If you’re ever in Salt Lake City, you should stop by Snowbird Resort. It’s probably the most charming resort I’ve ever been in. It makes it better that my husband used to work there in his 20’s. It makes it personal and I can almost picture his tan face, wrapped in goggles, zipping down the snowy hills, pointed straight down the mountain. So we take the kids to the summer playland there, where they have one of my kids’ favorite things, the alpine slide. It’s not the biggest slide in the world, but it’s just empty enough on a Tuesday morning that if you get there early enough, you can ride the slide 10 times before you ever have to stand in line for more than 30 seconds. So we rushed off and bought the whole family-day passes. This usually means, to any good American family, that you try to fit in every race you possibly can, without eating or peeing until desperate. And we headed off in an ugly American rush with shouts, as if we were going on a hunt for lions and tigers and stuff…
We split into groups of two and raced to the top on the chairlife and raced down on the slide, barely breathing. We broke all the rules the 20 year old boys who worked there, told us not to. We kept the brake up, we leaned into the curves and we raced each other like wild Indians. It was a childish rush of excitement! And the two groups of our small family lost each other in the chaotic frenzy of speeeeeed.
My five year old and I stopped for a moment to high five my husband as we saw him coming back from an actual “break” in the activity. He must have REALLY had to pee. I was shocked, but I looked about for my 8 year old. And without even really thinking about it, I asked, “Where’s Mack?”
To which my husband tells me, and I paraphrase because I might have passed out in my standing body for a moment… that my 8 year old was riding the chairlift to the top of the slide by himself.
I couldn’t think for a moment. And I looked at my husband for any look of doubt on his face, as if he shouldn’t have done that. There was nothing. I paused. I wondered if I was being ridiculous. I don’t want to be the mom who is over-protective, but I also don’t want the kid who falls from a chairlift at the resort—you know, those people get a bad rap, I hear. But then my husband, probably sensing the pause from his verbose wife–spoke…, “and he’s so excited. You should see how happy he was when I told him he could ride by himself.”
Without a parachute? Is he wearing a parachute? Did you tell him 25 times that he has to sit still and can’t sit forward and not to breathe if the wind blows? Did you mention large birds might swoop him from the lift if he doesn’t shackle himself to the metal frame? Did you remind him not to worry but to have fun and to make sure his back and butt do not move one single milimeter from the very farthest back of the lift seat he can sit on? Did you, did you?
But nothing came out except, “Do you think he’s ok?” I was still blacked out. It wasn’t as if we were deciding. My son was already on the lift right behind me, by himself, where I was imagining him standing UP in the seat, shaking his butt at me and laughing, “Mom, can you see me, can you see my butt?” And I couldn’t look up.
I said, “Ok, you’re sure?”
My husband was not only sure but he hadn’t even hesitated to send my son on his own. What was that? What was that difference between men and women? Why did I immediately envision the worst event possible, which I won’t even write because I’ll pass out in my head again. Why did I climb onto the lift with my 5 year old and grip him so firmly he had to ask me to stop hurting him? Why did I continue to pan the chairs in front of me for falling bodies? Why do I do that? And I didn’t care. I just held my breath, gripped my younger son and tried to make my mind voodoo the lift faster, so I could get to the top and make sure my eight year old was safe.
And he was. He rode the lift 15 times by himself that day. No, I don’t know that it was 15 times for sure, but I am certain that’s a super close guess, because that’s the number he told me. And my husband never doubted it for a minute. My son was beside himself. He even put the safety bar down so he wouldn’t fall, without being asked or threatened. He didn’t fly off, he didn’t slip underneath the bar. He didn’t even panic for a minute. He had this look of freedom on his face that I could feel.
I could suddenly remember being a kid, riding my bike–by myself–around my neighborhood, with the wind in my hair, feeling like I was free. I could remember a lot of things I did on my own and what it felt like. I was so glad my husband had done that. I was so thrilled to see my son could feel his own spirit soar, his own independence start to take shape, the fever of freedom on his brow. It was kinda beautiful. It was kinda momentous, one of those things you never forget. And I was glad he had a dad around to do things differently, because he never would have had that specific experience that day, with just me.
I was glad he was growing up, but I realize this is only the beginning. And although it’s hard to watch and to hold your breath for so long while you wait for your children to take their next step successfully… I realize the joy of watching them succeed, the joy of watching them feel things I remember, things that take me back and throw me down—at the same time. It was a big day for my boy. It was a bigger day for me. It sucked watching him fall when he was a baby, learning to walk, wanting to walk. But it was amazing to see him take the steps on his own when he did. I will relive that wonder many more times, probably until the day I die. And today, he took more steps, more steps towards his own freedom. My son, here’s to your journey, as you walk, as you find freedom, even though many times you’ll be walking away from me. I love you.