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Parenting is a Slippery Slope

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This article appeared in BayAreaParent in February 2009



Annual ski vacation

February for many people living in the Bay Area means taking off a weekend or week for a ski break somewhere in Tahoe.Skiing with small kids is like a lot of things during this long stretch while your kids are young. Some day, we’ll all be able to bike together, play tennis together, and ski together, but now we spend a lot of energy and time as we wait for everyone to catch up.

I grew up in Minnesota where the hills were short, but plentiful. Often within a half an hour of our house we could get to a ski area where we could take four minute runs in minus 50 degree windchill. In college, I shrugged off skiing like an overworn parka.  Given that experience, the biggest challenges of a ski vacation aren’t the weather or the Black diamond slopes, but the logistics of getting a crew of four to the mountain and successfully home again without tears, broken legs or snow chains.

To avoid the deflating experience of renting skis on the first day at the mountain, we try to rent ours before leaving San Francisco. The kids find this frustrating and boring but it\'s so much better than shuffling through a crowded room full of stressed-out ski renters.

The major event however of any ski holiday, is the drive to Tahoe. Some love to say it\'s only four hours away, but every year we seem to hit the same winter storm that turns it into an almost 7 hour journey. The ride is full fun car games like car bingo and the alphabet game and we’re all laughing and having a grand old time. This excitement usually lasts until about the Treasure Island exit, leaving us with that deflated feeling that we still have at least four more hours left to find a G and an M. Any good open road travel feeling ends with tears somewere 30 miles short of Truckee. I never drink and drive, but this is one time I drive and then drink.

Our first day in Tahoe means registration at ski school. Our kids hate ski school because they have to meet new friends for the first time. We try to explain to them that the pain of social interaction is the price you have to pay to learn a new skill. They never think this is a good trade off. “Why can’t we just ski with you Daddy,” they say.  “Because,” I think,  “You fall down every two minutes and I lack the patience of a 20-year old ski bum working off his hangover from the party the night before.

Though Squaw Valley has ski school every day, every day feels like their first day of business. The process usually takes a half an hour or more just to pay and get the child in the class, and then the next most crucial period occurs. After a teary interlude of separation anxiety, Mommy and Daddy pry themselves away from the crowded room.  Then, we stupidly go outside and wait another 45 minutes  just to see the little down-covered bundles come out to start ski school. Mommy and Daddy usually take about 40 photos of each barely recognizable child before retreating to Starbucks to energize for some mommy and daddy ski time.

Later in the day, we go to pick up the kids praying that they will have had a good day, allowing us to repeat the schedule the following day.  Inevitably, however, the playmates the kids have found on Day One won’t be back on Day Two, which brings them back to the same question, “Why can’t we ski with you?”

On the last day, we all ski together, creating a human spectrum of skiing prowess. My son, age four, is fearless in his command of the bunny hill snow plow.  My daughter, at eight, is holding her skis, in ski school parlance, more like French fries than pizza, but can’t ski when it snows. My wife and I ski around them, but never pick up any meaningful speed. They won’t let us get too far ahead of them, and like with so many things, we have to wait until they catch up.

It’s a fun day nonetheless and we never tire of watching them experience things that long ago lost the novelty for us. While we teach them and help them learn all these things so they do catch up, I dread the day when they no longer scream, “Daddy, slow down,” or “Wait for me.”  Inevitably, one day they will blow right by us on the ski slope, and in tennis, and on their bikes, and in everything else we have taught them to do.

After three days of snow, we leave for home in the morning. If it didn’t storm on the way down, it storms on the way home and as a Minnesota boy, I curse the SUVs and rear-wheel drives who drive at 10 miles per hour for miles and miles. The trip goes smoothly though, with no license plate games or too much back seat fighting. 


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