Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Feeling Connected to the Universe: My Circle of Life Day

One of my happiest sensations is feeling attuned to the universe. It can come about from a satisfying encounter with a friend -- a fun coffee break, a quick but mood-elevating accidental meeting on the street, or a long phone conversation during which each party listens and expresses in an equal and caring manner. I often glean this lift after positive exchanges with complete strangers. (It's one of the many reasons why I love traveling.) It could be learning that a Facebook friend whom I have never met ate lunch at the same chain restaurant as me clear on the other side of the country the same day I did. (It's one of the reasons why I love Facebook.) It could be thinking about a person from my past only to have that person contact me that day. Or it could be something very, very small like using an unusual word in conversation before hearing that word that evening in a TV commercial I'd never seen before.

These kinds of connections/coincidences and so, so many more happen to me very frequently. Though I am not attending a church at the present time, I consider myself a spiritual person and always have. I feel God -- someone else might call it Spirit, the Universe, what have you -- guiding, supporting, and protecting me.

Two days ago I experienced a day just bursting with synchronicity. It was my "Circle of Life Day" -- March 25, the day in 1995 my mother passed on and the day in 2006 my son Charlie was born. (Cue the soundtrack to The Lion King, please.) My mother didn't live long enough to meet her grandsons, and they are growing up without knowing their direct blood relatives in the older generation. Yet this is the day that links three generations of my family. This is the day that turned death into life.

For his seventh birthday, I had planned to take Charlie to New York City for the day. Since we live north of Boston, that's no easy task. But Charlie had been given an incredible chance in the Big Apple, and I wanted him to be able to accept it. On a Facebook page I'd joined for the parents of child actors and models in New England, I saw a notice about a casting for the advertising campaigns of two major clothing lines. Bolstered by my characteristic what-the-heck attitude that gets me both opportunities and trouble, I submitted three candid shots of Charlie from my iPhone. Lo and behold, didn't I receive an e-mail telling me to bring him to NYC for a brief photo session!

Let me make this perfectly clear: Charlie has NO modeling experience, NO headshots, NO resume, NO agent, NO NOTHING. Still, based on one photo she saw, a prolific college filmmaker asked him to audition for her latest indie project. Alas, due to the unrelenting series of snowstorms occurring EVERY WEEKEND the second half of this winter, we simply could not manage to get our physical bodies to Rhode Island to meet her. Needless to say, the part was given to another child who lives much closer.

Regarding the New York opportunity, our choices were to come that very day (Sunday) or the next day. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out it's pretty tough to pull together a trip to New York on just a couple of hours notice, so I opted for Monday. The weather was supposed to be lousy (a storm coming in, naturally!), and it was a school day. Yet it was also Charlie's birthday. Now I've learned that it's not uncommon for a parent to remove his or her child from school for a special treat the day of the birthday. Personally, I have never done such a thing, but this day looked to be the perfect chance. Seriously, how exciting would it be for a seven year old to take his first trip to the Big Apple on his birthday to try out for the first time with a hot casting director for two major jobs? Pretty darn exciting, that's how!

New York was my mother's city. She (like my father) grew up there, and they came back into the city to give birth to me after moving to the suburbs. My mother absolutely loved the city. She worked at Doubleday Books and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She loved the theater, the symphony, and art, art, art! I can't think about or visit the Big Apple without reminiscing about my mother.

This trip with Charlie would have been right up her alley -- not only because it involved her city but also because it involved modeling. Back in the day, she modeled hats for department stores such as Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman. She would have been very proud of Charlie for landing the audition.

Any other day pulling off such a feat as getting us down to the Big Apple on such short notice would have been near-miraculous. But on this day plans fell into place like never before. It seemed positively meant to be. First I reserved seats on the Bolt Buses that enabled us to arrive in a timely fashion and leave the audition without rushing. Next up: child care, always the stickiest piece of the puzzle for me. My older son would go to school, of course. But it didn't start early enough, and neither did the before-school program. So I had to find a family to take in Christopher at the crack of dawn. As Charlie and I would not be back for the 6 p.m. pickup from the after-school program, Chris also needed to go to someone's home afterward. And what if we were delayed? He might have to spend the night -- a school night, no less -- at that someone's home.

