When I was little, I remember being pushed to try new things. Then, in my 20s, people told me to focus and get a plan together. Find my niche. Now, in my 40s, it’s back to articles and experts telling me to try new things. Amid all of the advice, I never expected that it would be revisiting my own failure that would teach me the biggest lesson.
I grew up on the West Coast and started going to Sunriver, a resort town near Mt. Bachelor, for the holidays when I was about 11. Skiing was the thing to do. Despite being fairly athletic, I never could get the hang of it. I even took lessons, but that first unaccompanied run on the mountain was a disaster. They actually had to stop the lift and throw it in reverse because I was too afraid to get off. I remember standing at the summit as the enormity of the white expanse I was supposed to descend dawned on me, making my terror swell. I froze. In that moment, I decided that I hated skiing.
Twenty years later, I was a new mom living in the Adirondacks with my husband. “Why don’t we go skiing this weekend?” he asked hopefully.
“I don’t want to be away from the baby for that long,” I said, and I continued saying that for the next three years as we had two more daughters. When our girls reached 4, 6 and 8, my husband tried again: “I think we should teach the girls to ski.”
I flinched, remembering the frustration and hopelessness I felt on that mountain all those years ago. I did not want to undo all the work of feeling confident as a mom and get back on a damn mountain that would make me feel hopeless. But I also wanted to be active, and winters in the Adirondacks are pretty sedentary if you don’t find a way to have fun in the snow.
“Okay,” I said. “We can try it, but I don’t know how well the girls are going to do. There are three of them and only two of us.” We both knew I really meant that I didn’t know how well I would do.
My husband’s face lit up and he looped his arm around my shoulders. “We’ll make it work.”
We made trips all over town to get mittens, hats, snow pants, and jackets for the girls. Through a mix of buying, renting, and being given hand-me-down skis, we managed to keep the investment somewhat in check. We practiced getting dressed and learning by trial and error how important it is to use the bathroom before getting dressed. Through all our preparation, my anxiety continued to build. But once the lift tickets were purchased, I knew it was time to suck it up.
We began on the bunny hill, and after a few runs, my husband took the big girls on the lift. The youngest and I stayed on the bunny hill. I’d stand behind her on the magic carpet, letting her lean into me as we slowly moved up the hill. To my surprise, she took to it with gusto. Her little body turned and leaned naturally as she cut the snow and changed directions like a tiny pro. Before I knew it, we were going to the mountain every Saturday morning.
The sight of my daughters’ brightly colored snow gear became as integral to our day-do-day existence as their dolls and stuffed animals. One Friday morning, my husband said, “Do you want to go into work late and spend a few hours on the mountain?” I was puzzled at first; skiing had been something we’d started as a family activity. But I agreed to go.
We drove to the mountain and made our way up the lift. It was a different experience to not have three little people to dress and help. I felt a pang of missing them, but smiled at how scandalous they would think it was that mom and dad skipped work to ski.
We sat side by side, our legs touching and his hand on my knee as the lift carried us to the summit. I could feel him grinning beside me, which made me smile too. I looked to my right and saw the sun peek from behind a cloud and hit the snowy treetops. My shoulders dropped, and I thought about how I had almost passed this up.
Giving skiing another try turned into something that wasn’t just good for my kids. Yes, it knitted us more tightly together as a family, but it also allowed my husband to share something with me that was important to him. It’s been nearly four years since my family started skiing, and each time we go, we have so much fun that I am reminded that doing what is easy or what comes most naturally is not always the right decision. Taking up skiing again has given me a new and much-needed confidence in my ability to rise above failure. I don’t think I’d go back and change how I felt at 12, but I can confidently and honestly say to my kids, and to myself, that time changes things, and that we can have a do-over for many things, as long as we’re willing to seize the opportunity.