Saturday, February 12, 2011

2/12/2012 Back from a ski day!

I'm totally psyched and all a-glow from a GREAT day with my GREAT boys!

We drove up to Truckee Friday night, stayed overnight at an inn, then got to the small ski resort Tahoe-Donner at about 8:10. This was plenty of time to get rentals and lift tickets, as it turns out, since the lifts (only two in the whole place!) didn't open until 9am. And we were there on line right before the lifts even opened!

It felt great to warm up on the bunny slope. The boys hadn't lost a step since our last trip, and Gabriel was barreling down in no time. He rode the surprisingly tricky lift again and again while I hung back to help Julian.

(See those houses? These are "ski-in ski-out" -- walk out your doorstep, and ski down to the lift!)

But would a Doudna ski trip be one without logistical challenges? Of course not. Julian had lost his goggles somewhere during the rental process, so had to borrow mine until I could traipse into the lodge to go look for them. Hence the oversized goggles that pushed down on his nose and made it hard for him to breathe.

This place is small, but it's laid out in such a way that means for a lot of hoofing around in ski boots. The lodge and racks are downslope from the lifts, so you have to carry your skis up and down this steep slope that's hard to walk on to take a break. It's remarkably inconvenient to get from one lift to another -- and there's only two!

Despite these challenges, I did find Julian's goggles, in the rental area lost&found, right in time for their 10am lesson.

When I dropped them off for the group lesson, I emphasized to the instructors that they are at really different levels. Aside from the brother problem, really, they don't belong in the same lesson.

I was way off. They are at different levels from each other, but were the only two of all the kids that showed up that morning who were clearly beyond the "magic carpet." As a result, the boys were in the same lesson, but it turned into a semi-private with one instructor -- just the two of them. This place wasn't kidding when they said they were oriented for beginners!

This worked out though. The instructor told me he'd taken them up the longer lift, then did some blue runs, and even a short "black diamond."

I should explain: at Tahoe-Donner, most of the runs are visible from the bottom of the lifts, and none of them look anywhere near as steep or long as Sierra-at-Tahoe's blue "Lower Main," including their "black diamonds." Of course, no ski resort can go without black diamonds, but all "black" meant was the hardest runs there, which weren't very hard.

During the boys' lesson, I explored the various runs and tried to remember all the good advice and exercises I'd gotten in lessons a few weeks ago. I saw people skiing on the "black diamonds" who skiied more tentatively than I do, and some really little kids with tethers too. I was intimidated at first, but found I had much more fun when it was steeper and had some more power (gravity, speed) to work with. Before long I wasn't even pausing before barreling over the edge of the top of a run, which now looked like a fun entryway rather than a terrifying precipice. My demo skis were better for me too; shorter and somehow slippery-er, or so it seemed, making it easier to position my feet.

The runs were wide, the conditions crusty but predictable, nothing like the sheets of icy stuff at Sierra-at-Tahoe a few weeks ago. It was completely uncrowded -- and virtually free of snowboarders! It was amazing how many people were there with little kids though. I think the biggest demographic was the 4-and-under set.

Over lunch, the boys and I chatted happily about our successful morning. I was struck looking into their eyes, especially in the bright ambient lighting in the lodge. Of course, as Mom I can never get enough of looking into my sons' eyes, but the contrast was fascinating.

Gabriel, pure and bright brown.

Julian, gray but darker and with brown framing his pupil, and overall rounder and larger:

My silly boys. There was no place I'd rather be than with them today!

After lunch, I took the boys on one of the easier blue runs that their instructor had taken them on....

...wait, once again, Julian's goggles went missing. His helmet clip didn't hold them on very well, and he lost track of them again. Of course he didn't discover this until we were about to get on the lift, so it was another major physical effort of taking skis off and huffing it down to the lodge to go look for them. Lost&Found #2 had them.

...back to skiing. To the blue! This didn't work at all. Gabriel was at the bottom in about 2 minutes, but Julian had no end of trouble. He fell again and again, mostly on purpose. He wouldn't turn, he was afraid of losing control, and would sit down and pretend to fall every time he picked up any speed. He'd done better than this while we were warming up, then in his lesson. What gives? This was no fun. He was just psyched out somehow.