For mothers with family nearby, a simple phone call can be enough to fix this type of problem. But I don't have and never have had family to assist me with child care. If I was lucky enough to locate help, I expected that it would be split between two families: one each before and after school. Well, you can only imagine my SURPRISE, RELIEF, and JOY to get a YES to ALL OF IT from the very first mother I approached! As she had earlier asked me to accompany her son home from school that day, I had to get right back to her to inform her that would be impossible and actually I was in need of child care. She had just started a new, full-time job so was in some need herself. However, her father lives in the community next door. Plus, she has a husband. Compared to me, she's in much better shape care-wise.

This is really working out! I thought to myself after hearing from her. Truly shocked (but in a good way), I set about getting ready: doing laundry, picking out Charlie's audition clothes and a backup outfit, selecting Christopher's clothes for school the next day and the top and bottom I'd wear into the city, printing up the bus receipts, filling the gas tank, getting cash at the ATM, and packing a duffel bag for the trip.

The next morning I dropped Christopher off at the family's house at 6:41. I was running late from having spent too much time online trying to obtain directions to the Boston bus station's rooftop parking lot. I found the address and glanced over a map showing the congested streets near it, but I couldn't find actual directions to it. I didn't have time to call up Mapquest, yet honestly it didn't even occur to me because it was too early in the morning and my brain wasn't working properly. Indeed, it was disconcerting to think that I would be heading out without a clear idea of how I was going to get us to the parking lot on time! I'd been to it before, mind you. However, that was more than two years ago.

While driving to Boston, my mind ran amuck trying to figure out a Plan B if we missed the bus. I could try to get us seats on another bus, but there were several issues with this option. The buses from the various companies all seem to leave at roughly the same time, so missing one pretty much means missing all (or almost all). If I found a bus scheduled to leave a little later than ours, would it arrive in enough time for us to make the audition's three-and-half-hour window? We had to go way downtown to the tryout. Would any bus meeting our criteria have any available seats? I would have to shell out for two more round-trip tickets. They are not cheap! And the tickets I already had -- costing a total of $102 -- would go to complete waste unless Bolt offers compensation for missing a bus. I didn't know. Another option would be taking a train to the Big Apple, but the same concerns would apply. (The Boston train station happens to be conveniently located adjacent to the bus station.) Or I might have to drive. Argh. That would take just as long, and I would not be able to relax because I would be at the wheel! Where on earth would I park? I'd never in my life brought a vehicle into New York City and for good reason! It is NOT a car-friendly city. I could park at the Darien, Connecticut, train station, I thought. I knew this parking lot well from having grown up in Darien, which is a straight shot into the city. But what I didn't know was the Metro-North train schedule. I recall from years ago there being just one train per hour heading into Manhattan. If we failed to arrive at the right time, the journey could take an extra hour or so, possibly causing us to miss the audition window. What's more, we could very likely hit heavy traffic on our way to Darien. There were plenty of opportunities for that driving through Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport on the busy I-95 corridor. Conclusion: being late for our bus would be an utter disaster. I couldn't let that happen.

So I plugged along, talked to the other drivers ("Come on, come on! Are you kidding me? NO, NO, NO!"), and prayed FERVENTLY. ("Please, God, we can't be late. We need to make this bus! We need to make this bus!") At the Sumner Tunnel, I asked the tollbooth lady to tell me the exit "for the bus station and 93 South." I expected her to say "the South Station exit" and give me the number. (I really only wanted to know the number.) But she answered "Government Center." Argh. Not what I wanted to hear because now I was confused! I didn't have time to discuss this any further. Plus, a long line of cars waited behind me. It was rush hour after all. So off I went, taking the Government Center exit as instructed. Immediately, I was confronted with the first of countless detour signs. Great, just what I needed! I had forgotten about them, but now it was all coming back to me. The traffic pattern in this area of Boston was and still is a complete mess. It took all my concentration to follow these blasted signs through the maze leading to 93 South. Somehow I managed it and soon reached the South Street exit. The problem: the bus departure time was fast approaching. It was 8:10 at this point; the bus left at 8:30. I still had to get through traffic and lights then find and park in that rooftop lot whose location was HAZY in my mind. Charlie and I also had to load up on snacks for the four-a-quarter-hour-long trip to New York. This latter task was absolutely crucial because sitting for so long next to Charlie (or any other young child, for that matter) with only one nut bar in my purse would be a nightmare. (Charlie ate a different bar during the drive.)

