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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lessons from Ski School

I had my first ski lesson when I was four years old. It was a disaster. I remember that one ski boot kept unbuckling from my ski every time that I tried to move. I cried lots and lots of tears. After about a hour or so, my instructor lifted me up, hoisted me over his shoulder and skied down to the bottom of the bunny hill and returned me to my parents. Despite that first experience, I agreed to try again and ended up falling in love with skiing. 

My brother, sister and I grew up skiing in the mountains of Vermont and then Lake Tahoe. After we each had kids, we started talking about when we could get our kids up on skis. We questioned other parents and ski instructors. How early was too early? 18 months? 2 years? 4 years old? 

I have been so excited to share this sport with my sons and desperately want them to love it as much as I do. Since my husband doesn't downhill ski, I needed the boys on my side. Otherwise, how could I convince three non-skiers to head up to the mountains so that Mommy could ski while they hung out and waited for me in the lodge? At the same time, I was scared that my kids would have a first experience similar to my own and walk away hating the sport and never getting to experience the thrill of skiing down a mountain.

In particular, I was worried about my five year old son J. He has always been a cautious child, more comfortable sitting on the sidelines watching as his friends would dive head first into any new situation that presented itself. It takes him a while to warm up to new people and situations; he doesn't like to try things that he's not familiar with or good at. (No, it's not lost on me that he will not know if he is good at something until he actually tries it. I try this argument all the time. It doesn't work.) I signed him up for a tumbling class at 18 months and for 45 minutes for the first 4-5 weeks of class, he screamed and cried through the entire class while I held him and tried to pretend that crawling up and over different obstacles was SO MUCH FUN! 

Once we planned this trip to Lake Tahoe, I would occasionally mention the idea of skiing to which his response would be, "Never. I don't want to ski." When I brought up the topic again, I received the same response. I didn't have high hopes that he would try skiing on this trip but I resolved to let him make his own decision. I didn't want to push him to try it and then get upset with him when he would ultimately choose not to ski or worse, refuse to participate after I shelled out a $100+ for a lesson. Truthfully, I didn't want this to ruin our trip or my week of skiing.

Well, funny things happened on the way to Lake Tahoe. First, I injured myself which meant no skiing for me. Second, J decided that he wanted to try skiing. I tried really hard to play it cool and not to jump up and down with excitement when he delivered his decision. We agreed that he would try once. If he didn't like it, he didn't have to try again. I worried that while he agreed to these terms, he would balk when he saw the equipment and had to put on the big heavy ski boots. But he didn't. He went along with his cousins and ski instructor Marcel and learned to ski. 

As parents, it's often hard to disentangle our children's experience from our own expectations. We want so many things for our kids. But, do we end up pushing our kids to play certain sports because it makes us happy or offers a chance to live vicariously through them rather than because it's something that they truly enjoy? 

I asked J a couple times if he was having fun. He nodded yes. He had a blank look on his face so I wasn't sure if he was being completely honest with me. But then he turned around and told me how Marcel told him he "ripped." The biggest smile spread across his face. He then told me that it wasn't so hard - all he had to do was make french fries with his skis and then gently make a pizza, and then french fries and then gently make a pizza. He wanted to keep skiing after his lesson ended as well as that afternoon. Then I knew, he really did like it. 

At the end of his two-hour lesson, Marcel took J on the chair lift. Watching J ski down the beginner trail, all by himself made my heart swell. It was one of the proudest moments I've experienced as a parent. It made up for the fact that I couldn't ski. Almost. Of course, my two-year old son wasn't one to be left out of all the action. He got his own pair of skis and raced down some gentle slopes. We couldn't get him off the mountain at the end of the day.

I learned a couple of things over the last two days. 
  • It's a fine balance between encouraging children to try new things and allowing them to make their own decision. As they get older, it's important that it is their own decision.
  • Introduce the new activity and let it be that - an introduction. They don't have to love it right away or commit to joining a team. If they enjoy it, great. If they don't, you can try again another time. Maybe the circumstances weren't right this time around.
  • Different kids take to different activities and sports at different ages. Like I said, J is more reserved. There is no way I would have tried to get him on skis at 2.5 years like his younger brother.
  • As hard as it is, don't push. We all know that kids have a sixth sense when it comes to things that Mom or Dad really want them to do. They will do the complete opposite.
I'm going to try my hardest to remember these lessons when I try to convince J to give surfing a go.

{This post is linked up to Pour Your Heart Out at Things I Can't Say and Wordful Wednesday}

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At February 29, 2012 at 12:14 PM , Blogger Shell said...

Glad this turned out so well!

Your kids are so cute skiing!

