A mounting sense of dread came over me as the weekend approached and I came to terms with the facts. I’d be driving four hours each way to a scout trip where the main activity would be skiing or snowboarding. I’d be giving up control of my weekend for the sake of my son and that of the troop.
Meals would be planned, and I wasn’t the planner. Sleeping arrangements would be first come, first served. I would not be the only one snoring in the bunkhouse. There would be communal bathrooms. The key to scouting is to keep the kids fully engaged, which meant that there would be very little downtime. And with 21 kids on the trip, it was going to be loud. I knew all of this when I’d signed up, but I had still volunteered to be a chaperone because I knew that if I didn’t, it was unlikely that my son would agree to go on the trip, and I wanted him to go on the trip.
It had been a while since he’d been on a Scout trip and his enthusiasm was waning. Over the weekend, I told another parent and a leader “Scouts teaches many meaningful life lessons to boys, not the least of which is that meetings suck but are required for successful outcomes.” My boy had only been to scout meetings and service hours since September. Not surprisingly, he was beginning to hate Scouts and frequently refused to go to the weekly meetings in January and February.
And then there was the the inherent risk of the main activity. No, not the risk of serious bodily injury. While there is risk associated with snow sports, that was not my main concern. My son wants to be an instant expert at everything that he tries and frequently when he isn’t an instant expert, he grows frustrated, talks negatively about himself, and gives up. I’ve witnessed this many times before and I knew that the probability of the weekend ending this way was statistically high.
Two weeks ago, in an effort to head this off, we’d gone on a snowboarding trip over Presidents’ Day weekend. I knew that the weekend would be busy on the slopes and so I’d done all the right things. I’d booked private lessons and paid for rentals and lift tickets in advance. When we arrived at the resort Friday night we’d picked up our rental equipment the night before our first day so as to avoid the clusterfuck that would certainly be the rental lines in the morning.
I had gone into that weekend with high hopes that we’d both learn enough to enjoy a few runs down an easy trail on the mountain. I’d envisioned myself snapping selfies of the two of us on the chair lift, and gently carving down the hill together. A real 2020 Norman Rockwell father and son kind of weekend. It was a shit show.
When it became clear to the instructor that my son needed more help than me, he directed his attention to my son. I was grateful for that. Hugo worked diligently with Mr. Grey for nearly 90 minutes. And at the end, Mr. Grey still could not get up on the board on his own, let alone slide down the bunny slope. I suggested that we take a break and get some lunch. That’s when I discovered that my wallet was missing. (After much panic on my part, my wife found it at the lost and found, complete with all my credit cards and money.)
After lunch I worked with my son for a while, but when he was getting frustrated enough that he was yelling at me, and I was starting to yell back at him on the side of the slope, we called it quits. I can’t recall if we’d even tried on day two or not. I think we did, but I have blocked it from my memory.
Expectations can be a killer for a guy like me. When my expectations were not met, I found myself wanting to go down to the lodge bar and order a bucket of bourbon. I’ve found that when I give those cravings space to exist, and then voice them, they go away, which is what I did that afternoon.
So, I had been ruminating on the events of Presidents Day going into this past weekend. And I was expecting disaster.
Mr. Grey and I had separate lessons. About mid way through my lesson, he showed up in tears on the side of the hill. There was no doubt about it, my lesson was over. And I was okay with that. I’d already fallen on my tailbone and I was beginning to doubt whether I really wanted to learn to snowboard or not, considering that I knew I could ski.
Over a Cherry Coke and a Kit Kat bar, we discussed whether or not to try more boarding or to get skis. Mr. Grey said he wanted to try skis. So we went back to the rental shop and traded in our boards for skis and went outside just in time for a leader to tell us that it was time to meet as a troop for lunch.
While at lunch, I discussed the situation with the leader who had organized the trip, who was also an avid skier. Brian agreed to try to teach Mr. Grey to ski and spent about 45 minutes with him before Mr. Grey threw in the towel. It was 1:30 on Saturday. We had the rest of the afternoon and the evening to fill and I was worried.
I fully expected my son to say that he wanted to go home, which would have been impossible because we had another scout in our car and there was no other car with space for him to ride home. I also fully expected that my son was going to demand that I stay by his side for the rest of the day. In an instant I saw not one but two ski trips gone south.
Mercifully, before I could get caught up in my own head, some of the scouts my son’s age were also tired of skiing and he synced up with them to go tubing and to play video games for the rest of the afternoon.
I went skiing.
I hadn’t been skiing in 17 years, but it came back like riding a bike. I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the slopes with a few other adults from the troop. We had dinner (taco salad which was surprisingly good) and went back out under the lights. I hadn’t skied at night since grade school, but it was fantastic. I skied until 8:30 when I was tired and cold. I called it a night after the fastest run down one of the steepest slopes and returned to the cabin.
The next morning, after breakfast, we skied for another two hours and then drove the four long hours home. I arrived home around 5:30 and my son told me that he was bummed that the weekend was over. He said he didn’t want to go to school. I told him that I didn’t want to go to work either.
While we were on the first trip, Mr. Grey asked me, “Dad, why did you stop doing all the cool things you do?” I asked him what he meant. “Well, you played guitar and stoped. You skied and stopped. You were an artist, and you stopped drawing.” I looked at him and said, “Well, sometimes when someone starts drinking, they stop doing all the cool things they used to do. But, I’m picking up those old things again now that I’m not drinking.”
There is a part of me that gets a bit regretful about that. But I do not regret my past. I’m just grateful to be able to do these things again. And as I reflect on this past weekend, I’m overwhelmed by my good fortune. We only have a short time on this stone hurling through space and we might as well make the best of that time.