By the grace of God, I am thrilled to report, I succeeded in covering the remaining half a dozen or so blocks. At one of the last intersections, I was convinced I was supposed to turn left. But there was a no-left-turn sign in front of me and no way to stay straight. The driver behind me obnoxiously honked at my hesitation and slow-to-come decision to turn right and pull over. But I had no choice. There was nowhere else to go! As I sat idling next to the curb, my heart thumped inside my turquoise down jacket and my brain felt like it was going to explode. Seconds away from dropping my face in my hands and bawling, I noticed at the next light a sign way up high pointing the way to "South Station parking."

It was a beacon from God!

I couldn't believe it. I had done it. We weren't on the bus yet, but I had FOUND THE LOT. Next I launched into prayer aimed at finding a SPACE in the lot. One thing at a time, one thing at a time. Done. "Quick, Charlie, to the elevator!" (Lucky for me, my younger son is a seriously fast sprinter. Boy, was I grateful for that on this day!) Honey Dew Donuts. Ten minutes and counting. Two donuts, one bagel, one muffin, and three drinks. Awesome. Running to the bus gate. The other passengers had already boarded. OMG, made it! The bus pulled out of its space. We had literally TWO MINUTES to spare!

Settling into my seat, I couldn't help but marvel at how amazing it was that we were sitting on the bus. Truly, it was one of my closest calls ever for such a costly and exciting or important commitment. I felt led to that rooftop parking lot just as I was about to give up. My correct decisions under extreme pressure to turn right here and left there reminded me of another time in my life when I absolutely made the right split-second call under the gun, quite literally.

I was in Kathmandu, Nepal, in the spring of 1990 when the country was embroiled in a democracy revolution. My traveling partner chose to stay back at our hotel during a day of protests; I willingly hit the streets. By 11 a.m. the throng of demonstrators shouting "WE WANT DEM-O-CRA-CY!" (in English to garner the world's attention) had reached into the thousands and filled the narrow streets. Looking around I grew concerned about how this would end. I remember thinking: People are not going to just go home at the end of the day. Something bad is going to happen. I stepped away from the protest to return to the neighborhood of my hotel. I needed a break and to find some lunch. A couple of hours later, I was ready to return to the streets. Being a former news reporter, I like to be at the center of the action . . . or on the periphery anyway. It wasn't difficult finding the crowd. I just followed the noise. At an intersection with the main road leading to King Birenda's palace, I saw to my left a line of police officers and military wielding guns; to my right, the advancing protesters. They were mostly Nepalese, but scattered foreigners were among them. Joining ranks with the protesters would have come naturally to me since I had marched with them that morning. Instead, I turned left and took my place directly behind the men with the weapons. Soon after the protesters reached the uniformed officers. Small skirmishes broke out, and tear gas was shot into the air. Everyone nearby must have felt the sting enter their throats and nostrils. I certainly did. The demonstrators momentarily backed off but did not give up. They regrouped and continued to push toward the palace gates. Tear gas was shot off two more times before I decided that the situation was getting too hairy for me. I retreated and returned to my hotel. I later learned about the Tiananmen Square-type incident that followed. One hundred or so people, including tourists like myself, were killed in the conflict outside the palace. That afternoon I made two good decisions: to fall back behind the armed men and to leave the area before I got hurt or worse. When telling this story -- and I rarely get the opportunity these days -- I always describe my first decision as completely instinctual. No conscious thought went into making it. I saw the two groups of people then without hesitation walked toward one, stationing myself out of harm's way. To this day, I get the chills when I think about that day. I have a strong sense that I was being guided and shielded by God.

Though the circumstances were infinitely less dire this week, the feeling of being led was no less strong.

Charlie was a champ the entire ride to New York. We talked, looked out the window, and he played Minecraft on my iPad. Once again it was a case of Thank You, Technology! (See blog post by that name, 6/9/12.) I wanted him to rest or fall asleep. But he was too busy constructing a house made of butter in lightning speed, hanging paintings on every square inch of the yellow walls, and blasting them to bits with arrows.


