“Every day is Mother’s Day” So says every humble-hearted mom as she ducks attention on Mother’s Day. My Mom was among them, and on my first Mother’s Day without her, I wanted to take a moment to honor not only her, but all the mom’s like her who are, among many other noble things, the unsung heroes of the ski racing world.
Ski Moms stand by and watch their kids enthusiastically torture themselves in a sport that leaves participants disappointed 95 percent of the time and is a pain in the ass 100 percent of the time. Unlike Soccer Moms, Little League Moms or Dance Moms, Ski Moms don’t get to argue calls, push for playing time or question judges. Instead, they do the March of the Penguins trudge up to the finish line, and watch, with the agita of hoping their kids make it down a treacherously icy, often bombed-out course, relatively unscathed.
Then they get to approach their kids when it’s all over. In the rare event that things go well, they have to curb their enthusiasm so they don’t embarrass their kids or themselves in that human sea of 95 percent disappointment. They need to accept that there is rarely anything they can do or say to make the situation better but a host of things they can do or say to make it worse. As one mom explained to me, “My job as a mom I have decided – especially if I am at a race, however it turns out – is to tell him I love him and ask if he wants a snack.”
My mom was my sensei in all matters of caring for people, and never was that more apparent than in her tireless ski mom duty. My vision of her in my youth was bundled for the elements, golf pencil and gatekeeper card or Chronus stopwatch in hand, attentively watching the race ALL DAY LONG. She gave her raceworker lunch to one of the kids because, when would she have time to eat it anyway? Off the hill, she and the other ski moms worked in packs, figuring out how to fit kids into cars and condos with maximum efficiency long before Tetrus was invented, and how to feed a crowd long before Trader Joes and the Internet. They worked with MacGuyver-like creativity. When my ski boots got stolen from our car on the way to a race, my mom soothed my worries, another mom loaned me her recreational boots and yet another had the inspiration to stuff bottle caps in the back of the boots to create forward lean. Ski Moms showed us how to get it done, and turn even the most inhospitable day into a memorable adventure.
Now that I am a ski mom myself, I realize how gracefully my mom navigated not only being ski mom to her own kids but also surrogate mom to many more. Our house, because of its proximity to the team orthopedic surgeon and the best spring skiing, was such a waystation for ski racers that it was known as “Hotel California.” As concierge and host, my Mom got to help process the collective trials and anxieties of more teenage and young adults than anyone should have to deal with in one lifetime.
One time, when I was having a bad day she pointed out, “At least you can write about it.” It was the first time I understood that what she did took deliberate effort, that she was not merely made of different, more tolerant stuff than other humans.
I had the privilege of interviewing my mom at least once officially, while I was in the throes of junior ski racing madness, living apart from my husband and one kid to accommodate the living situation for another kid. My own mom had done an extreme version of that and I wanted to understand how…and why. For five years she spent winters on her own with us in a ski cabin, once even monitoring our own “school” with another family. One mom, one tutor and seven kids. I can’t even imagine how she avoided substance abuse or depression, which she somehow did.
“My first motivation to live in the mountains was that my kids would not be sleeping on their elbows at their desks all Monday,” she explained. “It was a lot of work but I don’t remember it as that because it was so much fun. The kids had so much fun together and it was kind of a contagion.”
When she wasn’t with us, she was driving us to and from school and races, then working those races, regardless of what club was running them. “We had to work every race because there were no extra people for that. I do remember standing on the hill in the blowing wind and thinking it wouldn’t be so bad if the race was canceled.”
As for being a mom to Downhill Racers, she had clear memories: “I hated that!” But, she allowed, “There is a beauty in DH racing when you watch someone who is not your kid going down the slope.”
Mom was not a cook but she somehow kept us all over fed, and supplied the house thoroughly, down to the giant glass Planters peanut container in the center of the kitchen island that she refilled regularly. That peanut jar was the gathering place for countless morning and late night conversations. I remember the one moment, when Mom was gone for a long trip, that the jar was empty. As the last shell dropped, echoing in the emptiness, my ski friends looked at each other with bewilderment. What now?
Eventually, we all figured out how to fill our own peanut jars and leave the nest. The kids who came through Hotel California remain some of my closest friends, and the times together—good and bad— are the bedrock that grounds us. My mom, like ski moms of every generation, is the one who set the stage that let those memories happen.
To all you sports kids of any age out there. Now would be a great day to tell your mom you love her, and ask her if she wants a snack.
Note: Ski Dads do their share of heroic duty (I know of one who got up at 4 am to start the mac and cheese process), but today is not about them. Their day is coming!