My children are all fairly cautious. They are not the kids who learn to swim by throwing themselves into the deep end of the pool. They are never the ones walking on top of the monkey bars or jumping off of the playset. You'll never see them hanging upside down from trees. They know the risks and they weigh them carefully. I was less cautious as a kid. I was by no means mindlessly reckless, but I took risks.
Much of my time as a parent has been teaching my kids to trust themselves and be daring once in a while. You know, live a little.
When we go sledding I urge them to go down head first on their bellies. When we go swimming I convince them they will be fine in the deep end of pool and show them that diving is actually fun. When we are playing in the snow I show them how to dig tunnels without feeling claustrophobic.
The funny thing about me pushing them is that when they finally do believe me and branch out a little I am SWEATING AND FRETTING AND FREAKING OUT on the inside. It is a bizarre phenomenon that the same exact things I once did as a kid now scare the hell out me when I watch my child do them.
Going head first down the sledding hill I am watching for each and every little bump they might hit. When they are swimming in the deep end of the pool I am eagle eyeing them and trying to keep myself from jumping in the water fully clothed just to be near them (just in case!). Digging tunnels in the snow is great but I check on them every 10 seconds to make sure they aren't buried alive.
This whole parenthood thing is a push and a pull. And I'm still getting used to it.
This weekend we went to the cabin up north and went skiing at a nearby ski hill, Ski Brule. We try to go at least once or twice every winter but this was our first trip this year. Luckily, all the boys seemed to remember exactly what they were doing and after their first run down the bunny hill they already had the hang of it.
We decided to start by taking one boy up the hill at a time to make sure they knew how to get on and off the chair lifts and how to be careful and behave while on them. Once we had each boy familiar with the green runs we took a break for lunch.
I had mentioned that maybe Joey and Tommy could ride up on a chair lift together and Todd could ride up with Ben. Joey and Tommy were quick to agree and assured me over and over that they would sit still, behave, be careful, and not mess around. Still, I had my reservations. They are 10 and 7 (fine, 8 this month), for pete's sake! Those lifts are HIGH UP. I went over the safety rules with them again and again. Joey admitted that he was nervous about it but he said he really should go with Tommy since he is the big brother and he needs to watch out for him.
When lunch was over we decided to just keep practicing turns and stops on the bunny hill. Todd went out with the boys while Grace and I played inside for a little while. Ten minutes later Todd came running back inside and said that he couldn't find Joey and Tommy anywhere. They disappeared!
I knew right away that the two little farts had jumped on the chair lifts and went up the hill by themselves. Part of me was really ticked off and scared, and another part of me was pretty proud that my cautious little men were starting to trust themselves. Todd quickly went off with Ben up the mountain in search of Joey and Tommy.
Grace and I headed out onto the hill a half an hour later and found Todd. He had found the boys on the top of the hill and they were gleefully skiing from one end of the hill to the other. He told them the same thing that was running through my head. "Part of me is really angry that you just took off like that, but I'm also kind of proud of you two for being so brave and independent. Next time, tell us where you are going before you take off!" he warned them.
Joey and Tommy went up and down the hill for the rest of the day, checking in with us every hour or so, mostly to get money for food or something to drink. Each time they'd leave us again my heart did little flip flops. I'd glance over at the chair lifts and an ugly chill would run up my back. Part of me wanted to make them stay with me. I wanted to tell them they couldn't go on the chair lifts anymore. I'm really not good at letting go.
After listening to my safety tips again and again they'd be off. Off on their own. Off where I couldn't see them (probably for the best). Off where I couldn't protect them. Off on their own adventures getting their first real taste of freedom. Off becoming their own person. It was terrifying. And exhilarating.
It was a pretty amazing day. It was the longest we've ever managed to stay at the ski hill with the kids. Almost 7 hours of nonstop skiing.
Todd and I have often reminded each other through all the sweat and aches of teaching the kids to ski that someday it will all be worth it. And we are starting to see that now. In skiing and in life.