Tuesday, March 23, 2010


As I type, I'm with my family in Death Valley, California. The landscape before our eyes is cast in hues of brown and rust, sienna and sunshine. We're based in the oasis of Furnace Creek; the stark valley floor surrounds us, a jagged line of the Paramint Mountains defines the horizon. Above us is cloudless blue sky.

For all intents and purposes, it's summer here. But just last weekend, we were immersed in winter...in white snow topping green pines, a chill wind, and layers of clothes. I have much to say about Death Valley, but this tale needs to come first.

Our ski race season culminates with a family fun run in which everyone, from little brothers to moms, can participate. Toby was excited. Toby was ready. Toby slipped (i.e. studied) the course with his big brothers, waited at the top diligently, filed into the gate, and took off like a rocket. He navigated the course with a decent combination of agility, finesse, and guts for a five-year-old, all to catch an unruly edge at the second to last gate from the bottom:


In case it's not clear to the novice ski crash interpreter, that's him splayed out like a test crash dummy on his right side, his left leg in the air. One ski is catapulting downhill and the other is airborne.

There was a chorus of 'ahhhhhh!' from the gathered spectators, and then his helmet fell off and started to roll toward the finish without him. I was a good 50 yards away downhill, watching, and so it was left to the head coach and the nearest gatekeeper to run out to his rescue.

But rescuing he did not want.

What he wanted was to get back on course. He jumped right up, shook his head a little, then stomped uphill in pursuit of one ski. By the time they adults had reached him, he'd grabbed one and was stumbling downhill to get the other, one mittened hand attempting to push his helmet back on his head.

When the coach asked whether he was ok, Toby's only response was an almost cheery, "What place am I in?!" before taking off down the rest of the course, skis pointed straight downhill, grim determination on his face.

Later, when praised for his impressive display of iron will and lack of tears, he responded that 'he knew he just had to suck it up'. (I may or may not have told my children to do exactly that on numerous occasions.) And I'm proud of him. Proud of him for not crying and carrying on when he crashed so spectacularly. Proud of him for going right back up to that intimidating starting gate and racing again. Proud of him simply for caring about this, for participating in something bigger than his usual pursuits. Bigger, perhaps, than he was ready for.

But don't try telling him that.

When I suggested that perhaps he needed to slow down on his second run, if only to stay in control, he looked at me as if trying to determine whether I was joking. And then as if questioning whether I truly understood the basic principles behind ski racing. "Mom," he said, "I can choose 'go slow', or I can choose 'win'. Why would I go slow?"

Why, indeed.

He finished his second run in 7th place. (He misheard the announcer and spent the rest of the day convinced he was actually in 2nd place, but that's a whole other story.)

This post is written in conjunction with the You Capture challenge 'A Moment' at I Should Be Folding Laundry.

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