Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Mountain

I am afraid of just about everything. Some people say I am just a worrier, skittish even. But I am afraid and I like to blame it on my troubled childhood. The average day feels like a roller coaster to me…and I hate roller coasters. My stomach drops and I feel woozy and my brain rattles around from side to side. I really try to fight my fears, sometimes, actually often, I even yell at them out loud. But still, on any given day, I am very afraid and I worry. I worry about money and this ever-so-exhausting recession. I worry about my health and the health of the people I love. I worry that what I am doing isn’t enough and that I should be doing more or maybe something different. I worry about the state of the universe, the decline in America’s moral baseline, the desensitization TV and video games have brought us and the influx of the internet piping porn into our homes. I worry about crime and poverty, earthquakes and fires and floods, the general selfishness and evil of humanity and the imbalance of justice in the cosmos. And the most worrisome of all…I worry that my parenting will screw up my girls forever. Woe to the parent who doesn’t lay awake at night searching for the answers on how to raise today’s teenager with the daily, almost hourly… advances in technology. Oh, so sly is the devil these days seeping himself in through Facebook and the ever-present texting. It worries me, it all worries me.

It’s definitely gotten worse since I had my kids. When they were little, I was daily haunted by an image of them running in the street and getting hit by a car and I was completely terrified… maybe even just a wee bit paranoid… that they would be stolen. I used to say to them when we went to the park, “Now you watch out, Sweetie,” not for bullies or bumble bees, but…“because someone at this park may have come here today just to steal you!” Maybe that sounds crazy and okay, maybe it is crazy, but a mamas gotta do what a mamas gotta do and they’re still with me, so who’s to say?

But now that they are bigger, stronger and they know not to run into the street and are pretty much able to fight off any number of child abductors, I have a new fear. I am afraid that I will make them worriers. I am afraid that when they grow up they will get stuck in their fears and overwhelmed with their worry, that they won’t take chances, won’t try new things and that they will miss out on opportunities… and that they’ll miss out on a lot of fun…and then that they’ll have regrets…like I have.

So when the opportunity arose for me to take my two younger daughters skiing in the mountains just a short ways from our house, I signed us up. And for a month straight, I was woozy and my brain rattled from side to side even more than usual. What was I thinking? I wasn’t even so sure I could drive up the mountain, all those tight roads on the edge of a cliff, truckers speeding up behind me trying to run me and my children off the road. And what if the roads were icy? I’m not a very good driver in the best of circumstances, let alone winter conditions that I am not accustomed to. Even now my hands sweat just to think about it. And that doesn’t even include the actual skiing part. The last time I had gone skiing was over twenty years ago… I did love it though… the smooth ride on the glittering snow through the deep green, majestic pines, that sweet surrender to the speed carrying me down the mountain, the coolness of the air filling my chest… but my body is so much older now; I thought for sure I’d break something. And what about my girls, what if they broke something? Their arm… or goodness, what if they broke their neck? All my friends kept telling me how you have to wear helmets now, because of that actress that hit her head and died last year. This story was not helpful. And I kept having nightmares about falling off the chairlift. Not surprising, but heights are one of my worst fears. I was also terrified we wouldn’t be warm enough. I’m a beach girl, what do I know about the snow? How could I keep my children from getting frost bite and possibly losing a finger or a toe?

But something inside me felt like I had to do it, that it was a matter of life and death and that if I didn’t try, that if I didn’t brave the mountain drive, if I didn’t risk the possible broken neck, the frostbite… that a part of me would surely die forever.

So in spite of it all, I gathered snow clothes and helpful hints from neighbors and friends. I studied the map and the road conditions and the weather forecast. I stocked the car with bottled water and non-perishable snacks, I asked people to pray for me and I took a little pill to help me sleep the night before.

I downloaded the soundtrack from Moulin Rouge to surprise Summer for our early morning drive. It’s mine and Summer’s favorite movie. It’s so fun that my girls and I share a love for cheesy musicals. And just as the sun was rising behind the mountain, we sang out, “We could be heroes, just for one day…” And we both swooned as Ewan McGregor professed his undying love to Nicole Kidman. In the backseat, Jazi rubbed sleep from her eyes and asked the timeless question, “Are we there yet?”

The roads were perfectly clear, although my sweaty hands still fiercely gripped the stirring wheel as we crawled our way up the mountain. I’m sure I used every turn-out to let the trailing cars pass, but there was simply no reason to rush me. Why does everyone have to be in such a hurry? Even if the people in those cars lived on that mountain and new those roads, it is still a dangerous drive and there is no reason not to take things just a little bit slower. I mean really.

As we pulled into the parking lot of the resort, I breathed a deep sigh. In the same moment that I reveled in my accomplishment, I worried about how I would make the drive back down.

The girls cheered, “Mama, look at all the snow! Can we get out, can we get out?” Other skiers peppered the parking lot applying sunscreen and sipping hot chocolate, with a casualness that made me think that this wasn’t their first time back on the mountain in twenty years. And so I began the cumbersome process of dressing my girls and myself for the cold day ahead. We had worn long sleeves and leggings on the drive up and brought several layers to add. We buttoned up baggy ski pants, slipped on sweaters, zipped up goose feather jackets, and using our teeth, wiggled our fingers into our gloves. As we waddled over to the ski rentals we giggled at the swishing made by our clothing as we moved. Summer said, “I feel like a big, fat snowman.”