I somehow coached him to the bottom, by getting him follow me. There I told him to wait for about 15 minutes while I took Gabriel up the other lift. I wanted to take Gabriel down the "black diamonds" I'd done, to see if he could do them safely.

And Gabriel did, and he had a great time. I never fail to be impressed with his enthusiasm and willingness -- no hesitation, no questions, just "Oh GREAT Mom!" On the lift he patted my arm to catch my attention, and I turned to look at him, and he was smiling at me. "What is it?" I asked, half-laughing. "Nothing, I'm just so happy to be with you," he said. Love and pride compete for the top spot.

No problem! He skiied in control and was able to stop, and didn't just bomb straight down. Good for him!

Gabriel had proven himself, so I told him to just go ride the lift and pick any run he wanted -- it's impossible to get lost at this tiny resort. All runs end up at the same place, and he'd just done the hardest run there. So, go for it dude. That was a huge advantage of this small place, I could send Gabriel off on his own without worrying.

I went back to find Julian, who was anxious for a bathroom break, then we tried the bunny hill again. After another run or two, he was doing much better, relaxing and practicing "jumps." There is a tiny "terrain park" (just bumps) next to the bunny hill and he liked taking those too.

By now the bunny hill lift lines were long, so Julian agreed to go up the big lift and try the "Mile Run," the long green from the top. I'd checked this one out before and overall liked it, though it has long flat spots at the beginning and the end. Julian really relaxed and had fun on this once he hoofed it past the dead zones. He did remarkably better when the terrain was more interesting and he had things around him to look at and distract him. It's a mental game with him -- when you turn off "mental" he does a lot better (just like Mom).

Gabriel joined us once on this run. I gave the boys some back shoves to push them along and tried to pull them with my poles in the flat spots. That's really a pain. Steep is better.

It was pretty warm too. Careful grooming keeps the snow in decent ski shape, but the snowpack seems really low. There were bare spots right next to the runs. Truckee has some of the highest snowfall in the nation some years, but not now.

I wanted to run the "black" with Gabriel again, and we were getting low on time, so I formed a plan. We'd all 3 go up the longer lift, Julian would ski down Mile Run on his own. Gabriel and I would take the black down (3 minutes), ride back up the lift (5 minutes), then take another black to shortcut to Mile Run and meet up with Julian. Basically, Gabriel and I would go up and shortcut twice while Julian skiied the long way around, and we'd end up in the same place. If we didn't meet up on the run, we'd meet at the bottom of the lift. No problem, all were game.

Except when Gabriel and I were done with our part, Julian wasn't there at the lift. We waited for a few minutes, but I knew he should have been there by now -- unless he'd fallen and couldn't put his skis back on and was stuck. The lifts were going to close in 10 minutes, so we went back up to run Mile Run in its flat green entirety to look for Julian. I was starting to regret my totally brilliant plan. The sun was getting low, it was getting colder, the lifts were closing, and I didn't know where my 7-year-old was.

Gabriel and I skiied down Mile Run quickly, but, no Julian. When we arrived at the end, there he was waiting at the lift (which was now closed). Phew!

But he was crying. "Where were you, Mom? I thought I was lost!" I felt terrible. I told him we went back to look for him, and we'd just gotten mixed up because we thought he'd be there waiting for us. "I was!" he insisted.

Later, the real story emerged. Julian had beaten us to the lift entrance, but he got back on it and went up again, against instructions. And, inexplicably, instead of taking nice safe slow Mile Run again, he took the blue run that he'd fallen on again and again when I'd taken him on it. Not only is that run much harder for him, but without careful planning and a lot of hoofing, it's hard to get back to the lift where he was supposed to meet us -- never mind that we'd never think to look for him there. But he did all this himself!

He'd met up with a snowboarder on the lift, and said that they talked about each other (ages and such), and that he told the boarder about Bey Blades. This is the worst part for a Mom: this guy was probably shaking his head at Mom: this kid is 7, what's he doing out here alone?! Yeah, well, good point. Other people were just as shocked at my letting Gabriel go on his own, though really this was not an issue there.

