Thank you, friends and family near and far, for your expressions of caring and concern over the past weeks. I am feeling much better physically though I am still on multiple drugs, semi-bedrest and my self-prescribed anti-inflammation diet. It would be useful to know which of these tortures is/are the key to my heart sac’s happiness – but I don’t want to find out the hard way, so clean eating, continued slothfulness, and a slow tapering of my medications is on order.
Shortly after posting my last missive, I came across something I wrote a year ago that, oddly enough, seemed to presage the theme of my most recent post. I guess I have been grappling for some time with this notion of when and how we show weakness. With that I will share this little ski-season story-within-a-story that I wrote last year...
The chairlift lurched to a stop shortly after Alder and I got on. We dangled in the air for an uncomfortably long time and I began to regret getting on the lift. We’d been stopped too long to be a case of a loading mishap when the liftie guy turned skiers away. “We’re going to get everyone off,” I thought I heard him say.
Alder was oblivious, and I did my best to conceal the dread coursing through my body as an old memory resurfaced. When I was 8 years old – Alder’s age – my family was skiing at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire when the chairlift conked out.
I was riding the lift with my mother. As we hung unmoving, it got cold. It got boring. I metered out the butterscotch candies in the breast pocket of my ski bibs, sharing with my mom, who became increasingly nervous.
It is a well-known fact that my mother is afraid of heights. I grew up routinely scouting for elevators to get around escalators, which my mother could ride up but was constitutionally incapable of riding down. Once in New York City there was no alternative to a down-escalator, and my mother convinced someone to turn the entire thing off so she could walk down it like a queen descending the royal stairs. Such is the power of her fear.
It is perhaps lesser-known that when a chairlift is moving, you don’t think much of it. But when it stops, it doesn’t take long to notice that you are sitting on a little hunk of metal suspended from a cord strung across the sky, and that there’s a significant amount of air between you and the ground below.
Needless to say, this combination of my mother and a stalled-out chairlift was not ideal.
Just when I thought we’d be stuck til my 9th birthday, the ski patrol came to tell us we would have to be evacuated. I was too relieved to wonder what exactly that meant – I must have assumed there would be some kind of magic carpet ride. The reality went like this: a ski patroller throws a rope over the chairlift cable; another grabs it on the other side and attaches a little disk to it. Then they pull the rope up until the disk hangs in front of the chair. The people in the chair drop their skis and poles and, one at a time, grab the rope and jump onto the little disk. It’s like hopping onto a rope swing, only 30 feet in the air and in ski gear. Finally, the ski patrollers lower the rider to the ground.
By the time our rescuers reached my mom and me, we’d been waiting for several hours and my mother’s anxiety had risen in inverse relation to my butterscotch supply. When it was our turn, she panicked. Fighting my own fear – the ground looked so far, the wooden disk so small – I knew I had to go first. Adrenaline overpowered anxiety; somehow I did it and then somehow I coaxed my mom through it.
We met up with my father and brother, who had been a few chairs ahead of us. We each received, for our troubles, a card good for one complimentary drink at the lodge. My parents scoffed at the chintzy drink cards (but you better believe we claimed our free beverages). We never went back to Bretton Woods.
But we got a story. And I got something that I didn’t immediately recognize. My ever-ebullient, confident mother had been made small and fragile. I had fed her candies, comforted and distracted her. I had become the caretaker. I had become the strong one.
As Alder chattered about whether we should ski the gulley or the traverse to Moondrop, I wondered if we were in for a long cold wait and the rope-and-disk routine. I wondered if the staff at Eaglecrest had practiced. And I wondered about the balance between taking care of your kids and letting them take care of you.
One of my little inside jokes (as in, inside my own head) is, “It takes a village to be me.” I say it every time I have to ask a friend to watch Alder, rescue me from my latest vehicular disaster, or lend me a key to my own house.
So I think my kids have seen a pretty good sampling of my weaknesses. But I have tried to shield them from caregiving. I have tried to shield them from my emotional needs.
When I told eight-year-old Rosie that Daddy died, she put her hands over her ears. When she removed them she said, “Who will take care of me and Alder?”
I answered with a confidence I did not feel: “I will. I will take care of you and Alder. We will be ok.”
I had had only minutes to digest John’s death, but I immediately grasped the risks. I didn’t want his death to snuff out their childhood. I didn’t want to compound the tragedy of loss with the burden of a needy parent.
I thought about all this as we dangled in our metal sky chair, Alder needling me get him lodge fries AND root beer in violation of my either-or edict. Perhaps now, I thought, six years later, it is time to let my children in on the open secret that I need help too. We try to teach our children compassion and giving – we cook dinner for the homeless, donate clothing to the needy – but it’s arms-length, helping the Other. The truth is, there are needs much closer to home, within the home, within each of us. We need to teach our children to attend to family and friends and their own fragile souls with kindness and compassion.
Eventually, we all need to learn that none of us is infallible, the world is not black-and white, we are each by turns strong and weak and we need to hold each other up as best we can.
|Dog was unimpressed by the video of herself Rosie showed her.|
|Snow skating in Menotomy Rocks Park (I know, he should be wearing a brain bucket!)|
|We had a great visit with my dear friend Margaret and her family in Vermont last week.|
|We call her Rosie "Chloe Kim" Caouette.|
|We had to quit after two runs at Bolton Valley due to driving rain, high winds and fog so thick you couldn't see past the end of your ski pole. But afterward Alder said, "I forgot how fun skiing is."|
|I felt like I was home - Vermonters and Alaskans have the same taste in cars.|