Six winters ago on the side of a snowy mountain I broke my youngest son’s leg. It is one of those memories that still plays in my head like a stop gap horror film. I carried my boys everywhere when they were small. They were snuggled in a sling as I did laundry and strapped to my back at the grocery store. We walked with the dogs and hiked in the Bighorns – I was used to a few extra pounds on my shoulders and a small voice in my ear. So it wasn’t much of a leap for me to spend a ski season with a helmeted toddler in my backpack. Luca loved being on the ski hill. He was thrilled by the quick woosh of the chairlift and was never satisfied with my cautious speed on our way down. He babbled in my ear and entertained other skiers with his near constant laugh. When I tipped over from a standstill and twisted his little two-year old limb under my own leg, he cried immediately, but he followed my panicked instructions to be quiet so I could ski us down to the lodge. After an excruciating two hour drive to the ER and a long surgery to set his femur, we spent four days in the hospital. One of his first questions from the confines of his giant Spica cast was, “When can I ski with you again?”
After Luca’s wreck, my husband had knee surgery and I decided that our alpine skiing days were over. We had other – read safer – ways to play in the snow. I started spending more time on my cross-country skis and the kids got their own nordic equipment. We snow shoed to the family cabin and used the downhill ski helmets like high-end sledding equipment. Screaming down an icy mountain on wooden sticks just seemed like too much. It felt too wild.
I run up against this parenting paradox often: I value wildness. I seek it out in the mountains, in literature, in art, in my backyard. I was raised to see arid plains and vast grazing land as potential – that middle of nowhere feeling of the wild prairie was my home. But like every mamma, my instinct tells me to keep my babies safe – close. I’m always aware of the power and danger that lurks just beyond every trailhead, that hides in every dark cave and alley. I feel those moments of illogical terror when I am away from boys. Yet the basic knowledge and pure joy that comes from time spent in wild places – doing wild things – pulls at least as hard as my protective instincts.
So we went back to the ski hill last year. Luca – on his own skis this time – spent half a day in lessons with his brother, and by noon we were all skiing together. The boys are still beginners. They snow plow like they have calves of steel and they have little interest in making pretty turns or full stops, but they love being on the mountain. They ski just like they approach the world: Luca is full-out, bombing down the hill like a fearless Broadway performer. I literarily chase him down to the lifts. Frank is cautious and thoughtful, more like an economist weighing cost benefit equations. Sure it’s dangerous, but kids are wild in the best sense of the word. They are untouched, full of potential and ambition. It seems right to find places to feel that wildness, to watch as they learn to respect the power and enormity of the world. They already understand that they cannot avoid all danger, but that life is pretty great in those spaces of calculated risk. Besides, we have so much fun out there in the snow.