The day was wet and cloudy, yet we made it to the city twenty-five minutes ahead of schedule. That enabled us to eat a leisurely lunch and clean up before hailing a taxi downtown. The Freedom Tower at Ground Zero loomed outside our foggy windows as we sped by. We arrived right at the start of the day's audition session. I signed in, and Charlie was immediately photographed "six or seven times," he said. That was it. With time to spare, we walked a couple of blocks to the South Street Seaport. I took some rainy-day snapshots. We wandered through a few shops. And we sipped mango smoothies overlooking the gray East River. Then I realized something was missing. My duffel bag. My panic attack started to return as I racked my brain about where I could have left it. Let me tell you: not much makes me crazier than losing my belongings or my kids' belongings, even if they were just a spare child-size outfit, one raincoat, and lunch leftovers. (See Hunter-Downer Mom, 3/21/12.) Back to the seaport shops we'd just visited. Not there. Back to the audition location. Found it!

No one was being photographed when we walked in, so the impromptu visit gave me a chance to chat with the casting director. He had just been to Boston visiting two modeling agencies, he said. He asked me why Charlie didn't have an agent. He seemed genuinely interested in my son and wanted to know if we would be willing to travel to New York City for jobs. We didn't talk long, but it was a good conversation. I left the building with a spring in my step from the insight I'd gained.

Like the others, this turn of events struck me as serendipitous -- as though Charlie and I were being watched over from Above.

Now I don't harbor ANY expectations that my son will be picked from the thousands of kids being considered for the two advertising campaigns. It bears repeating: unlike most (if not all) of the other child candidates, Charlie has no agent, no headshots, no resume, no experience, no nothing. If, by some quirk of nature, Charlie IS tapped, it would be akin to Lana Turner getting signed by MGM while sipping a drink at a soda fountain.

We still had a little time remaining before boarding the bus but not enough for a museum visit. The weather prevented stopping by a park, and walking just for the fun of it would also be out of the question. So I decided we would just make our way back uptown. We'd have no trouble flagging a taxi outside the photo-shoot location, I'd been told. Of course, we then did have trouble. Leaping over puddles at intersections, Charlie and I hoofed it many blocks before I managed to spot a cab. Back at the bus stop, we once again stocked up on provisions. Then we hung out at Chipotle. Adam Lambert's "If I had You" came over the sound system. I was dumbfounded. Rarely do I hear this rendition anymore because it is a few years old. But when I do, I take note. It is the song I choreographed a dance to for Christopher when he landed his own modeling/acting contract a couple of years ago. (That one turned out to be a scam.)What a coincidence to hear it this day! I thought. I took some last pictures to memorialize our trip before Bolt Bus brought us safely back to Boston, though one hour late due to heavy traffic at rush hour.

During the return journey, I checked in on Christopher. Turns out my older son had been coughing up a storm. If he vomited, he would be sent back to me for the night. Otherwise, he could sleep on a pull-out couch at the home of the family helping me. Bless his soul, he got through the night episode-free.Thank you, Christopher!

I had been very nervous about the weather. I hate to drive in poor conditions, especially on a highway and with another person at the controls. I had chosen seats in the middle of the bus to New York and back. Charlie wanted the open front seat with the clear view of the highway, but I said no. I didn't tell him why. In addition to being concerned about the bus trips, I was slightly on edge about the return drive from the bus station to our home. The weather was supposed to be worse later in the day, and it looked like I might encounter a mixture of rain and snow at a fairly late hour in the dark.

The driving turned out to be a breeze! The roads were dry. The traffic was light. I made record time. Feeling protected again!

I turned on the TV back at home. Nancy Pelosi was on the news celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The links with my past just kept on coming! In early 1995, I utilized the FMLA to take care of my then-ailing mother. Like the Adam Lambert song, I can't remember when it last crossed my mind.

