“Let’s get going. Today we’ll be learning about fortitude, get your dictionaries out.”
“Sammy, please stop doodling, and pay attention. No, it’s not about making everything into the number four! No, “F” comes before “G” in the alphabet.”
“Mom, I have to go to the bathroom; I’ll be right back.”
“Didn’t you just go to the bathroom?”
“What are we having for lunch?”
“Robby’s staring at me. Make him stop staring at me.”
“Now that we’ve looked it up, let’s add it to the spelling list.”
I could sit my children down and tell them to set lofty goals, to try difficult things, to have courage in the face of adversity, but I don’t think they would “get it” like they did this past weekend. Words alone can be hollow. As a homeschool mom I’m wired to think in terms of lesson plans and instructions, however, the best lessons in life are often spontaneous.
In our family, packing is my job. I hate it. Taking a family of eight on a two day ski trip . . . well, we might as well go to Europe for a month! I’m kind of a stickler for clean underwear, so do the math. Eight people times two days of skiing (in which we all wear multiple, say three, layers,) plus a change of clothes to wear into a restaurant after skiing (if I’m lucky enough to talk Ken into not cooking at the cabin – I hate, hate, hate cooking in a kitchen that’s not my own!) and clothes to sleep in, and emergency clothes . . . if you have kids you understand about emergency clothes . . . not to mention, none of the boys will share a stick of deodorant, (I’ve begged) and . . . you get the picture. I usually begin any trip with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I can’t believe I just admitted that out loud. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the exhaustion of getting everyone’s clothes clean ON THE SAME DAY, or Ken’s, “we have to make good time,” (or what? the Suburban will turn into a pumpkin?) and his, “I don’t want to leave my car at work, so can you drop me off in the morning, drive home, pack, load the car, and pick me up at precisely 5:30?” and, “I don’t want to stop for dinner — because we have to make good time — so, could you feed the kids before you pick me up?” (Dinner at 4:00? Honey, we usually eat at 9:00, remember, we’re weird that way.) And then there’s the great debate about who sits in which seat for which leg of the journey. I used to be so creative with seating arrangement for the car since it was a daily argument. Now that most of the kids are old enough to stay home and I don’t have to take all six kids to buy a loaf of bread the need for the creative seating arrangements isn’t so pressing, until, that is, we go on a trip. Oh, rats, now Ken’s grumpy because we won’t “make good time.” We finally coerced Madeline to sit in the dreaded middle seat – I know. It’s not your fault you were born last – and we roll down I-70 heading toward a fun filled weekend in the mountains. I would soon realize God had much more in store for us than just a fun filled weekend. The chip on my shoulder would soon be cast off and replaced with a sense of awe.
Our family loves cross country skiing! I’m a runner so when the roads are covered in ice it’s the natural winter counterpart to a long run. At Snow Mountain Ranch, in Winter Park, there are trails for everyone. Green, blue, black. Black! It’s not the same as a black at an alpine ski resort. Sure, nordic black means steep hills too, but to get to go down, first you have to fight gravity, with skis on, and get yourself to the top. Most families with small children would spend some time on the greens and blues. Not us. We bundled up Friday morning, packed a ridiculous number of granola bars and headed to the Blue Ridge Trail. 25km. 12.5km going up. up. up. FOREVER. We wondered whether Madeline, at the ripe old age of eight, would be able to keep up. We gave her a sound pep talk, “You can do this!” (We think.) It turns out she led the way for all but the last 2km on the ascent. I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t keep up with her! She made the boys work to keep up with her. I learned (again) how capable my young people are. She was wearing thin about 2km from the summit; she wanted to give up and turn around. After all, the only other people we’d seen all day (three adults) were skiing down the mountain after “giving up.” They hadn’t made it to the summit; they all said it was too difficult. She dug deep and kept going. (We’d attempted this trail last month, and only made it a third of the way up.) She wanted it! We all had to dig pretty deep. Four hours of skiing uphill will tire even a seasoned athlete. I can’t describe her joy when we reached the summit. In a world where kids are segregated into classrooms and activities by age it is something marvelous to see an eight year old soar beyond eight year old expectations! On the way down she said, “Now, mom, I know I can do anything.” Yes!
The next day, Snow Mountain Ranch was hosting a cross country ski race for the blind. We mapped out our route; we’d be sharing part of the trail with the racers. I was nervous about it. I’m a realist. There are a lot of trails, why do we have to ski this one? What if we get in the way? What if we annoy the skiers? What if . . . . Thankfully, Ken isn’t a realist. We didn’t want to mess up the groomed trail so we skied off to the side of the groomed part. We’d been skiing for about 15 minutes when the first racers came up from behind. We all stopped and lined the trail. The racers each had a guide skiing out in front of or beside them. “Straight, straight, straight, slight curve to the left, then it straightens out and dips down . . . spectators on the right.” As these amazing skiers raced by I had tears brimming in my eyes. I had to work to take a breath; the racers literally took my breath away! It was amazing. Letting gravity have its way as the ski trail plummets downhill is trilling and frightening enough when you can see the bottom. Now close your eyes.
We were privileged to cheer on many skiers that morning. As the day wore on the conversations I had with the kids were priceless.
“Mom, these people are amazing, aren’t they? They could just be sitting home, but they aren’t. They are out here.”
“Yes, Sammy, what you saw today was the human spirit at its best!! But, you know what, there are a lot of people who can see and they just sit at home.”
“You’re right mom! I hadn’t ever thought of that.”
Conversations that touched on all kinds of things: How would you think about beauty if you couldn’t see? You wouldn’t be shackled by the culture’s ideas of beauty, would you? What is beauty? It certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with the color of a person’s skin, eyes, or hair. It would have a lot more to do with how a person made you feel when they were around. It would have more to do with sincerity and transparency.
My mom’s battle with cancer ended five years ago this weekend, February 4th, 2006. I miss her every day. I am grateful for all the lessons she taught me. As I watched Madeline dig deep and muster all her courage to keep fighting gravity I was reminded of my mom’s fighting spirit. She didn’t necessarily fight gravity. She fought her own battles. One battle I am eternally grateful she never gave up fighting was her battle against the lure of Seagram’s 7. She made it to the summit too: More than 20 years of sobriety! I’m also grateful for the vision my mom gave me. Not a vision that comes from seeing with my eyes. She didn’t ever see people for their outer shell, she saw beyond all the trappings of her culture and her time and she passed that on to me in experiences and conversations and how she treated people.
for.ti.tude – mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously. My children will have their own battles to fight. I pray with all my heart they choose their guides wisely, set their goals higher than anyone would ever expect, and then have us all stand back in amazement.