At February 29, 2012 at 2:35 PM , Blogger Steff said...

I was a snowboard instructor for a season at the resort in my town, and I kept reminding myself: These kids need to have fun or I will ruin snowboarding for them for life! But basically, I ended up picking most kids up because they were too cold, and riding down the slope with them while their boards continuously hit my shins!

I was like your youngest son as a kid, my grandma taught me to ski when I was younger than two! I didn't ski much past the age of 6 or 7 though, and now my husband is the one who skis constantly.

We've talked about what sports we'll have our kids do, and once I said, 'I want them to ride bikes, and gymnastics, and yada yada...' He stopped me and said, 'Well, what if they don't like it?' So, like you, I'll have to be patient, introduce a sport to them, and see if they like it!

(Found you through PYHO =) )

At February 29, 2012 at 3:36 PM , Blogger Jen@ADropintheBucket said...

I've always wanted to learn to ski, maybe there is still hope for me? And the photos are awesome. Sounds like you have a good approach with your kids!

At February 29, 2012 at 4:28 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Definitely not too late to learn! My husband is even contemplating taking a lesson now too. Thanks for your kind words. It was really had not to push my son but I've learned that he responds better when I back off and let him have his space to think and decide himself.

At February 29, 2012 at 4:31 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thank you so much for your comment and visiting! I was actually really surprised that my son and two nieces weren't freezing and complaining. We stuck with a 2 hour lesson to start and then rushed them inside to warm up. I've found that it works best with my son when we emphasize the fun part of the activity and he can experience an accomplishment. I'm totally like you in that I want my kids to play a million different sports or at least try them and my husband had the same reaction. It's super hard to hold back but it's backfired on me before and I've learned my lesson just to be patient and to take it slow, especially with J.

At February 29, 2012 at 4:32 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Shell for your comment and for hosting the link up. I'm so relieved it worked out too!!

At February 29, 2012 at 10:47 PM , Anonymous Natalie @MamaTrack said...

What awesome pictures! I'm glad it worked out. And looking forward to taking our kids too. Thanks for the tips!

At February 29, 2012 at 11:33 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Natalie! It's been so much fun on the mountain with the boys.

At March 1, 2012 at 6:37 AM , Anonymous tracy@sellabitmum said...

So awesome. I remember my first ski lesson too - I was four and my parents thought it would be fun to have someone dressed up as Cookie Monster teach me so they hired this special 'character private lesson' - I FREAKED THE HELL OUT and didn't learn to ski for two more years. lol xo

At March 1, 2012 at 11:59 AM , Blogger Recovering Supermom said...

My oldest son is also very reserved and needs time to watch and observe before he tries something new, although this has eased some the older he has gotten. I'm so glad that both your sons had such great experiences. And I'm sorry you didn't get to ski!
Your pictures and lessons at the end are great, too. :)

At March 1, 2012 at 5:33 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Ha ha ha! That is awesome.

At March 1, 2012 at 5:37 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thank you! J has definitely become a little less reserved and come into his own over the last year. It's been pretty fun to watch him take on situations that we would typically run the other way from. I'm kind of excited that he's taken to skiing. I can't wait to ski with him.

At March 2, 2012 at 12:04 AM , Blogger Steff said...

I think it'll be hard to hold back when it comes to parenting too. That's why I have my better half, though, right?! To rein me in? haha That was a good idea to just do 2 hours!

At March 2, 2012 at 6:48 PM , Blogger Awn said...

I worry about how I might push my kids toward activities that I love. And I don't have any kids yet. I think my heart might break a little if I don't have some hockey playing kids, but at the same time I never want to make them do something just because I enjoy it. Thanks for the great post!

Oh, I have never skied but the "french fries and pizza" totally make sense to me!

At March 3, 2012 at 1:57 AM , Blogger OatmealBowl said...

That is so cool! I've always wanted to learn how to ski... never have... and I still don't. Yeah for pushing your kids to at least trying it and taking the reigns from there. Love the pics!

Eventually, I will learn how to ski.

At March 3, 2012 at 3:38 AM , Blogger Christine said...

I really do love skiing and encourage anyone who is the slight bit interested to give it a go. It's a pretty amazing feeling to ski down a mountain. At least give it a whirl, right? I'm super excited that my son liked skiing and wants to keep practicing. It's really very cute to see him ski down all by himself.

At March 3, 2012 at 3:41 AM , Blogger Christine said...

I know. I feel the same way about my kids and skiing, swimming and now surfing. I really really want them to love it as much as I do. It is hard to find the balance between encouraging my kids and pushing them. I cross that line all the time but learn from it to figure out what kind of support and encouragement each of my kids need as they are both very different.


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