We went to Tahoe for the week of Thanksgiving. Our boys had never seen snow (well, Alex did when he was two but he didn’t remember).
Alex could not have been more excited. What’s better than throwing snowballs at Daddy and little brother? I’m not sure why we promised the kid snow, but as luck would have it there was a huge storm the second day we were there, and Tahoe became a beautiful winter wonderland.
We found out very quickly that our boys don’t really like the cold. Ryan refused to wear gloves and had a huge (huge!) public meltdown if either Amy or I even approached with gloves in hand let alone a jacket. And he was downright violent if you even said the word hat to him. Alex wasn’t much better, fighting every morning to wear his crocs. Forget about gloves too. San Diego was so much easier. I guess that’s a price you pay for living in an area where wearing a sweatshirt doesn’t even happen that often.
At the same time, Alex kept saying he wanted to ski. I’m pretty sure someone at school had mentioned it to him or maybe it was from an episode of Paw Patrol. We decided to take him at his word. And we dreaded the upcoming disaster. You have to know that this is a kid that will fight not to wear his helmet when riding his bike. Getting him in gloves, boots and on skis seemed pretty unlikely. We made a ski lesson for Alex the afternoon of Thanksgiving while Ryan was napping. I had only been on skis once in my life so the lesson would be as much for me as him.
The day before our lesson, they asked us to come in to get fitted for equipment and Alex didn’t want to go. He was too busy watching his iPad and I had to drag him out of our hotel room. I had that feeling — you know the one parents often get — that I was on the Poseidon Adventure and this ship was about to turn over.
I pulled him aside and got down on my knees to talk to him:
“Do you trust me?” I asked (I doubt he really understands what trust is).
“Do you think daddy would ever do something with you that you wouldn’t like?”
“Can you try this? I don’t know how to ski either.”
“It might be hard at first, but if you give it a shot, you might really like it. Trust me.”
It was my best “hey, let’s just give it a shot” speech.
The fitting went surprisingly well. Maybe there was hope after all.
It’s midnight on Wednesday. Ski lesson is less than 12 hours away and I’m staring at the bedroom ceiling and that all too familiar sweat starts. Panic time. What if he won’t go to the lesson? What if he melts down on the slopes? Soccer didn’t go so well. And that time we tried to really play baseball. But he’s such a natural, strong kid. He doesn’t want to play baseball, but damn if he doesn’t have a natural swing. And watch him dribble a soccer ball across a field, or swim a lap in the pool (that he actually likes to do).
What if? What if?
I quickly realized that I was panicking as much for me as him — I don’t like to wear helmets either, and man those boots were so tight and I have claustrophobic feet (if there is such a thing, I have it). I’m 43 years old and there’s a reason I’ve only skied once in my life. I’m going to have to do this for him.
And I’m panicking because I don’t want to fail him. When you become a dad, all people really ask you is whether you’re going to change diapers and get up for middle-of-the-night feedings. Let me tell you that stuff is so freaking easy. The hard stuff comes later. When do I push? When do I let go? How hard do I push? Do I not push at all? What are the consequences of not pushing hard enough or pushing too hard? How do you put your child in a position to succeed, but show them how to fail and give them a net to fall into? I’ve seen it when it comes to baseball — he doesn’t want to let me down.
I remember other fathers telling my dad “you should lock that kid in a batting cage” because I was a good baseball player, but really wasn’t even close to the hitter I had to be to make the varsity team. My dad didn’t lock me in that batting cage. I imagine he wonders about whether he should have and what that would have done for me. Would I have been a better baseball player? Maybe. Would it have changed our relationship? Absolutely. It doesn’t mean he and my mom didn’t push me, it just means he didn’t choose hitting a ball to be the place to be pushed. And he was right.
It’s ski time. Alex doesn’t resist, though he does ask to bring his iPad. In fact, he looks like he may even be a little excited for it. Amy reminds me not to be upset if he quits or doesn’t even want to try. I lie to her and say that I’m going to be cool no matter what happens. In fact, I’ll be ok if he stops at some point, but not before he at least tries.
Getting dressed goes surprisingly well. We meet our instructor, an older guy. He reminds me of Tom Skerrit from Top Gun. He’s perfect. I pull him aside and coach him a little bit. Alex has trouble with multi-step directions. Bi-lateral coordination can be an issue. Can I jump in to help if I have a better way to explain something? I just want this to be a positive experience even if we don’t use up the entire session time, I don’t care about that at all.
We head up to the teaching area. So far, so good. Tony is teaching Alex the basics. Getting on his ski. Balancing. Sliding forward. Still going ok. Alex’s glove falls off. We put it back on. It falls off again. We put it back on.
Tony tries to teach Alex how to walk sideways up a small slope. Alex can’t get it. It’s too hard for him. I jump in and re-explain what Tony is telling Alex to do. It works a little bit. I show Alex that I can’t go sideways up the slope either. I wish I was faking it, but I really can’t go up the slope sideways. I’ve already fallen more times than Alex.
Alex and Tony head to the first level bunny slope. I actually did go along with this and went up the conveyor belt thing but my skis started slipping and I almost took out all the people on the belt with the lady behind me screaming at me not to fall backward. Skiing sucks. I’ve given up. Do as I say kid, not as I do.
Alex hits the hill and man it is beautiful. Near perfect form. Doesn’t come close to falling. Tony tells me he has great balance. I don’t care about the balance, I care about his perseverance. They go again, same result. I’m in awe of that little kid. I’m now the buffoon on the slopes who can barely move without falling, crying like a baby. I could care less.
After a few more times, I can tell we we’re nearing the end. Alex keeps looking over to me. His glove has fallen off so many times, his hands are freezing. I signal to Tony that we should stop after this last time down the hill. Tony sees it too, his client is fading fast. All that matters to me now is ending on a good note. It’s not going to happen. We rush back to the lodge. At this point, I’m carrying Alex with all his gear on. We get him inside. I quickly tell Tony that he’s the best ever.
Alex is sobbing at this point. People are starting to stare. I don’t care. I’m alternatively hugging Alex, telling him how proud I am of him, and trying to return our gear. I realize it’s not just that he’s cold, he’s beyond exhausted. Two hours of directions, new people, a new environment, the cold, he’s practically falling asleep in my arms. I text Amy that we’re “coming in hot” back to the room. We get back to our hotel room, and Alex is asleep within seconds. Maybe the ending wasn’t so good, but he did it. I did it. Well, not skiing, but the parenting thing.
At Thanksgiving dinner a few hours later, a buffet at the hotel in a big ballroom, Amy asks Alex how skiing was and he replies, “I was faster than daddy.”
Later at dinner, Amy is walking around with Ryan who has decided he is done with sitting. She grabs me and Alex and tells us to follow her. We walk after her. She’s running after this other family. She won’t answer my questions as to why we are stalking this family. I assume she sees someone from work randomly in Tahoe (actually not that random). We catch up to them and Amy introduces Alex and me to the guy she used to work with that gave Amy the name of the lawyer his family used to find an adoption match. That same adoption lawyer that brought Alex to us. We look at his lovely child. They look at ours. What are the chances? No really, what are the chances. He had moved away, they haven’t worked together in a few years. And yet, there he was.
I don’t really know what I believe in. I’m not religious by any means. I have trouble wrapping my arms around a single force that both gives us the Kardashians and takes away innocent people watching a concert in Paris.
But that’s quite the coincidence. It was almost too good to be true. On Thanksgiving. After our skiing lesson. I’m not sure what to think.
But it happened.