Still high from the New York experience and profoundly grateful for Charlie's terrific behavior under tough circumstances, the next day I called up the casting director's website. In my haste to plan the trip, I had neglected to check out his work. So I scrolled down the home page filled with male and female high-fashion models posing for GQ, Details, and Interview magazines with cars and bicycles and while arm wrestling or standing in a police lineup. And there, off to the right, in the only photograph featuring children, was Charlie's doppelgänger. I mean DOPPELGANGER. I was flabbergasted! Despite wearing large dark-rimmed glasses (the product he was modeling), he had the same face, same hair, and same smile as my younger son. He even looked the same age. No wonder the casting director liked Charlie!

What a day it had been! What connections! What similarities! What fortuitous events! It was a hard day, a very trying day. But it was MY kind of day because I felt completely in harmony with the universe, God, my mother, and my son.

It was a perfect Circle of Life Day.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Hello, Beast!"

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that my New Year's resolution this year is to "tame the beast" (see "Taming the Beast," 1/16/13). The beast, of course, being my way-beyond-messy home. Well, like many of you, I suspect, I did not get right on that. Resolutions are resolutions because they haven't been addressed or fully addressed, right? We don't have time to deal with them. We don't want to deal with them. We find it too difficult to deal with them. We have loads of excuses for not dealing with them.

Nevermind. The point is: I only this week -- yes, mid-March! -- got around to beginning the process of tackling the state of my house. I set aside an entire school day, save for the roughly forty minutes it took to obtain a coffee drink from Starbucks (needed caffeine to keep me going!), so I could make some serious inroads. Or that was the plan anyway.

Start Time: 9:10 a.m., Kitchen Table:

The cornerstone of family life, mine had become cluttered with all manner of whatnot. Half-empty juice boxes and bags; a couple of Legos; playing cards; two light bulbs; two bowls of varying amounts of unpopped popcorn kernels; a newspaper; correction tape; several baggies of partially eaten goldfish crackers, tortilla chips, and Ritz crackers; the boys's summer day camp schedules from the past two years; a campground map and clam shack menu from Maine; directions to a state forest in the Berkshires; an appropos Chinese fortune ("Time is wealth."); and Flarp! farting putty. Awesome. After putting away or disposing of all of the above, I discover a small brown spider scurrying across the surface. Eek. The scrubbing down of the blond wood reveals small drops of last year's Easter egg dye in purple, red, and green. I kid you not. Hint: red dye smeared across light-colored furniture gives one serious pause because it too closely resembles BLOOD!

Finish Time: 10:19

Start Time: 10:19, Dishes in Sink

My Kenmore dishwasher detergent compartment won't latch, so I do my dishes the old fashioned way: in the kitchen sink. Far too often the pile spills over onto the counter and then another counter and then the kitchen table (if there's room). Plastic bowls, pots, forks, plates, empty milk and juice containers for recycling, and what have you. Why, you might ask, would I spend valuable time during my big cleanup day on dishes? Dishes need to be done every day. A better use of my time would be, for example, clearing off the dining room table. Well, yes and no. I didn't plan on losing many minutes on them but rather decided to utilize the undertaking as a kind of relaxing transitionary palate-cleansing, like eating sorbet between meals. (Truth be told, I'd much prefer consuming the frozen dessert.)

Stop Time (not finished): 10:35

Start Time: 10:36, Kitchen Chairs

They don't get dumped on half as much as the table, but they can still get mighty grody if not tended to. At least they're mostly out of sight, tucked underneath the sides of the table. I wipe down all four.

Stop Time (not finished): 10:44

As I look over at the digital clock on the oven, I feel a little depressed that I haven't done more. I'm tired and growing sluggish.

Start Break: 10:45

I watch the end of The Today Show and beginning of The View while munching on macadamia nuts and pistachio pieces and drinking water.

Finish Break: 11:15

Start Time: 11:15, Kitchen Chairs

Finish Time: 11:30

The kitchen hasn't been completed by a long shot, but the table and chairs now look lovely. I put a placemat depicting a Chinese painting in the center of the table and an emerald green glass bowl holding paper mache fruit and vegetables on top of it. They don't go together, but who cares?! The table still looks gorgeous. Now I don't want it touched . . . EVER.