As it turned out, Julian totally stepped up to the plate when he was on his own, even if it scared him. He explained that he'd taken this route instead of Mile Run where we expected him to be because he thought it would be faster (true). He did fall a few times, but got back up and kept going. He even took the bumps on a small terrain park alongside the bunny hill. I felt bad that this last run was upsetting to him, but he recovered quickly and I think it was a confidence-booster in the end.

As we packed up to go, I told Julian to make SURE his goggles were on his arm -- NO LOSING THEM AGAIN!! The boys were in full mess-around swing by then, and I was immediately frustrated with how difficult it is to get them to listen to, let alone follow, the most basic instructions ("get in the car" "put on your seatbelt" "stop shoving each other" etc).

We stopped by the Vilbigs' house a few miles away, where we had a nice chat and a very welcome dinner. The boys went straight outside to play in the snow while I engaged in some welcome grownup talk, then came in when it was getting dark.

Then Julian said, "Wait, my goggles!" I assured him that I'd stashed them in his bag in the car. "No, Gabriel got them out of the car -- and then I hid them in the snow!"

Unbelievable. After all I'd done to keep custody of these hapless goggles today, he has to go bury them, and now it was nearly dark. "Well, I think I know where they are!" Gabriel and Julian set out with two borrowed flashlights to dig up the goggles, and they succeeded...mostly. They were out there for a long time, and only one of the flashlights came back at first. Upon prodding, they admitted they'd buried one of the flashlights too. What is wrong with boys sometimes?! Fortunately Gabriel was able to find it too, and we left with all our things and none of theirs.

The drive to Truckee the night before had been seriously impaired by traffic. Ric told me that I'd left at the worst possible time for hitting traffic on 680, though with school getting out at 2:40, it's hard to leave much earlier. I'd made a map mistake and blew my dinner plan for Marie Callendar's, so ended up at Arby's -- ick, but quick. Despite our foray into fast food, it took us well over 5 hours to get from Sunnyvale to Truckee.

But driving home from Truckee on Saturday night -- part of the plan -- was a breeze. The boys fell asleep immediately, I stopped once for gas and to wake them up for the only bathroom break we were getting. No traffic, and we were home in 3-1/2 hours.

These whirlwind overnighters are exhausting, as the drive is long. Some people even compress it into a single day, leaving at 4am! I can't imagine. Still, for all the logistical trouble and heavy carrying and expense, the highest moments make it completely worth it.

This particular ski area is attached to an enormous housing development that also has a snowplay area, a golf course, tennis courts, a marina, campgrounds, a recreation center -- a downhill ski area is just another amenity. So as ski resorts go, it's really small, but it worked perfectly for a single ski day. The lack of crowds and whooshing snowboarders was especially great, and it was so manageable that both boys could ride lifts and ski down on their own (Julian not intentionally at the end, but he did). And, Gabriel and I could really ski together. Yay! I have my skiing partner!

I'm even wondering if we can squeeze in another day trip somewhere before our trip to Sugarbowl coming up in March.

Life and the hamster wheel resume tomorrow, but I always have skiing to think about to cheer me up.


Original comments:

Julian had his up and down moments, but when he relaxed, he did great. He's starting on parallel turns on his own now, and even went on a very very mini-terrain park, and was practicing "jumps." He really liked Tahoe Donner's one longer green run and did parts of it entirely on his own. Confidence is his biggest challenge, but he made huge progress today. I was so proud of him today.

Gabriel did his first black diamond runs today, as did I, but I must qualify that most of the blues that we did at Sierra-at-Tahoe were harder than what this small resort calls "black diamonds." If I can ski them with confidence, they're not much. Still, I had the most fun on these runs and had some valuable sink-in practice.

Mostly, I was thrilled to see Gabriel in control and safe. Confidence, speed, courage -- not a problem with him. Control and safety are the bigger concerns and he totally met those concerns. I was so proud of him today.

This was just a simple one-day trip and deserves no more mention than that, but it's hard for me not to write every little detail, because it was all SO FUN!!!


Thursday, February 10, 2011

2/10/11 "Pokie"

Tonight as I was facing the usual hurdle of herding kids out of the car, a longtime neighbor walked by with her dog. Since we've lived here, we've seen this neighbor walk by with her dog, but not always the same dog, since her dogs are always old. This dog looked pretty old too.

