It’s some bizarre California thing right now they call ‘Ski/Skate Week’, which apparently is some form of winter break. Given that Tahoe is a drivable California Ski (and Skate?) destination, it’s round two of high season in ski school and mountain life in general. I’m five days into this stint (but am also back and forth working normal, non-ski work), and while it’s been slightly less of a shock to the system as the Christmas chaos was, I am le tired already. It’s also not been helped by the sudden appearance of Yet Another Blizzard(TM), which has dumped about a foot-and-a-half of powder in a day and wreaked havoc on all travel. I ran out of dog food earlier this week and haven’t been able to get to a grocery store. Otis has been eating Cheerios for breakfast with me.
Anyway, I wasn’t going to write about the actual skiing part of ski school life, because that’s actually quite repetitive, and can probably be aptly summed up in this meme my fellow weekend instructor friend Carrie sent me last week:
Instead, let’s chat about kids.
I really like kids and have always had this slightly bizarre calming effect on children. I babysat a lot from a pretty early age (scarily, my first steady charges are now out of college) and would show up with a bag full of art supplies and nail polish and random games and spend hours sitting on the floor idly coloring while chatting away about whatever the most recent 2nd grade gossip was, until I finally hit a point somewhere during the college years where I decided I was done with watching children until they were my own. That didn’t last particularly long, and since then I’ve ended up somehow finding myself magnetically drawn into middle school classrooms or watching people’s babies. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed being around them (or older adults) last year (until I did), and even though it’s only a relatively small fraction of my week right now, I feel so much ‘fuller’ (maybe that’s the right word?) getting to spend that time around miniature humans.
That’s the thing though – it’s been fascinating being able to have this rapid fire turnover, where every week it’s a new set, and within that set are these completely unique little individual beings, who, at ages 4-11, already have these incredibly distinct, well-developed personalities. I can suss out within the first 10 minutes of togetherness who is who within the group and what sort of interaction I’m going to need to have with them and what sort of interaction they’re going to have together. There are the quiet, observant ones, who timidly answer a few questions, until you ask them the right one, and then they don’t stop talking the entire day. There are the instantly verbose ones, who tell you in extreme detail what they ate for breakfast that morning and what street they live on. There are the quiet ones who happily stay quiet all day, and then come back the next and run over and smile and hug you out of nowhere. There are the tough ones, who give you that sideways smile with a glimmer in their eyes right before they run up some snowbank in active defiance. I’ve had no problem connecting with all of them, and I have a blast chatting to them all day. The things that come out of their mouths are witty, honest and raw, and we have constant ridiculous and intelligent conversations. Honestly… sometimes I learn more from talking to the 8-year-olds than I do talking to my peers.
By and large, most have been overall ‘good kids’, who listen, are sincere and respectful, and open up to me and the other kids. My group on Monday? An absolute blast to be around, and I was genuinely sad that the day was over – they were totally aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, had positive, but realistic attitudes, bonded immediately and spent the entire day – unprompted – helping each other (and random other skiers) out everywhere. By the end of it, they were so, so proud of themselves for how they tackled each new challenge, and it was so much fun to see them interact with each other throughout the day. I’ve had a few other groups (and individuals in not-so-good groups) like that, where I’ve left the day making mental notes for how to raise my hypothetical future children and want to spend a day with their parents to see what they’re doing, because they’re doing something right.
I’ve also had some, err, handfuls, where I’ve also left feeling so horribly exhausted and defeated by someone a quarter of my age, and unfortunately, my ‘WTF, Child’ moments have been at a high this week. Today I had a girl who cried every time she fell… but also had a pack of tissues in her pocket and was well adept at whipping one out to wipe off her tears, because clearly this is a common thing. After one fall, we had a chat, which went something like:
‘But but (sniffle) this was so much easier yesterday!’
‘I know! That’s part of it – we want it to be harder. I’m going to challenge you today, and by the end of the afternoon, you’re going to look at this and be like, “that was so easy!”‘
‘But but (sniffle) then the next day is going to be harder! And it’s just going to keep getting harder!’
…And I laughed, and looked at her wet eyes, and was like, ‘Welp, Child, hate to break it to you, but that’s life.’ And then skied away, because while I am far too empathetic for my own good, I’m also blessed/cursed with a little too much cynicism.
After the 10th meltdown, she ended up spending most of the day inside coloring. Her parents informed us ‘she has a lot of emotions.’
I also had a child who was very on the Asperger’s spectrum, who, on day two, had a very different, very intense meltdown in a lift line, where he was (skis attached) on the ground. That whole two day segment was a tough one – I luckily know enough to have been able to quickly recognize what I was dealing with, but I’m also by absolutely no means used to dealing with it properly, particularly on a ski slope with 2-3 other charges. I left those days feeling just really, really bad – I was conflicted over knowing what I should be doing and wanting to focus all of my attention on the kid and feeling like he shouldn’t be treated any differently, but also recognizing that there were other kids around who I had to teach and keep track of (and keep happy), and the limitations of that. Part of me was angry at the parents (who didn’t ski? This has not been abnormal – kids are in lessons, but parents have never skied?), who I can’t decide if were not telling me on purpose, or the child wasn’t actually diagnosed. Part of me felt really awful and judgmental for feeling frustrated or being like, ‘I would do this totally differently as a parent’… because what do I know?
Anyway, kids all have their annoying moments – we were all obnoxious, many, many times – but I’ve decided it boils down to two main (related) things: 1) Teach your child to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’… and just general manners, and 2) teach your child to try things for themselves and problem solve without immediately defaulting to asking for help. Some kids I’ll go an entire day, and it’ll be ‘A little help here?’ (Really? People say that?) ‘Help me!’ ‘Can I go?’ ‘Can we go on Arrow?’ ‘Put my goggles on!’… without a single expression of politeness or gratitude over the entire eight hours. At first my attitude was more of a silent ‘ugh’ and then a sidestep up mountain to help child put on whatever piece of equipment has fallen off for the 100th time, but I’ve definitely gotten much better with infusing a healthy dose of ‘Nope, you need to learn to get up and put your ski on by yourself’… and (shockingly?!) the second I put my foot down, the child instantly complies with no issue. The few that have done both without prompting stand out immediately, and I’ve been making an effort to point it out and thank them and their parents.
Anyway. Kids. I should’ve been a teacher. For realz.