Start Time: 11:35 Wingback Chair, Living Room

This piece of furniture is covered in schoolwork and random stuff from (afraid so) last year. More specifically: teacher-reviewed homework, the boys' artwork, and special projects. Color-by-number sheets on rainforest animals, fact pages and maps for a "Where in the World is" section on the seven continents, handwriting practice from kindergarten, a mini autobiography featuring such entries as Christopher's first tooth lost (after being hit in the mouth by a tee ball tossed by yours truly, argh) and first trophy won (for wiffle ball), a gymnastics class evaluation from the Y, opinion pieces on why it's better to be a child than an adult and why Christopher doesn't like school uniforms, and the photographic and written record of Flat Stanley's travels around the globe. There's a signed tee shirt from the bowling alley where Charlie held his belated birthday party last August, texting gloves from my-not-so-mysterious Secret Santa, Christopher's leopard project and his incredible rendition of a lighthouse, a poem about summer ("Summer is not a bummer. . . .", insert smiley face), and a construction paper teddy bear inside a paper bag cave with a cotton (snowy) opening and upside down Do Not Disturb sign.

The waterworks start around noon. Sifting through this precious material might have caused me to tear up anyway, but the tasks of the morning have worn me down and weakened my defenses. Immediately, I recognize these blues as different from my "Tipper Gore Depression" (see "When Things Get Dicey: Part II (Risk-Taking Gone Awry), 2/25/13). This is MY depression caused by feeling overwhemed and unable to keep up or stay on top of everything. In this case, I feel badly that I haven't examined all the beautiful fruits of my boys' labor from their last school year and put it all away or on display by now. I haven't done right by my sons.

How did so much schoolwork from 2011-2012 get tossed on this chair whose chocolate-brown legs I refinished many years ago? Convenience, plain and simple. The chair -- reupholstered in a now-faded cobalt blue fabric featuring a dusty rose and ivory flower pattern -- stands near the door we enter and the area of the floor where school backpacks are left. How does the material accumulate? As soon as we arrive home after school or anywhere else, chaos often ensues. People want snacks. People want to play on my iPhone. People start rough housing with one another. People want things from me NOW. (I can't imagine who these people are!) The demands and ensuing scuffles that invariably erupt deplete me -- I'm fifty-one, don't forget -- to the point at which I become devoid of energy to do anything other than what's absolutely necessary of me for the rest of the day and evening. Time goes by and, before I know it, the clump of papers and mixed-media artwork has grown exponentially. My eyes see the pile, and my mind registers it. The problem: With WAY too much on my plate, I don't know where or how to start. Of course, this mess is as good a place as any, yet it doesn't feel like a high priority to me. My brain is just too distracted and my time too crunched to tackle this particular item on my LOOOONG to-do list.

Start Lunch: 1:20 p.m.

I watch The Chew while downing a turkey sandwich, tortilla chips, and two Oreo cookies (okay, four).

Finish Lunch: 2:00

Start Time: 2:00, Coffee Table

Due to all the papers, books, and other miscellaneous items scattered across its surface, I can't see much of the mottled peach-colored marble slab. It's a shame because I always liked this rectangular table and have kept it since it sat in my childhood living room in Darien, Connecticut, in the early '60s. About six years ago, I had its medium brown wood frame and legs refinished. Now I behold Captain Underpants and The Big, Bad Battle of The Bionic Booger Boy, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Tower Treasure (The Hardy Boys). Two Harry Potter snow globes flank corners. An old framed photo of my boys with Santa faces the wrong direction. And a plastic bag containing last year's Cub Scout badges hangs halfway off the edge. The rest of the junk atop the space includes information from the elementary school Open House last September, a letter from Yakima about my recalled bike rack, prescription instructions for Charlie's eye infection last summer, an A Christmas Carol program and ticket from the North Shore Music Theater's production in (gasp!) 2011, a couple of other playing cards, and Charlie's school picture from kindergarten. (He's now in first grade, duh.)

Handling this stuff (yay, no half-eaten food or insects!) doesn't cause me any more distress. I seem to have brought my emotions in check, and it is now only about wading through the mementos -- putting the books back in the boys' bookshelf in their room and finding a logical home (or the recycling bin) within my home for the remainder. It is going to take MANY sessions like this one to gain control over the "beast." Still, the process has begun. While I am somewhat disappointed I haven't accomplished more, I can say that I am genuinely pleased to have made a dent in the massive cleanup job.