Katrina shrieked when she saw the dog -- but not for the old reason of being terrified, but for the new reason that she couldn't get out of her seatbelt quickly enough to go say hello to the dog.

Our kind neighbor, an elderly lady herself, walked up our driveway to introduce her -- get this -- pit-bull/dalmation mix dog, a 12-year-old female named Pokie. "That's because of the polka dots!" our neighbor explained. The dog is white with faint black spots, but her body and head structure clearly say pit bull.

Katrina and Gabriel were all over this mellow, friendly dog with only one ear (she came from a rescue agency and apparently had had such a severe ear infection that the ear was lost). Katrina delighted our neighbor with comments like, "I LOVE this dog, Mommy!" "This is my favorite dog EVER!" Our neighbor remembered Katrina freaking out a year ago at this same dog, so was happy to see her fawning all over the dog instead. Gabriel too was very focused and tender toward the dog, but Julian kept his distance. He's always been nervous around dogs.

We've been thinking about pets for a while. I seriously considered getting two rats, and that's still an option, but Dave mentioned he might tolerate a cat now (allergies). Can we fit a cat into our lives? Still, I am a dog person through and through, always have been. There's no way we can get a dog while I'm working, but the tug came back seeing how much the kids -- even Julian -- loved being around it.

Another reason to add to the growing list of reasons to change our lives.


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

2/9/2011 Fast track to the heart

Right before going up for bed, Julian lamented that I don't like him (we'd had some conflict earlier, quite ordinary). Gabriel was there, so I pulled them both closer and said, "Listen guys...NO ONE in the WHOLE WORLD makes me MADDER than you two. No one makes me want to pick them up by their ankles and shake them up and down like you."

They laughed, so I continued, "Sometimes I get SO mad at you I want to smush a pie in your face! Sometimes I get SO mad I want to tear up pictures of you. Sometimes I get SO mad I want to dump a jar of peanut butter in your bed!" (more laughter). "But no matter HOW mad I ever get, I ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS love you both SO SO SO much," and started to give humorous examples of how much I love them.

Julian was laughing, he appreciates my amateur stand-up routines (moreso the effort than the comedic delivery). But Gabriel was crying.

Crying, Gabriel?! I changed my tone, hugged him and asked him why, and he said tearfully, "You tear up pictures of me?"

Oh my poor kid. I was only kidding! Tearing up pictures was a terrible example, but at the moment it was all I could think of, and I thought I'd recovered quickly with the peanut butter thing. I told him gently that of course I'd never tear up pictures of him, and that I look at pictures of him when I'm at work and that I think about him all the time. He was comforted, but still shaken.

My super-duper tough cookie, the one who so rarely shows sensitivity, who is virtually immune to social pressure, who navigates the usual childhood emotional obstacles with ease -- brought to tears by a joking mention of a parental unbonding gesture. It's not that he doesn't experience the same emotions that all kids do; they're just much better protected most of the time, with occasional breaches that go straight to the heart.

My own heart is still pretty guilty -- but a little warmed -- about it. He really does love me.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

2/8/2011 Balance

A common question to focus people unsure what to do with their lives is, "What would you do with your life if money were no object?" And when they said they'd be a professional parasailer or a gardener or open up a tortilla stand, you say, "then how can you make that happen anyway?"

I thought of a related question today: "What would I do with my life if I knew I only had 20 good years left?" This falls short of "the rest of your life" but involves more of a future than the cliche "live every day as though it is your last."

20 good years is a long time, but it's not so far off. My father was 20 years older than I am now when we started noticing some truly odd behaviors, beyond spacey, beyond normal aging -- things that were just off. At only 68, clear signs of Alzheimer's were setting in, and if he'd been willing to discuss the truth, let alone admit it, he'd likely have been genuinely diagnosed.

So rewind 20 years -- what if that were me? Would I spend this part of my life this way? I have young children, I'm creakier than I was but have no real physical impediments, I have so many ideas (boondoggles?) of things I'd want to do. I've thought a lot recently about what else I'd do, but not with the additional "...and if it were only 20 more years?"

My mother insightfully suggested that the answer might be much clearer if I took the plunge and quit. Let the things that are important bubble to the surface. Like clearing out a room completely before deciding how to rearrange the furniture that was in it.

