There’s been a lot written about how counterintuitive it is to have children. Or maybe I’ve just thought it during times of paternal crisis. But I witnessed it today. I saw two grown humans collapse like the Greek economy. They were cornered — they cornered themselves. Let me attempt to paint a picture.
You grow up trying to gain control. At first it’s your bladder and then it’s a bicycle and pretty soon you’re driving and even buying your own booze.
You get an apartment over which you preside, a dog you train, and into a relationship that works within your capacity for love and understanding. And then, with one romantic night or hasty kitchen countertop love scuffle, you breach it all with bowling ball-sized life bomb that explodes into a thing that you cannot, for the life of you, properly control. It’s weird, the pinnacle of mammalian purpose becomes a shot to your fragile ecosystem that takes you out with a tantrum in the candy aisle.
I’ll transcribe for you the conversation I heard from the chairlift. Two people, who were pieced together for the proper pageantry of fashionable snowsuits and the latest skis, shouted down a tiny child who would not perform to their expectations. As I passed over — with my own photocopy in Otto next to me who steadfastly prefers crashing every twenty yards over ski school — I looked down at two handsome people who looked like they were named Karen and Roger. Karen and Roger appeared to be successful people. I sensed entrepreneurship or some accomplishment in management motivating teams of grown people towards a common goal. I saw expensive professional dinners and exotic personal vacations. In short, I saw success in controlling the world in which they live. But as they negotiated their skis and their wills against gravity, a little girl adorned in swirls and polka dots, sat down and refused to move. Now normally you can throw this child over your shoulder and use brute strength to manipulate her whereabouts. But here they were stuck on a slippery slope, quite literally, and it’s really hard to be dominant when you’re wearing shin shackles and ten feet of waxed plastic. With all of their acumen drained by circumstance, they surrounded and shouted crazy street person inanities at thirty pounds of insubordination.
Karen: You know, the bathroom is in the lodge. You have to get up and ski to the bathroom.
Roger: GET UP AND SKI TO THE BATHROOM.
Karen: Your father and I are going to leave you.
Roger: Fine just pee your pants then.
There aren’t many circumstances where in a crowded public place you’d command someone else to pee their pants. But that is parenthood on ice. Your fantastic, lifetime accrual of interpersonal stamina pissed away on the side of a mountain on a Saturday afternoon.
It gave me such great insight. Thank you Karen and Roger! You’re still great leaders to me. As your example helped me cope with my own emotional terrorist in pastel. A little girl who sensed in me great weakness, as well as noticeable drop in my physical ability to move from one place to another. Skiing is the great equalizer. With an 1812 Overture of otherwise upstanding citizens smacking themselves against a mountain, your chances against well-honed manipulative minds are slim to none.
Ski resorts should price accordingly for families with young kids. Your first day is free. If your dumb ass is actually going to suit up a toddler so they can be even more dangerous than they already are, well then the experience is on the house.
The most exhausting part of skiing is getting ready to ski. We’re not so avid to have our own gear, so we must endure the ski rental process. Now I first visited Granby Ranch (then called Silver Creek) in 1986. Still today it has the same cramped, poorly ventilated rental shop. With strained faces, parents step over protesting children. Christmas card facades fade under duress. Smiles are a forced greeting to worried bystanders. But we’re all well-behaved in a rigid ballet of foreboding glares and stifled epithets. There have been families hauled away to their deaths in cramped cattle cars I remind myself as I coral a precocious two year old in the dense underbrush of clearance racks. May I only be tested by the snail’s pace of preparation for ski resort entertainment, I also tell myself as I carry the squirreling, boneless body of a small human back to our family mound of winter clothing. This is where we waited while parents hammer the feet of their fussy progeny into plastic pylons called ski boots. Why in the hell aren’t we sledding?
It is during these times, when I’m hungry, sweaty, and perturbed, when I turn to the darkness. Perhaps from a youth where we were an hour from Colorado’s ski lifestyle but light years from appreciating it. Because, after all, downhill skiing is an elitist pastime. It’s symbolism is reality, lifting those with the means out of the teeming masses. An ascension to the elevations of the economic elite.
As a kid, in our little Colorado town, no one downhill skied. We’d have visitors stop through on their way to Steamboat, and I simultaneously admired and loathed them. I loved their new Subarus, liberated minds, and scientific breakthroughs in mountain apparel, but hated their own self approval. Their patronizing pats on the head fermented somewhere in the shallow depths of a personality puddle shimmering with the petroleum spill of hypocrisy. They criticized the right wing, the rednecks and, of all things, the rich, yet pursued a sport with a yachting-level barrier of entry that takes 15,000 acres of trodden environment to successfully endeavor.
So those are the dark places you go when you’re hoping your children will stop their sit-in at the lodge. You seek evidence that justifies social, emotional and geopolitical reasons to retreat to iPad games, televised sports and the beautiful malaise of a lazy shut-in vacation that you can actually afford.
But then you breathe in and realize that you need to raise your kids with a breadth of experience. They can’t grow to loathe shiny veneers. You want them to be able to fake it like a true American. You want them to rise without the intense dread of people in fuzzy boots and SUVs with “Save the Planet” stickers. We’re all hypocritical assholes when it comes to the chairlift of personal happiness. My kids need to know how to get on that thing and have a freakin ball while giving gravity and vacation budgets the goddamn finger. I want them to be free of the mental ball and chain of judgement. I want them to see that parking lots with way too many Subarus or pick up trucks or Panzer tanks doesn’t mean a wall of frustrating like-mindedness, but individuals who each have their own hopes and dreams, and can be at any moment forcefully removed from their hard-earned adulthood by a tiny person in lollipop snow pants.
I want them to see that their parents will struggle and be grumpy but still pull through and figure out a way to make the day work. Even if it is via alcohol and legal weed. It’s a time to persevere in America — a pretty, if not pubescent, country stumbling around on the bridge to maturity — and goddammit a credit-straining visit to a mountain extravaganza is going to be the way we’re going to do it.
Now to get my angry little girl out from under a shelf of discount hats.