My daughters and I are snapping photos on our iPhones as we head up the Blue Sky Basin chairlift in Vail, Colorado. We chat about which run we’re going to take. Katherine, 13, announces Blue Sky is her favorite part of the mountain. “I just love it over here,” she says, taking in the fresh powder that had fallen the night before.
I inhale the crisp air, happy to be sharing my favorite sport with my two favorite people.
But getting to this happy place did not happen overnight. Less than ten years ago, the scene was quite different. At the entrance to ski school, Katherine, then four, falls to the floor in a heap of mittens, down and tears. “No, no, no!” she yells, gasping for air. “I don’t want to go! I’m going to throw up!” (Threatening to throw up was one of her signature moves.)
I try picking her up, but she goes limp, arms flailing. People stare like they’re watching a scene from Sophie’s Choice. The little blond girl screaming and reaching out, as a man tries to lead her away. When I finally un-velcro her arms from my leg, handing her off to the young male instructor, my goggles are fogged from sweat and I can’t peel off my Patagonia fast enough.
I remember wondering if skiing with children would ever get easier. The hassle of heavy equipment, lift lines, children who decide they need to use the bathroom after you’ve bundled them in layers of long johns, put on parkas, buckled boots and slipped on pink helmets over knotted hair and dangling barrettes. And we’re paying to do this?
I thought about my own childhood and all the ski trips we took with my parents. Every Christmas, mid-winter and spring vacation, our family would pile into the Oldsmobile station wagon, unbuckled, and head up the turnpike to northern Vermont. My two older brothers and I bickered so much, my parents had to tape lines on the back seat to separate us. We’d take turns sleeping atop duffle bags in the “way back,” while my mother read aloud from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.” Along the way, we’d stop at those dusty, wooden-floored New England general stores to buy Fire Balls, Slim Jims and leaf-shaped maple sugar candies.
Unlike cushy Colorado, northern Vermont was all about blue ice and blue leather ski boots. I’d be in my older brothers’ hand-me-downs (always navy blue or red), skiing between my father’s legs. It’s no wonder he later developed back problems. Some of the lifts then didn’t have safety bars. I remember Dad putting his ski pole across our laps to keep us from slipping off the chair. Now there are safety bars and footrests. I can’t imagine not having safety bars—especially when you see how close to the seat’s edge children get. It’s almost as if they’re taunting their parents, purposely sliding forward, like slippery noodles, making us more nervous than we already are.
Once we graduated from ski school and were able to ski alone or with friends, skiing became an entirely new sport. We’d race down black diamonds, show off under the lift, create narrow paths through the woods that looked like undulating luge trails with speed bumps. Even the après ski scene was fun. (And the older we got, the more fun it became.) We’d hang out in the lodge, playing Pac Man, chewing Juicy Fruit and drinking hot chocolate laden with whipped cream.
I never thought for a moment about my parents and whether or not they were having fun. Until I had my own children.
I never thought the day would come that I’d be able to ski with my children without wiping runny noses, deflecting complaints, stopping for bathroom breaks. Now they have to stop for me.
“My hands are freezing. We need to stop for some hot chocolate,” I tell them.
“Mom, you want to stop again?” Peyton asks.
“Come on, you can handle one more run,” Katherine tells me.
“Sure, I can handle one more,” I say, pinching myself that we’ve made it to this place.
The beat of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” blasts in our kitchen while the girls and I make pumpkin pies.
I’m showing off some dance moves, most of them learned from John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever and Grease days, while holding a wooden spatula as my mike, a major embarrassment to my teenage daughters.
Frankly, I consider myself a pretty hip mom moving to the groove of my over-played “Pure Disco” CD. I mean, I did, until I discover the girls surreptitiously recording me and snapchatting their friends.
I was coming off a particularly dexterous move when I looked up, breathless. The two of them were tap, tap, tapping on their iPhones and smirking. Since I’m somewhat of an exhibitionist, I wasn’t overly embarrassed. Besides, we had pies to bake, so there wasn’t much time to dwell on what snarky teenagers thought.
Our first mistake in the disco pie-baking session occurred as Katherine and I poured the pie mixture into the pans.
“Uh, Mom?” Katherine says while I enthusiastically twist and jive to K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s “That’s the way.”
“Ah-huh, ah-huh...I like it...” I answer to the beat.
“Looks like we forgot something,” she says, pointing at the orange liquid.
“The crust! Oh-my-God, we forgot the crust?” I say, quickly adding that perhaps it could be pumpkin pudding instead of pie.
I try convincing Katherine that all will be okay. “Daddy doesn’t eat carbs anyway, so this will be fine.”
The girls’ dad and I are divorced, but spend most holidays together. Our family is not traditional, so who needs a traditional pie? Apparently, Katherine does.