After we were fitted for boots and skis, we headed towards the slopes. I had forgotten how awkward it is to walk in those heavy boots. Jazi kept dropping her skis and poles and I kept looking around for a man to help us carry everything. But all by ourselves, carrying all that gear and crunching through the snow, we made our way up to where the ski class was being held. The morning sun was warm on our backs, almost too warm. Lugging up the hill, I began to sweat under all those layers, which actually helped to alleviate some of my frostbite fears. Summer had rented a snowboard, which is all-the-rave with the youngsters nowadays. She spent a weekend last year on the slopes with the youth group, and with a joyful wave, she headed towards the chairlift. Jazi and I went towards a sign that read “Beginners”. A woman in a bright yellow jacket with “Ski Patrol” written on the back announced, “I am Stacy and I will be your instructor for today. The most important thing you need to know about skiing is to have fun.” She had kind eyes and spoke sweetly, like a kindergarten teacher. She tapped her forehead and went on to say, “Ninety-nine percent of skiing is in your head, now let’s put on some big smiles and get started.”

First she told us to take a deep breath and breathe in the mountain air. And when I did, my heart swelled and tears pooled in my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was there, on this snowy mountain top. Stacy then showed us how to put our skis on and how to pop them off when we fell. The warm sun had melted the top of the snow into a thin layer of ice and the skis were unstable and slippery. I felt like a newborn fawn testing out my legs for the first time. Next Stacy had us side step up a small hill. She told us to slide down a few feet and then point the tips of our skis together in the shape of a slice of pizza and come safely to a stop. It seemed simple enough. But the first man up stumbled and flailed his arms and the lady after that fell right on her butt. Jazi was up next and she looked back at me with worried eyes. I gave her a thumbs-up and said, “You got this Jaz, make a pizza and if you fall, what do you do, baby?”

“I get back up, Mama.” She said with a wide smile. Whether it was roller skates or a bicycle, I have always told my girls that when they fall, they need to get right back up. It’s a little mantra I have tried to instill in them, even though I am not so sure I have learned it yet myself.

But she didn’t fall, she glided freely a few feet, then pointed the tips of her skies in and came gently to a complete stop. “Wonderful, Jasmine!” Stacy said clapping her ski poles together. “You are a natural.” Jasmine’s sweet face beamed proudly.

“Now, you go Mama!” Okay, so I had psyched myself up for this, I was prepared. If, when…I fell, no matter how much pain I was in, I would smile…and I would get back up. I positioned myself at the top of the hill and bent my knees. Jazi grinned and gave me a thumbs-up. Pressing my poles snuggly into the snow, I wiggled a little and gave myself a hearty push and glided smoothly down the hill…and guess what…I didn’t fall either. I made myself a big slice of pizza with my skis and I too came gently to a complete stop. And again Stacy exclaimed, “Wonderful! You are a natural too, Tami!” And again she clapped her ski poles together, like a happy walrus. And inside my heart I felt warm and proud and triumphant.

Then she said, “Okay guys, I think we are ready for the chairlift!” Was she kidding? I really thought she was kidding… especially because the other two people in our class hadn’t really mastered the whole slice-of-pizza-stopping-part as well as Jazi and I had and I was pretty sure we could all use a little more practice. “Deep breath, class!” She said, “Let’s see those big smiles, now follow me…” And off she glided towards the lift.

The lift was rickety and daunting. Stacy skied smoothly up to a red line at the base of the lift and yelled back, “When the chair comes underneath you, just grab on and sit down…like this…” and with that the chair scooped her up and off she went, up…up…up and away, skis dangling in the open air beneath her.

Jazi looked up at me with very…very…big eyes.

Oh…goodness, I thought… I’m the Mama. I have to lead here, I have to be brave. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, we could die…or seriously break something…Panic quickly set in and the outside world went quiet; I could hear only two things…the squealing of the lift’s motor and my heart thumping against my chest.

“Okay Jaz, our turn…,”I managed to mumble, “let’s go, deep breath, honey…scoot forward, now watch the chair…grab on…now sit down…” And like a perfectly choreographed ballet, the seat rose gently underneath us as we sat and carried us swiftly into the air.

“Woohooo!” Jazi hollered as we began our ascent up the mountain.

“Hold on tight, Sweetie!” My neck stiffened and I clenched my teeth. I could feel sweat dripping inside my gloves as I gripped the edge of the chair. The fact that there are no seatbelts on those things is beyond baffling. I entertained the very real possibility of this whole thing ending rather badly and I prepared myself to jump if Jazi slipped. High up in the air we rose, through the tall pines, to a place that was quiet. The chair swayed gracefully in the cool morning breeze as skiers far below us swooshed through the snow.

“Oh, Mama, we’re getting pretty high now… I am kind of scared…” Jazi said with a growing tremble in her voice.