And then there's having young children. They need me now more than ever, and more and more every year. It won't be long before Gabriel will need me in the distant grunting "don't talk to me mom" kind of way that 12-13 boys need from their mothers.

But I well remember that I wasn't fully content as a full-time mom either. I enjoyed so much about it, but missed the focused thinking I get at work. But now that I'm at work, I miss the time freedom and semi-flexible schedule full-time moms have. I really miss spending much of the day outside in the summer.

I've thought many times of making a list of all the things I'd do if I quit work...but it's so long it's overwhelming and once again my mind is in a room crammed with furniture to the top. I can't find -- heck, even think of -- the balance, so for now, it's status quo.


Monday, February 07, 2011

2/7/2011 "Pesky Julian"

Today Gabriel came home with letters from every classmate, in response to his "Star Of The Week." After each kid's presentation, all classmates write a letter to the Star, telling them what they thought was interesting about his presentation.

Nearly every kid said they thought "Pesty" (oft cited as 'Pesky') Julian was a very funny name. Yet nearly half the kids also added that they thought it was not nice to say that about your brother!!

Gabriel's tales of his skiing exploits was the second most popular comment. Everyone admired his claimed ability to zoom down the mountain, but more notable was that about 5 kids said something about his falling a lot. In fact, Gabriel only mentioned in passing that he'd crashed a few times the first time he went down an icy blue-level slope, but that really made an impression. One kid even said, "you must have cried a lot." I don't think these kids know him very well!

Julian is quite the celebrity in the 3rd grade now.


Sunday, February 06, 2011

2/6/2011 Weekend playdates

We hardly ever -- to the point of "never" -- do playdates, because weekends would be the only time. But somehow this weekend, we had a plethora of them.

Saturday morning, my new friend Cindy invited Katrina over for a playdate with her 2006-er Emily, to give her a break from entertaining this very social little girl. This has never been the case for us: our kids play for so, so, SO long on their own that I always fear playdates will increase the attention I have to put to them. Our kids do become a lot of work when they play together. I don't know if a playdate would add to or subtract from that equation.

Anyway, I was more than happy to "oblige" Cindy -- hah! It's not enough that she loaned me all her ski stuff for 6 weeks and completely advanced my knowledge of ski gear (let's hear it for mitten strings), but now she's taking my daughter off my hands for 2 hours! She's also really easygoing, and full of good information and inspiration. It makes me miss my past Las Madres days of playgroups and outings -- though she also has a very busy 20-month toddler and I so don't miss those days, cute as he is.

Katrina and Emily disappeared together immediately.

(Emily is actually younger than Katrina, with a November birthday, and Cindy has received the expected grief about sending her to kindergarten in August. If I didn't know Emily's age, I'd have guessed her to be pushing 5 -- she's social, outgoing, confident, very verbal and articulate...oh yeah, and completely potty-trained, unlike Katrina. And taller than Katrina. I've assured Cindy to ignore the naysayers.)

While Katrina did the girl thing, I took Julian shopping. Normally he'd object, but this trip involved Bey Blades for Gabriel's birthday playdate tomorrow.

He willingly posed outside a nice little CA-native oasis garden right outside a snow-gear store in an otherwise odious strip mall.

On sale, my size, comfortable...sold! I bought myself ski boots!!!! I was just investigating, but, I can't argue with those elements. Gloves too. Researched ski rentals too, as I'd like to take the boys up for a one-day overnight ski trip next weekend. I was out of time for skis and poles though.

This was one expensive playdate. With all that time to shop, I went back to pick up Katrina $300 lighter.

But it's all worth happy little girls. Katrina did not want to leave, that almost turned ugly, but eventually she did. They had a great time; played in Emily's room, downstairs, outside, and rocked together in a reclining chair. And I think Cindy's objective was met, which was some time without her daughter asking for things every few minutes. It worked great!

Speaking of playdates, that evening, Dave and I joined four other now-longtime Las Madres friends and husbands for a wonderful dinner at an unusual Brazilian restaurant that specializes in unusual meats and cuts them right at your table. The husbands all basically recognize each other, but this was the first time they were all cornered into a table at the same time.