“Noooooo, Mom, we have to have a crust,” she pleads. She’s acting like a crustless pie is equivalent to eating dog for dessert.
“It’s not that big a deal, Katherine. No one eats the crust.”
“But it’s not a pie without the crust. I don’t want pudding, I want pie.”
“Fine, just pour the stuff back in the bowl and we’ll add the crust.”
“Staying Alive” is now playing--appropriately.
I unroll the Pillsbury crust and we press it into the pans, crimping the sides so it looks homemade. We have a joke in our house. When someone asks, “Is it homemade?” The response is, “Well, I made it come into the house.” That came from my grandmother, though she rarely had to use it, as she actually did make everything from scratch.
Once more, with feeling, we pour the liquid into the two pie pans with crusts. And into the 450 degree pre-heated oven they go. I close the oven door with a flourish and resume dancing.
Forty minutes later, our pumpkin pies emerge from the oven, shiny and golden. So beautiful, in fact, that we all snap pics of the perfect pies. That’s when Katherine decides to hold one up for the background of Peyton’s selfie.
I’m elated that Peyton has deemed our pies “Insta-worthy” (worthy of posting on Instagram). I stand off to the side while the girls do their stuff. Okay, I did want to be in the pic, but Katherine nudged--hip-checked, actually--me out of the way.
That’s when Peyton shrieks, “Oh-my-God, oh-my-God!!” (It’s our second OMG screaming of the evening. And the same grandmother who made everything from scratch was probably rolling over in her grave. She always admonished us not to "take the Lord’s name in vain." To which I’d respond, “Oh, God. I’m sorry. I mean, I’m sorry.”)
“The pie is falling!! Watch out! Oh-my-God, the pie is falling!!”
Katherine and I look down at the pie, which has halfway slipped out of it’s shell and onto the kitchen counter. It looks surreal, like a melting Dali painting. Still piping hot, the pumpkin mixture had yet to settle, so when Katherine tilted it for the pic, it turned from pie to performance art.
We quickly try to push/scoop it back into the shell, while Peyton, helpfully, snaps away on her iPhone. Katherine feels badly about the overzealous tilt, but can’t stop laughing as she slides a spatula under the jiggly mixture.
At first I’m irritated that our perfect pie has gone to pot, but I’m thankful we have an understudy. And at least we salvaged half of this one, albeit it wasn’t going to make the cover of Bon Appetit. Then Peyton shows us the photo of Katherine holding up the pie, smiling and oblivious to its falling innards.
It’s better than any magazine cover. I laugh so hard I practically hit the floor like the fallen pie. My eyes tear up and I’m doubled over, my stomach contracting amid howls of laughter.
That’s when I realize how overrated perfection is. We all try so hard to be perfect over the holidays--perfect Christmas cards, wreaths, table-settings, pies. Who can live up to all the glittery expectations?
Our pie was no longer insta-worthy, but the laughs sure were. And certainly more memorable. Besides, I think pumpkin pudding is pretty delicious--particularly when paired with “Pure Disco.”
Reading the list on her iPhone as she marches down the aisle at Staples, Katherine tells me she needs five binders.
“And where do you think the graph paper would be?” she says. "I have no idea,” I tell her. “Let’s find someone who works here.”
“Binders, binders, binders,” I say under my breath, my eyes glazing over. “Where are the darn binders?” Of course, the middle-aged father with his middle school son, also back-to-school shopping, probably thinks I’m a Romney relative, albeit, a crazed one.
“Let’s look for binders full of women,” I say to Katherine. She glares at me, rolls hers eyes, and steps away, not wanting to be associated with such a “dork.”
I’ve always dreaded back-to-school shopping. I practically break into hives at the mere sight of a highlighter. All these lists, supplies, calendars. I’m not the organized type, so a place like Staples--similar to The Container Store--makes me nervous. Extremely nervous.
Not so for my 7th grader. “I love being organized,” she says. “Nothing makes me happier than making lists.” She is dead serious.
If I hadn’t given birth to her 13 years ago, I’d wonder if she were really my child. Could she be a mutation? Liking organization and making lists? Always begging me to take her to Staples, even when we’re not back-to-school shopping. Seriously?
I know I should be more organized. But I’m the type of person who pays the Pepco bill when the disconnection notice arrives--in a yellow envelope. Yellow, yikes, it must be time. Got one today, actually. Guess I should pay Comcast and the water bill while I’m at it.
What is it about bills and office supplies that sends my nerves aflutter? Is it that I really don’t want to be a responsible grown-up--at 47? Perhaps I need to take a hard look at this problem and take a page out of my daughter’s book, er, binder.
So I’m thinking about making some changes as the school year starts. Like New Year’s Day, the beginning of the school year is a time to start over. I will imagine my life as a fresh piece of white paper, ready for a new--and more organized--story to tell.