill and hope everything else gets out of his way. He's particularly keen if there's a bump on the path to send him airborn. During his first ski lesson in Austria, getting airborn off a small snow ramp was part of the curriculum. He was so stoked at the end of the day, he assured us he would run, not walk, to his next lesson.
But then something changed. When I picked him up at 3:30 the next day he was looking up at his instructor, skis off, and she was wiping tears from his eyes. She told me he hadn't skied the whole second half of the day. I felt a tad crazy with swirling thoughts: Whose fault was that? Why didn't you call me? Don't you know how to reason with kids? Why is my son suddenly a wimp? Can I get a refund? She told me he had become upset during lunch with the noise level in the restaurant. He had cried. And that was enough to shatter his will or confidence to don his skis for the remainder of the day.
I tried to get him to tell me why he had been so bothered. But at that point he was just happy to see me and brushed off the incident as though it were no big deal. I find this remarkable about kids; they can go from devastated to dancing with joy in a nano-second. Or screaming to smiling the moment you mention what you're making for dessert. Z practically denied anything had happened at all. And so I dropped it. But my insides clutched because, selfishly, I was hoping this wouldn't have an impact on my ability to ski the next day. Truth be told, my maternal instincts wrestle fiercely with my desire to ski. Don't ever ask me to make a choice between the two because you might not like the answer and I don't want to disabuse you of the notion that I am a caring, altruistic mother.
Things did not go much better the next day. His group were to be ferried onto the near-vertical chair lift from our village over to the massive terrain of the slopes on the other side of the valley. C had gone off to an off-piste ski lesson so by the time I got Z to ski school then myself dressed, booted and to the lift, Z's group of kids suddenly appeared beside me in line.
Oh crap. His instructor was equally glad to see me.
"You can go up the lift with him!" she trilled. I decided she either didn't have kids of her own or had forgotten what it was like. She was, after all, past menopause. She had clearly forgotten that you don't push a needy kid back onto his parent when you're trying to get him to do something difficult. Or she simply forgot she had kids. Menopause will do that, I'm discovering.
We had a nice time riding the lift together. Z loves riding a ski lift almost more than he likes skiing. We slid off at the top without falling over and coasted to a stop within the rest of the group. I adjusted his goggles, kissed him, and said goodbye. I'll admit, my heartstrings did tug a little, but I also wanted him to see me swooshing down the hill and get a little fire in his belly. Wishful thinking. At the end of the day I was told by his instructor that he could no longer be in her class. I still struggle with my opinion about who's at fault here. Wasn't she able to recognize his abilities? Didn't she suspect, after the day before, that he should be in a less demanding class? But wasn't it OK that she be demanding of her charges? Do I tell him to get with the program? Or do I tell him it's OK and he doesn't need to do what he doesn't want to do? Should I force him because I'm still irritated with my parents that they let me give up piano lessons?
I've realized that my expectation of my son is that he will continue to improve in all things. After all, he's a kid who is learning every day, growing up, practicing at being a functioning human. Shouldn't his skills just naturally progress? Apparently not.
Many years ago, C and I were climbing up Mount Semeru, a volcano in Indonesia. We were near the top, at the point where there was no longer a trail, just an expanse of shifting pumice that formed the steep flanks of the cinder cone. The slog was excruciating because with every step you would slide back down by half. At one point I tried to crawl on hands and knees but that was like trying to swim in a pool of Styrofoam peanuts. I hadn't expected this kind of effort. I figured climbing this volcano would be like climbing any other steep hillside in the Pacific Northwest. Don't we all assume if you put one foot in front of the other you can expect to move forward?
I don't need to belabor this metaphor any longer. You get what I'm trying to say. Even though I expect that my child should only ever be improving his life skills, sometimes he shows me that he needs to regress. It tries my patience to no end but that's my problem, isn't it? He didn't seem all that concerned about his failure to improve his skiing skills. When he found a slope with the perfect pitch which allowed him to point his tips down, he was off again with a hoot. He found the sweet spot a midst the difficulties and it looked, from my perspective, that this was enough to make his day just fine. Whether mine feels equally as good, I suppose, is my choice.