Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Grape Skis, But For Whose Benefit?

In the days before the Grape, I used to ski as often as I could every winter. I love everything about it: the snow and outdoors, the first tracks in the morning, the silence on top of the mountain at the end of the day, the adrenalin, and the Irish coffee.

When the Grape was a baby, I reluctantly relegated my skis to the back of the closet.  I consoled myself by thinking that skiing is one of those great activities the whole family can do together at some not-too-distant date.

When he was still an infant I started asking outdoorsy friends with older kids, "When can I put him on skis?"

The answer, from those who didn't merely roll their eyes, was almost universally three. Or four, if I wanted to enroll him in a mountain day camp (daycare where they take your kid skiing in a group lesson with many interludes in the lodge to jack up on hot chocolate). 

Such all-day programs wisely deny admission to children aged three, probably because they've figured out that minding three-year-olds is not unlike herding kittens. 

Still, I checked with every mountain within a three-hour drive of our apartment. I felt I had to find a professional to teach him, since all my skiing friends cautioned against trying to teach one's own offspring anything. "He'll behave better for a stranger," I heard, over and over again. 

Two weeks ago, I declared the long wait over and booked a private ski lesson for the Grape.The whole family piled into the car  to whisk him to the nearest ski hill, located  twenty-five minutes south of Boston. They had tiny rental gear and the all-important magic carpet. From the parking lot, the Grape could see lots of bigger kids happily gliding down the hill at respectable speeds. 

"Let's do this!" he said. I grinned and high-fived him.

We shelled out a not insignificant wad of cash for a rental and private lesson package. 

The Grape's lesson would take place on a bunny hill noticeably smaller than the sledding hill in the park across the street from our apartment. When R. pointed this out, I reminded him that the park across the street lacks a ski lift.

The Grape gamely put on his gear. We went outside to meet the instructor. We were too early. The Grape got antsy. He started to complain. I tried to persuade him to put his feet into a wedge for me. "Make pizza!" I encouraged him, imitating the call of dozens of parents at the base of the bunny hill.

The Grape blinked at me like I was severely limited. Clearly there was no pizza oven in sight.

Finally the instructor arrived. "He looks tired," she observed. 

I gave her the stink eye. "He's fine. He's just a drama mama."

He was fine. More than fine.

The Grape loved riding the magic carpet.

The trouble started when he and the instructor reached the top. "I want to go fast," he announced, and pushed himself off. He made it at least two feet before face planting into the snow and declaring he was all done.

"He says he's done." The instructor called down to R. and me.

"No way," we yelled back, in unison.

The instructor spent the next forty minutes on her knees downhill from the Grape, nudging his skis into snowplow position. By the third run, if you can call it that, the Grape managed to move a few yards downhill on his own without falling.

We quit while ahead, and went in for hot chocolate. The Grape pronounced skiing fun. I exhaled audibly with relief, and R. went to return the gear whose cost per minute I refused to calculate.

On the way home, I  decided that the Grape would need his own gear. I found the most adorable tiny ski package on the web, for less than the cost of a seasonal rental. 

We went skiing a second time two days after UPS delivered the Grape's gear. This time we went with friends, and I brought my skis. It was a gorgeous winter day. The sun was blazing in a cloudless sky, and the hill was covered with fresh natural snow from the blizzard that had blown through thirty-six hours prior.

We trekked slightly further afield this time, to a little hill west of Boston that charges less than the price of a movie ticket to play all day in the beginner area.

The Grape's enthusiasm got a huge spike from watching his friends swoosh down the hill. We rode the magic carpet and slid down the bunny slope—the Grape tucked between my snowplowed legs— two whole times before he needed a break.

But then a wonderful thing happened.

After downing a PB&J in the lodge with his friends, the Grape announced he wanted to ski again. I cheered. He was good for two more runs. Three-year-olds tire out fast when they're doing something unfamiliar. After his last run, the Grape had a blast rolling around in the snow with his friends. Friends with older kids assured me that after a few more ski days, he will be able to snowplow down the bunny hill on his own. 

On the way home, the Grape fell asleep and R. and I wondered aloud, for whose benefit we were doing all this schlepping. 

Sure, I spent a couple of hours with skis attached to my feet, but even the three runs I took down the bunny hill without the Grape didn't really qualify as skiing

Next we congratulated ourselves on having the good sense to take the Grape skiing at a little local place. Even if we'd shelled out much bigger bucks to travel to some fancy big resort for a long weekend, we'd still be tooling around on the bunny slope. All the vertical drop and acres of skiing that northern New England has to offer would go to waste.

We asked ourselves if the Grape might take to skiing better if we waited another year. 

By the time we got home, I was ready to concede that I'm putting the Grape on skis this winter more for my own benefit than his. 

I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Our ski outings, such as they are, provide hours of outdoor togetherness.  He's having enough fun (mainly with the lift and the apres-ski amenities) to want to keep trying.

Clearly the right action is to run out and procure skis for R. so we can all ski again this weekend. 

Magic carpet, here comes the Grape.

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