Finish Time: 2:45

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Hard-Won Joys of Downhill Skiing

It's no secret downhill skiing is a laborious endeavor. First, there's the getting to the mountain, often in bad weather or on roads that are less than clear. Next you have to either haul your equipment out of the car (and that's just the beginning) or -- if you don't own skis, boots, and poles -- rent them in the shop at the base of the mountain. (For the uninformed, ski boots are clumsy, heavy, and mighty painful if dropped on bare toes. Ouch!) Some people say "no, thanks" to the sport for these reasons because, let's face it, what's involved in skiing makes it a big pain in the a**.

But there's plenty more. The cost is OUT OF THIS WORLD -- the lift tickets, equipment, lessons, clothes. (Don't lose your goggles! Replacing them will set you back about another $20.) Very few of us are lucky enough to live near Jay Peak, Keystone, or Schweitzer. We must drive quite a ways to get to a decent (or mediocre) ski resort, making the expense of the gas involved another big deterring factor. Accommodations are often required. Do I hear a cash register ringing in the distance? And if you want to go to a really awesome place to ski like the Alps, you'd better be filthy rich because you will also be shelling out for a plane ticket/s. (I'm grateful I had the opportunity to ski in Innsbruck, Austria, when I was in high school because I certainly can't afford to take that trip with my kids today!)

You might be turned off by the discomfort. The bulky clothes, inclement weather, stiff boots. I had to laugh two days ago when watching news coverage of the Boston-area teen, Nicholas Joy, found in great shape following two nights alone and lost after skiing at Maine's Sugarloaf Mountain. Someone, probably the anchor, asked the reporter on the scene if this resourceful youth was limping. "No, that's just the way you walk in ski boots," the reporter replied.


Perhaps you get annoyed by the distances you sometimes need to walk while carrying your equipment to get to where you're going -- your car in a faraway parking lot or the gondola you want to ride. Once in a while you end up a heckuva long way from the base lodge on flat ground, meaning you have to trek across the mountain either because you took the wrong trail to the bottom or you couldn't choose the right one on account of it being too difficult. Getting stuck in this manner used to happen to me CONSTANTLY when I was a child. I then became all hot and sweaty inside my ten layers of clothing from the poling I had to do to propel myself to my destination.

Another variation on making an unfortunate choice while skiing is missing the turn onto the continuation of the easier trail and inadvertently winding up on a double black diamond. As you peer down the vertical super-expert run dotted with intimidating moguls, you need to hurry to the side SO AS NOT TO BE RUN INTO before carefully sidestepping your way uphill -- another exercise in perspiration-making, incidentally -- until you reach the trail junction where you can relax, relatively speaking. If you don't care to risk your neck, the other alternative is taking your boots out of your bindings and walking down the slope. That just feels like a cop out to me, so I never do it. (Maybe that's why I got a contusion to my rotator cuff on "Devil's Fiddle" at Killington twenty-five years ago!)

With so much first-class aggravation going for it, why ski? Better yet, why put yourself through the MAJOR HASSLE of taking your family skiing? Because, simply, skiing is the best sport on the planet!

I crave the cool, invigorating wilderness air against my skin; the breathtaking view from the top; the feel of powder (not too much as I am an East Coast-bred skier) underski; and the thrill of carving turns (or bombing my way) down. I am nothing to look at on the slopes, believe me! I attribute this to not taking enough lessons, preferring instead to ski on my own in whatever haphazard manner does the trick. True, I don't have great style, and I don't wear cute outfits. I dress for warmth. But though I've never officially raced, I am fast. I've noticed this tendency throughout my life while skiing with other people. I beat many of them to the bottom without trying. Yet above all, I love the freedom of being on the mountain concentrating on just one, purely exhilarating activity: making it down in one piece while having a blast before coming to a snow-spraying slamming stop at the end of the chairlift line. "WOW!" I blurt out to no one in particular, unable to contain my joy. Those nearby nod or verbally agree because they know what I'm talking about. They feel the same way I do as we are cut from the same cloth.

