I had my first ski lesson when I was four years old. It was a disaster. I remember that one ski boot kept unbuckling from my ski every time that I tried to move. I cried lots and lots of tears. After about a hour or so, my instructor lifted me up, hoisted me over his shoulder and skied down to the bottom of the bunny hill and returned me to my parents. Despite that first experience, I agreed to try again and ended up falling in love with skiing.
My brother, sister and I grew up skiing in the mountains of Vermont and then Lake Tahoe. After we each had kids, we started talking about when we could get our kids up on skis. We questioned other parents and ski instructors. How early was too early? 18 months? 2 years? 4 years old?
I have been so excited to share this sport with my sons and desperately want them to love it as much as I do. Since my husband doesn’t downhill ski, I needed the boys on my side. Otherwise, how could I convince three non-skiers to head up to the mountains so that Mommy could ski while they hung out and waited for me in the lodge? At the same time, I was scared that my kids would have a first experience similar to my own and walk away hating the sport and never getting to experience the thrill of skiing down a mountain.
In particular, I was worried about my five year old son J. He has always been a cautious child, more comfortable sitting on the sidelines watching as his friends would dive head first into any new situation that presented itself. It takes him a while to warm up to new people and situations; he doesn’t like to try things that he’s not familiar with or good at. (No, it’s not lost on me that he will not know if he is good at something until he actually tries it. I try this argument all the time. It doesn’t work.) I signed him up for a tumbling class at 18 months and for 45 minutes for the first 4-5 weeks of class, he screamed and cried through the entire class while I held him and tried to pretend that crawling up and over different obstacles was SO MUCH FUN!
Once we planned this trip to Lake Tahoe, I would occasionally mention the idea of skiing to which his response would be, “Never. I don’t want to ski.” When I brought up the topic again, I received the same response. I didn’t have high hopes that he would try skiing on this trip but I resolved to let him make his own decision. I didn’t want to push him to try it and then get upset with him when he would ultimately choose not to ski or worse, refuse to participate after I shelled out a $100+ for a lesson. Truthfully, I didn’t want this to ruin our trip or my week of skiing.
Well, funny things happened on the way to Lake Tahoe. First, I injured myself which meant no skiing for me. Second, J decided that he wanted to try skiing. I tried really hard to play it cool and not to jump up and down with excitement when he delivered his decision. We agreed that he would try once. If he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to try again. I worried that while he agreed to these terms, he would balk when he saw the equipment and had to put on the big heavy ski boots. But he didn’t. He went along with his cousins and ski instructor Marcel and learned to ski.
As parents, it’s often hard to disentangle our children’s experience from our own expectations. We want so many things for our kids. But, do we end up pushing our kids to play certain sports because it makes us happy or offers a chance to live vicariously through them rather than because it’s something that they truly enjoy?
I asked J a couple times if he was having fun. He nodded yes. He had a blank look on his face so I wasn’t sure if he was being completely honest with me. But then he turned around and told me how Marcel told him he “ripped.” The biggest smile spread across his face. He then told me that it wasn’t so hard – all he had to do was make french fries with his skis and then gently make a pizza, and then french fries and then gently make a pizza. He wanted to keep skiing after his lesson ended as well as that afternoon. Then I knew, he really did like it.
At the end of his two-hour lesson, Marcel took J on the chair lift. Watching J ski down the beginner trail, all by himself made my heart swell. It was one of the proudest moments I’ve experienced as a parent. It made up for the fact that I couldn’t ski. Almost. Of course, my two-year old son wasn’t one to be left out of all the action. He got his own pair of skis and raced down some gentle slopes. We couldn’t get him off the mountain at the end of the day.
I learned a couple of things over the last two days.
- It’s a fine balance between encouraging children to try new things and allowing them to make their own decision. As they get older, it’s important that it is their own decision.
- Introduce the new activity and let it be that – an introduction. They don’t have to love it right away or commit to joining a team. If they enjoy it, great. If they don’t, you can try again another time. Maybe the circumstances weren’t right this time around.
- Different kids take to different activities and sports at different ages. Like I said, J is more reserved. There is no way I would have tried to get him on skis at 2.5 years like his younger brother.
- As hard as it is, don’t push. We all know that kids have a sixth sense when it comes to things that Mom or Dad really want them to do. They will do the complete opposite.
I’m going to try my hardest to remember these lessons when I try to convince J to give surfing a go.