I'm not sure how the guys felt about it, but I certainly enjoyed it. I've known these men as long as the women, and my friends have some really cool husbands, I always enjoy talking to them. For a while there, they were the only men besides Dave who I talked to on a regular basis!

Then today, Sunday, Gabriel had a "birthday playdate." That meant two friends -- more than a playdate but less than a party. I'd planned for his birthday "party" to be in his classroom as Julian's had been, but after I'd committed to it, I learned that the 3rd grade does it very differently. It's really more of a birthday "meeting" -- they "affirm" they child and hand out treats and favors, but that's it -- and no parents! So I baked the muffins and spent the money and time on favors, and Gabriel brought that stuff in, but I wasn't there for his party! Weird.

So we made up for it with a "birthday playdate." Gabriel invited his longtime friend Parth (from kindergarten, and now they've been reunited in their 3rd grade class), and also a first-grader named Dan.

First-grader?! Gabriel could not be dissauded. "Mom, Dan is always so joyful!" he exclaimed. Well, far be it from me to exclude a joyful kid! I really wanted this to be for Gabriel's friends, without pesky little brother, but a first-grader in the mix made it a little odd. Thank goodness Dan isn't in Julian's class (though he does have Gabriel's same first-grade teacher).

So I took chatty Parth and joyful Dan and Gabriel to the nearby ice-skating rink, and we had a great time. I was immediately awash with a warm happy feeling, like I was in my element and I too was home and at peace, as soon as we pulled out of the driveway. I love listening to the boys excited and laughing in the car, and talking and joking with them too. These to me are the pinnacle parenting moments, with the anticipation of a great time doing something active together.

Dan had only skated once, but he was raring to go. He got on the ice before I was ready, and didn't mind at all wall-hugging until I got there. I peeled him off the wall (get kids off the wall first thing, the ice is worst there and they can't learn to skate), showed him a few basics, and before long he was skating on his own.

Parth and Gabriel, who were in ice-skating camp together last summer, also showed him the ropes.

Gabriel was right, Dan was always smiling, always cheerful, never discouraged. He slipped a lot, but never hard, and he did great. By the end, he was skating more than Parth, though Parth was more interested in talking and telling me all about how airplanes work. This kid is as destined to be an aeronautical engineer as Gabriel is to be an electrical one. A good team for an airline company!

But I was really stunned by how kind and sweet and encouraging Gabriel was to Dan. He treated Dan like -- of all things -- a little brother!!!! He doesn't treat his own little brother anything like that!!

Dan couldn't keep up with the 3rd-grader conversation -- he's only 6 years old, and won't turn 7 until August, speaks Hebrew at home and his mother's English is pretty rocky -- but Gabriel obviously enjoys being around him a great deal. So funny how kids pick their friends. Gabriel doesn't have many, but he picks really awesome ones. I adore Parth too, and his mother is the nicest person on the planet.

Back at home, the boys had a snack while I frosted Gabriel's cake. They were joined by Julian, decorated the cake (dumped sprinkles onto it that is), ate some, then played Bey Blades until Moms showed up.

I think I had the best time of all. I didn't get to skate on my own a whole lot, but I didn't mind at all. It was so fun playing with them, teasing Gabriel, asking them to show me things, getting them to follow me, "race" a little. Afterward was fun too, chatting and bantering with them, though more often just stepping back and letting them be little boys together without butting in. This is my favorite kind of playdate!

This weekend wasn't all about playdates, however. It was also about snow preparations. I reserved ski school and lodging for a trip in March, bought ski boots, and went ice-skating.

But it was freakin' 80 degrees out today!! This weather sucks!! It's clear, warm, balmy, fragrant, absolutely stellarly beautiful. California doesn't get better than this -- in May. It's February! It was 60 in Tahoe today! Lovely, great, but I WANT SNOW. Where are the clouds, the storms, the cold?! I'm not sure it makes sense to even attempt skiing this weekend -- this is warmer than the slushy "spring skiing" in April, which is only for the hardcore.

And it's not just the snow either. Dave doesn't really want to expend the effort next weekend for a one-day trip, understandable -- but that means I get a day to myself with just my boys. Those are the most wonderful times for me -- so do a snow dance for me and hope that this extraordinary weather doesn't put the kibosh on an extraordinary time!