Saturday, January 10, 2015

Teachable Moments on the Side of a Mountain

There’s a great recurring joke on Modern Family wherein Cam and Mitchell are attempting to respond to Lily’s behavior and they declare the instance a “teachable moment.”

It reminds the rest of us that we can react irrationally to our children or we can help them understand the impact of their behavior.

Over the years, Charlie and I have had multiple teachable moments with Hollie and I’m proud to say we’ve both gained emotional maturity. We very rarely respond irrationally to Hollie’s behavior.

But even the most self-controlled adults can lose their cool on the side of a mountain.

Here are a few universal truths that must be stated before this story can be fully appreciated:

First, skiing is hard. Maneuvering long sticks on one’s feet, the discomfort of the boots tightly locked down, the arbitrary waving of the poles, hurtling down a hill with nothing but a fall or a tree to stop inertia, all of these combine to make the whole thing truly terrifying.

Second, skiing requires strength. The entire mountain is not downhill, so one cannot depend simply upon gravity.

Third, skiing requires falling. To stop, to learn, to make the best use of your knees and your new snow pants, falling is required.

Finally, getting back up is the hardest part.

Enter the teachable moment.

We took Hollie skiing for the first time over Christmas. She spent Saturday in a lesson. The half-way check revealed a snotting, slobbering whining Hollie begging to go back to the cabin.

I refused to let her quit.

Upon my return at the two p.m. pick-up time, she declared she loved skiing and could we please all go together.

The next day we took her down a green slope. Greens are the easiest but they’re not easy. Let me state that for the record: they are the easiest but they are NOT easy. There are some pretty steep spots. Spots where I fell on the first and second tries. (see the third truth above)

Hollie’s experience on the green was like a microcosm of toddlerhood. Instantaneous shifts from concentration to exultation to fear to terror to frustration to worry to intensity to glee to fun. The cave man was back.

“I can’t do this!” she wailed.

“You can and you will,” I responded.

“I did the pizza!” In which she was pleased with herself for snow-plowing to slow down before falling over.

“Good job! You’re doing great” I responded as I hoisted her back up onto her skis.

She fell about 14 times. Spectacular spinning hurtling falls in which she ate snow, and small collapses in which she looked like she merely went limp.

Then she laid there.

Sometimes laughing maniacally at the rush of being out of control. Sometimes wailing at the futility of the coaching she’d received. Sometimes begging to be airlifted from the mountain and magically transported safely down.

And every time we, Charlie and I picked her back up, encouraged her to try again, and gave her a gentle shove down the mountain.

At the bottom, skidding into the chair lift line, she grinned and declared, “I love it! Can we go again?”

I cannot find a better way to teach Hollie that when we fall down, we get back up and keep going. 

On the side of the mountain, you have no choice. You must continue down. We witnessed one girl take off her skis and attempt to walk down. Hollie took the same slope on her butt. She stopped multiple times, but she didn’t take off her skis.

We had to cross horizontally at one point and Hollie, without poles, was basically dead weight as I pushed her between my legs and used my own poles to drag us forward. I begged her to help. She cried that it was too hard. I bit back a stream of cuss words.

We reached the slope and she set of, left swish, right swish, left swish, right swish, steering and snow plowing her way down to the lift line.

“Can we go again?” she asked.
Charlie on the slopes

We fall down and we get back up. We learn to try to not fall down. We learn to forget how much getting back up sucked.

I learned as much about myself as I did about Hollie. She’s not a quitter, but she has the vocabulary of one. I’m not a quitter, but I don’t like trying very much. I like doing. I like knowing.

In tandem, Hollie and I struggle to encourage one another to keep trying, to stay positive, and to believe in ourselves. We can make it to the bottom of the hill, where she will forget the struggles almost immediately and I will try to forgive myself for failure.

Charlie’s patience wore thin with the slow pace and with Hollie’s continuous falling. He’d forgotten that falling is a requirement of skiing. He was focused on the goal: not falling. My patience wore thin with her vocabulary, when  I heard her say she was giving up.

Hollie didn’t lose patience with us. She trusted us to keep picking her up and helping her get down the mountain. And we did.

If you think you love your kid, take her skiing. In three green slope runs, you’ll be able to identify all of the habits that make you worry about her. And all of the bad habits you’ve adopted to cope with those worries.

What was the most challenging activity you endured with your child? What did you learn?


  1. After reading this and thinking about the different challenges your Dad and I faced with you and your sisters, I am so proud of the way you and Charlie are meeting the challenges of parenthood. Consistency in the messages we send to our children is key to raising children who are successful in life. In raising you and your sisters, there were times when we did let you quit an activity and this was usually because we knew you were not going to be musicians or dancers. I do think your Dad and I both pushed swimming and swim team because neither one of us had ever done swimming. You have never been a quitter so as I observe you raising Hollie Russ, I would expect you to not let her quit. I have learned over the years that every good parent second guesses themselves more times than they may be willing to admit when it comes to raising their children. As a parent you never stop worrying about your children. The choices you make when you are raising them sometimes show up in them as they are raising their children and so it goes. Keep on enjoying the fun parts of parenting and the not so fun parts will take care of themselves!

    1. Thanks, mom. I sometimes have to remind myself that the character traits I want HB to have (persistence, patience) are learned and that it's my responsibility to teach them.

  2. It has been a while since I've been to Clemson Road ... and what a great post to read upon revisting :) And it has me thinking about your question ... and honestly, I need time to think about my answer. I learned so much in raising my daughter, your BFF! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to go back to those days.

    1. So glad to see you back here, Sheila. Clemson Road was pretty quiet in 2014, but I'm hoping for a revival in 2015. You raised a wonderful person in Tamra and I know the lessons learned along the way were worth the strife. Thanks for being part of our family's journey.


Love Builds Confidence

Going into the archives for some classic blogs to get this blog resurrected. It's no longer The 41st Year and Life on Clemson Road is, ...