When I say "free," I mean that literally, though not in the monetary sense, of course. My mother was very overprotective of me, her only child, as I was growing up. I was sheltered and felt confined . . . BUT NOT WHILE SKIING! My parents -- born and raised New Yorkers -- didn't really ski, but they still took me a few days or less most winters from the time I was about seven on, bless their souls. We lived in Connecticut, so the first "mountain" I tackled was actually a hill, Powder Hill. (The name was changed to the more adventurous-sounding Powder Ridge when I was nine.) My godmother and her family regularly took incredible ski holidays, and we were occasionally invited along. Jackpot! Through them, I got to go to Stowe and Bromley, and one winter I did a weeklong ski camp at Sunapee with the youngest daughter. H and I are the same age, and we ended up going to college together as well. The piece de resistance, however, was a trip I took with her and her mother to Bavaria when I was a teenager. It was H's school trip. My mother went with me, of course. She wouldn't have let me on the plane otherwise. I felt her hawkeyed presence keenly, yet on the breathtaking Austrian slopes I was FREEEEE because she stayed behind in the lodge. In typical fashion, I got myself in over my head: I accidentally skied down the Men's Olympic Grand Slalom course from the recent 1976 Games. LOL. It was one of my best early stories: how I got off the chairlift, skied a short way, stopped, looked back, and beheld a giant white wooden board featuring the unmistakable multi-colored linked rings known the world over! YIKES. Also in typical fashion, I managed to get myself down oh, so very carefully yet still completely unscathed. I remember being completely wiped out afterward . . . but also JAZZED BEYOND BELIEF!

It would be a no-brainer then that I would introduce my children to skiing and, God willing, they would take to it as much as I have. Thus far, the first mission has been accomplished, and I'm getting there with the second. Christopher, age nine, adores the sport. He took four group lessons three years ago at Bradford, the small family mountain closest to our Massachusetts home. It was a good beginning. My third-grade football player is solid on his skis. Since then he has progressed to intermediate slopes at that mountain and King Pine, a bigger one in New Hampshire. He generally skis with me but has gone down alone, meeting me at the chairlift line after I veered off onto an expert run. I wanted to check it out to see if I felt he could handle it. Conclusion: too steep at this time. He took a racing clinic over Christmas break at Bradford that was reduced from three days to one due to lack of snow. He wanted to join the mountain's ski team, but we learned that it filled up some two months earlier.

Charlie, almost seven, is coming along nicely. Starting at a younger age than Christopher, he took the group lessons two winters in a row. He's a strong boy yet is turned off fast if things don't go his way. Slightly icy conditions, a fall (or many falls), snow in the mittens, poor weather. It's understandable. I get it. Skiing's a tough sport, and he's young. During our recent vacation at King Pine, I never once bought him a full-day lift ticket because I knew he would bail in under two hours, probably more like half that time. He likes to ski but isn't ready to commit to a long day of it, especially when he can spend part of that day building all kinds of structures in KP's child-care center.

Despite the extra expense, I don't mind too much dropping him off there because it gives me a chance to ski with Christopher on more challenging terrain. Though not as experienced, he doesn't really slow me down, and that makes me very happy. We both skied a race run a number of times at King Pine, and it was an ABSOLUTE REVELATION for me. I loved it. I couldn't get enough of it. I did it FIVE TIMES IN A ROW then -- like Rand Paul filibustering the Senate -- was unable to hold nature back any longer and took a bathroom break. The interruption caused my time on my sixth run to go up, though only slightly. All of us, even Charlie, were given blue ribbons for participating in the unofficial race. (And, yes, Charlie did try it out.) Mine doesn't represent a true-blue first-place win, but I did clock the second-fastest time of anyone I saw during those six runs. What's more, mountain personnel and a child racer I know said my time was "very good," so I am choosing to believe them. My scrappy style won't allow me to excel in slalom events, but I can skid around a gate on a downhill course like nobody's business!

I hope we can ski a few more times before the season is out then take it up another notch next year. We'll try new mountains. Charlie will log more ski hours, and maybe Chris will join a team. As for me, I'll be jonesing to hit more race runs. Watch out, Lindsey Vonn!

Well, a girl can dream anyway.