Finley sat on the bench next to me, wailing out loud as small groups of people skied and boarded past us. We were at the top of the bunny slope on Liberty Mountain, on our third trip down, and she was at the end of her rope.
We’d taken Thursday off to learn how to snowboard together. The mountain was pretty quiet for a weekday, which meant I’d chosen a good day to go. We got our lift tickets, rented boots, helmet, and boards, and changed into our gear with no lines. I walked us into the pro shop to pick up snow gloves (we were both wearing knit gloves, which would have been icicles in 15 minutes) and then we walked outside to find the instructor.
We got a goofy kid named Jeff who punctuated every sentence with the word “Cool,” used interchangeably as a declarative statement and question. He showed us how to stand, start, stop, and ride the chair lift. Finley did pretty well at these, but had difficulty controlling her board when moving from place to place.
We rode to the top of the bunny slope and continued the lesson, mainly on stopping, turning, and switching direction. She did really well at balancing herself, and was quickly moving down the slope in control of her direction. When she was looking off at the chair lift, over in the woods, or at other skiers descending the slope, however, she wound up losing control and falling over. For a child who spends about 30% of her attention on what she’s actually doing, this was problematic.
With our lesson over, we took a break and hit the lodge for some lunch, which she devoured faster than I did. We shared a hot chocolate and then geared up to go back out.
Lining up at the lift, she got herself on the chair like a pro. We laughed and chatted on the way up, but at the top she wiped out directly under the dropoff point and froze. The attendant stopped the lift and helped her off, and she struggled to get out of the way.
At the top of the bunny slope for our second run, I told her we were just going to concentrate on starting and stopping, and we practiced her turns and braking. And she did really well! When I figured out that I had to give her a visual point of reference to work with, she turned and braked like she was born with a skateboard. We slowly made our way down the mountain with no problems, but she began to get frustrated with the ice at the bottom of the mountain.
Hoping I could keep her on the horse, we got on the lift and headed right back up. I gave her a pep talk and words of encouragement all the way up, but she wiped out at the top again, which shook her confidence. She crawled over to the bench, defeated, and this is where our story begins.
I calmly started talking to her while she cried in frustration. She told me she was tired of falling and that she was hurt and didn’t want to keep falling down. I pointed out that she’d only fallen hard once, and that on a normal school day she came home covered in bruises she didn’t remember. She then told me she wasn’t physically injured, she had emotional injuries and that she was just going to walk down the mountain. We went on in circles like this for about twenty minutes, enough for several groups of beginners to pass us twice, each time eyeing Finn warily as she carried on.
As I talked to her, a second part of my brain stood off to the side and observed, quietly amazed that I wasn’t embarrassed by her outburst, and that I didn’t really care what anyone else thought. She was clearly overwhelmed with the feels, and it was my job to help her navigate through this.
Eventually I got her to calm down and convinced her that she wouldn’t hurt herself, and that we should continue slowly making our way down the hill so there was no chance of falling hard. She finally acquiesced and we rode down twice, until she fell (gently, I should mention) and worked herself back up into a state of anguish again. At this point she began unclipping her boots from the board and stood up, ready to walk.
I was at a crossroads. Should I continue talking her down from the ledge, or should I play the nuclear option? I chose nuclear. Because at that point, I was pretty much done. I said, “OK, I’ll see you at the bottom,” and turned and began boarding away. This was not easy to do. Turning my back on her is not something I’ve ever really done, but I felt like Tough Love was the best course of action here.
For whatever reason, the part of my brain that is still, somehow, tuned to the frequency of her cries was still active, because it made me stop and turn about 100 yards down the slope. She had dropped her board and was wailing at the top of her lungs.
I unclipped my board and walked back up to her. She was saying (screaming) something like, “YOU LEFT ME ALL ALONE ON THE MOUNTAIN” until I made it up next to her, and we sat down together. She told me she was tired of falling down, etc., etc., and was upset I’d left her. I told her she’d quit on me, and I wanted to have fun with her. Then, I don’t remember if it was me or her, the subject of fear came up, and she told me she was afraid of boarding down the mountain. I gave her a hug and reminded her that she had already done it twice. I told her it was OK to be afraid, but if she let her fear get the better of her, she’d quit whenever things got a little scary. I told her that if she quit on this, she would find it easy to quit on other things, and that she’d miss out on a lot of the fun things in life, like snowboarding with Dad or skydiving with Mama. She reached out and I gave her a big hug and reminded her how proud I was of how she was doing.
Once the storm passed, she seemed to gain some confidence in herself, and I gave her a pep talk. And then, God bless her, she strapped on her board, stood up, and we started down the mountain again. About 2/3 of the video above is from that last run, where she gets up, has a good ride, falls down, gets back up, and keeps going.
We left after that run, as I think she learned a good lesson and went out on a high note, and she’s told me she wants to go back. I had a blast, and I’m definitely going to take her. I couldn’t be prouder of her.