As I stand at the top of the mountain, I can barely see my teens in the distance.
In fact, as I watch their brightly colored coats zig zag along the crisp white snow, I take a deep breath and pull down my snow goggles. Tentatively, I inch myself forward and feel gravity start to pull me slowly towards the bottom of the hill. Reflexively, I keep my skis in a pizza wedge form, lest I actually gain enough speed to careen out of control and crash into the tree line.
But, even though I am apprehensive, I give the snow a good shove with my ski poles and off I go, in search of those brightly colored jackets that have now coasted out of sight.
No matter how fast I ski, I still can’t catch up.
My teens are impatiently waiting for me by the chair lift, anxious to ride to the top so that we can repeat the entire process.
It wasn’t always this way, though.
Living where we do, at the base of the mountains in Pennsylvania, my kids learned to ski at young ages. For many years, they were beginners, too.
We’d spend long afternoons on the bunny slopes, the three of us learning how to control our skis together. I was able to beat them down the hill back then, too. And, my beginner level ski skills impressed them when they could barely stand upright in their own skis.
And, my kids needed my help when one would lose a ski after a fall or when they couldn’t figure out how to navigate the chair lift.
“Mommy, you’ll stay with me, right?” my daughter would say, her six-year-old hazel eyes gazing up at me.
“Don’t be afraid,” I’d say. “Mommy will be right next to you on the chair lift. Here, hold my hand.” We’d ride the chair lift together and my daughter would chatter the entire way up, in the way excited little girls do.
But, over the years, my kids started to surpass my ski skills and I was unable to keep up.
And I found myself on the chair lift alone, more often than not, because my teens could now ski slopes that were too difficult for me to master.
They’d pile into the ski lodge together, laughing and joking about their ski adventures and I’d find myself wistful that I wasn’t in on the joke.
I was missing out because my kids were becoming independent. My heart hurt on those cold winter evenings.
My babies had grown up right before my eyes.
The chair lift was no longer scary and the bunny slopes have long since been forgotten.
It’s the natural order of things, yes, and as I’ve spent time on the mountain with my kids, I’ve realized that skiing is such a metaphor for parenting.
You start out being able to ski a little bit better than your kids and, suddenly, there’s a moment where they take off and soar on their own.
And, though I knew that moment would come, I wondered how I’d feel when they surpassed my skill.
That moment arrived this year and I realized, my kids are skiing on without me.
And, truth be told, my heart filled with pride.
I realized that letting them go on the ski mountain will make it easier to let them go in a few years.
When the time comes for them to leave home, perhaps my heart will hurt a little less because I’ve let them go little by little on our ski excursions.
As I watch them tell jokes and chide me about my ski skills, I’ll be grateful to hear my house filled with the same sounds on Christmas vacations and spring breaks home from college.
When I slowly meander down the ski slope, I have learned to be more comfortable in my own skin, to appreciate the quiet moments to reflect and to take in the world around me.
And, when my teens convince me to try a harder slope, one that makes me sweat when I see the pitch of the slope, I smile as I feel a familiar hand take my hand.
“Mom, don’t be afraid. I’ll go with you. We’ll do it together,” she says.
Suddenly my little girl is grown up.
She’s not afraid anymore.
And I find myself following her not to prove that I can keep up but to see where she’s going to go.