Yes, and you should be… I thought. It is really scary, one jolt forward and down we’d plunge, surely to our death…we should go back…we should get off this damn lift and stay on the ground where we belong! Had God intended us to fly, we would have wings to flap…but there are no wings here…no wings at all! What kind of mother thrusts her child steep into the air on the side of a mountain, with no safety belt, no safety measures of any kind and all for the sake of so-called…fun? Fun? This is not fun! Oh, I definitely felt my stomach drop, my head rattle and a wooziness like never before…

But the words I said were, “You’re alright Love, we’re safe and we’re almost there, just don’t look down, look up, look forward…look at the beautiful trees and the beautiful snow… the mountain that God has made! Isn’t it lovely?”

Jazi looked around for a few moments and then sighed and settled back into her seat, “Oh, yes…you’re right…it is beautiful, Mama.” Her face softened and she smiled up at me. We floated through the rest of our ride in silence, soaking in the magic of the mountain.

Stacy was waiting for us at the top of the lift. “Okay girls,” she said, “just stand up, glide over to me and make a slice of pizza and your skis will stop.”

“Oh, Mama, I don’t know if I can!” Jazi said, whimpering just a bit.

From where we sat, the exit looked really steep, somewhat treacherous even. There was a really good chance that she could slip and fall, just to be followed by me tumbling off behind her… the odds of that were pretty good. Stacy smiled over at us, our eyes met and she tapped her forehead. Ninety-nine percent of skiing is in your head…oh goodness…my fearful, worried little head…

I cleared my throat. “You got this Jaz,” I said firmly, “just remember, stand up slowly and make a big slice of pizza!” And with that, together we stood… and together we glided… and together we stopped, without even a slight stumble.

“Great job!” Stacy shouted. “Yes, you two are absolutely naturals!”

Jazi’s face burst with pride.

For a moment, I just stood there at the top of that run, breathing in…then breathing out… the crisp scent of pine filling my lungs. The snow glistened, like opalescent glitter, in the morning light. The sky was wide and open and beckoning me to be a part of this good day.

“I’m ready now, let’s go, Mama!” Jazi said and then she fearlessly headed down the mountain.

I followed close behind, and as I glided smoothly through the snow I shouted, “Wooooohooooo!” from deep down in my belly.

From above us on the lift, Summer hollered down, “Good job, Mama, good job Jaz!”

And again I cried out, “WooooHoooo… WoooHoooo!” I shook my poles high in the air, shaking my fist at fear and worry all at once. I could hardly contain myself, howling and crying out all the way down the mountainside… God’s mountainside…so full of beauty, so full of life, down I went, in complete surrender to that sweet speed beneath me. Snow sprayed high into the air as I stopped at the end of the run, where Jazi was waiting for me, her face all aglow.

“Did you see me Mama? I was going so fast and I didn’t even fall!”

“I did see you Jaz! You did great! Did you see me? I didn’t fall either!”

“I did see you, Mama and you did great too!”

I did great, and my daughters were watching. I took a chance and they saw me. The amount of pride I felt in that small moment is nearly indescribable. I’m sure from the outside, it didn’t look like much and maybe it is silly to think that such small steps are such a great victory, but for my little afraid spirit, my brain that rattles around and entertains all the potential dangers, and so often gets stuck in the “what ifs”…this was a truly important event and a great battle won. And I felt alive and awake and completely exhilarated.

On our next chairlift ride Jazi said, “Mama, remember before when we were so scared? But look at us now!” She leaned her head back on the seat and with a peaceful sigh said, “This is just such a blessing, Mama. This is even better than Disneyland.”

I am reminded of the quote about courage not being the absence of fear but rather the ability to see that something is bigger than it and that the brave person is not one who does not feel afraid, but one who conquers that fear. I did that. I felt afraid, very afraid, of the drive, of the mountain, of the cold, of the chairlift, of possible broken bones and lost toes… but I also saw that there was something much bigger going on here, much bigger than just a simple day in the snow, something worth fighting for, fears that needed conquering… daughters that needed to see their Mama be adventurous and brave. It was a gift, an opportunity to live, an opportunity to live life to the fullest…to live the abundant life, the life Jesus talked about.

I didn’t fall even once that entire day and even though I know that not everyday will be that way, I’ll go back to that mountain. I’ll make the drive, I’ll brave the cold and the chairlift. And I’ll bring my girls and if they get scared, I’ll tell them that they are almost there…and to look up… and to look forward… to look at all the beautiful things God has made. And if, or I guess…when… I fall…I’ll get back up.


  1. Tami,
    I love reading what you write because it sounds like me so much of the time!! You are much more articulate but the FEARS, the WORRY, the being awake at night PRAYING for the lives & future of my children!! That is WHO we are & I PRAISE God for you my dear sweet, beautiful, friend for sharing your thoughts!!

    So PROUD of you Momma for taking your girls skiing & TRUSTING the LORD with all your HEART!!

    Miss YOU!


  2. You are a great writer... Mama! I love your stories. They really come from the heart. Some make me almost cry... but I think it would be 50 50... crying of happiness and sadness. But I love your skiing story. I love your duck story! I love you!