Tuesday, March 4, 2008

March, 2008-- First chairlift ride, not in the baby book

First chairlift ride: Not in the baby book, but still significant

            I don’t remember Liam’s first steps.
            I remember Jacob tentatively making his way from Bill to me across our dining room, and Jamie taking hers outside on our driveway. I remember Teenasia’s huge smile as she made her way from Bill to me, using the exact same route Jacob had six years before her. But Liam’s first steps are a blank.
            I don’t quite understand why it is that some “firsts” are etched in my memory while others float away. I think some of it has to do with how much anticipation I have before the milestone. Jacob, Jamie and Teenasia all walked relatively late — 14 or 15 months. For all of them, I had been waiting for the first steps for quite awhile, hovering in a state somewhere between patience and concern. Liam, on the other hand, earned the nickname “baby-on-the-move” very young.  He started crawling at five months and picked up alarming speed every day. By the time he learned to walk, probably around 11 or 12 months, I was already trying to slow him down. When he broke his leg at 14 months, he gave up walking for a few hours before learning to balance on the edge of the cast on his foot and propel himself around with a strange-looking, yet surprisingly effective gait.
            Other milestones have similar gaps in my memory. Despite the fact that our family skis every winter, I have no memory of either of my boys going on the chairlift for the first time. I remember taking them both up the rope tow, my inner thighs shaking with the effort of holding them between my knees as we were pulled up the hill. I remember Liam slipping away from me going down a hill at age three and careening into a hay bale at the bottom. I remember noting that Jacob as a new skier skied the way he did everything else-- quietly and deliberately, with few risky moves. But I have no memory of that first chairlift.  
            So this past weekend, when we took all the kids skiing, I was not expecting the chairlift to be a defining milestone moment. Jamie, four and Teenasia, six, spent all of Saturday in a children’s ski school while Bill and I skied with the boys. Then, on Sunday, we left the boys to ski on their own — Jacob in a hat and Liam in a helmet— and took the girls from their children’s bunny slope to Maple Syrup, the next easiest run on the hill. We decided that Bill would take the girls on the chairlift one at a time, since he is better than I at skiing in general and no child has ever crashed into a hay bale on his watch.
            Jamie and I took our place at the bottom of the Maple Syrup chairlift, so we could watch Bill and T get on. My hope in doing this was so that Jamie could see the technique, so she’d be prepared for her turn. As I watched Teenasia move up the line, toward the lift, though, I began to feel much as I remembered feeling when she took her first steps. I was awed by this little girl approaching the chairlift so confidently. How could she do this? On Friday, T had not even known what skiing was. I had to explain to her that it consisted of strapping on long, thin boards to special boots and going down a big, big hill. It sounded crazy when I explained it, but I didn’t have a picture handy. T had nodded and said it sounded fun.
            Since re-entering our home two months before as a foster child, Teenasia had experienced so many firsts. She was up for anything. Some firsts, like eating grapes and grapefruit, were long overdue. Others, like learning to ice skate and read a few words, were the same firsts other children her age were experiencing. As the operator held the chair steady and she sat down, I decided that six years old was probably early for a first chairlift. I wondered if anyone who lived in T’s previous neighborhood had ever ridden a chairlift.
            Bill put his arm around Teenasia and the chair glided upward. Jamie and I waved at their backs as the chair climbed. Up, up, up. Teenasia, safe in the hold of an expert skier. Teenasia, so far from where she had been two months ago. Climbing high in the morning sunlight. So safe.

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