At that moment, my feet (both of them, together, in concert) spontaneously acted independently of my conscious thought. They angled slightly to the left, pivoted at the ankles, so that my skis drifted a bit to starboard. They then pulled hard to port, guiding me through the obstacles rather than going… well, through the obstacles if you catch my drift.
I looked at my feet in dumbstruck awe. “What did you just do?” I inquired. Without answering, they demonstrated the maneuver again. I looked up in stupefied amazement. I had negotiated the minefield and was closing in on the lift. In one moment, I considered that all the people waiting at the lift had probably witnessed my magnificent descent. They must be thinking , “that guy can ski. Man, did you see his feet? What could be keeping him out of the Olympic trials, I wonder?”
In the next moment, I considered that I was about to plow straight into my fan club of fancy. Without time to consult my feet, I executed a corner in my traditional way. My traditional way involves a complex series of gyrations in which my arms wave like a rent-a-cop parking cars in a cornfield at the state fair. It ends with me raising my poles and my countenance to the heavens in an appeal to Bertrand the Norse god of mercy upon the uncoordinated, to please spare me the humiliation continuing my present trajectory into the woods. Or, if it is to be the woods, let them at least never find my remains that I may become legend.
I managed to get to the lift, to the top, and back to the bottom several more times, each endeavor less awkward than the previous. Soon I found myself having caught up to my oldest son, child B. B was at the top of the mountain, about to head down a double black diamond trail. This trail is called “Upper Ramrod,” I assume either in keeping with the Revolutionary War era theme of trail naming at this resort, or else describing the anatomical action of the sturdy tree branches lining the trail at close quarters in capturing the wayward.
Child B encouraged me—in the way that only teenage sons can encourage their middle aged fathers to do things of which their wives will consequently say, “when are you going to realize that you’re not 18 anymore?”— encouraged me, I say, to accompany him. So I did. I was not going for speed. I was not going for style. I was going for survival, and I totally nailed it. I arrived at the end with him, having giving my feet a long list of corners to turn to promote my safe passage. In my mind, I had channeled my inner Franz Klamer. I sat down next to B on the lift, heady with exultation. “I did it! Did you see that? I did it!” I exclaimed. And he said, with a nice balance of sincerity and incredulity, “Yeah, you did it, dad. Good job.”
As is our custom, we rode the rest of the way up in silence. But the whole time I was thinking that I had turned a corner. Not the corners on Upper Ramrod, though. Not in the skiing sense at all. After years of cheering him, affirming him when he had a good race, got a good grade, learned a new song, rode a bike 10 feet without crashing, made it to the potty on time, now I was the one craving his approval, tugging his arm and saying, “did you see me do that?”
While I take this as an omen that the day fast approacheth when my kids gather around the wheelchair and compliment me on my ability to eat solid food and remember my own name, in the mean time I think it’s OK. The kids should see me attempt something new. Notwithstanding that epic parental fail = comedy gold mine, if they have to listen to me preach at them about not being afraid to fail, I should be out there failing, even flailing, practicing what I preach.
I cast my thoughts out wider, to how perhaps I was showing them a way to navigate the new world, how to keep light on their feet in a job market where they will probably have to reboot several times over their careers. Maybe I am an object lesson in demystifying the uncharted waters of destiny; maybe they'll remember me as their James Madison, casting off the myth of the divine right of kings, establishing the constitutional republic. Perhaps through my experience I am ingraining in them the character traits of vulnerability and humility better than any dad has ever done that before.
We arrived at the top. B pulls down his goggles and says, "you want to do it again?"
"Nope," I say, "I'm going to quit while I'm ahead."
I may have turned a corner, but come on, I'm not an idiot.