I stood, poised in fear, staring down at Wolverine. This was not happening… this was not happening! My kids, ages three and eight, had just launched their snowboards down Wolverine, a black diamond run near the top of the Outback Express lift at Keystone. This run boasts moguls, dense trees, rocks, fallen logs, and all manner of things designed to spontaneously end your snowboarding career… or your life. Preferably only the former, but I had no doubts that the latter was a distinct possibility. I had told them to go down the blue run. They didn’t listen.
Choices. Life is all about choices. Often, it is about thinking that you have a choice in a certain matter, then realizing there is only the illusion of a choice – because one of your options is so unforgivingly bad, that you don’t actually have the option of choosing it. (That’s okay, keep telling yourself you have a choice. That always makes me feel better, anyway.) That’s where I was. I had the option of letting my kids make their way down a black diamond run in Colorado alone – quite different from a black diamond run in Iowa, our home state – and I would probably lose them on the mountain forever… or, I could follow them down the black diamond run, inviting my own almost certain impending death.
This is huge – a huge compliment to me, a huge embarrassment to my kids. I skate park on my rollerblades, play soccer and ref college soccer, where I recently doled out a red card, then stood like the calm in a storm as the adult male recipient flew at me – expletives and fists flying – only to be dragged away by his teammate nanoseconds before his fist connected with my jaw. I water-ski, bungee jump, and once flipped a jet ski while my mom was riding on the back (she didn’t stay on – I wouldn’t recommend that course of action to anyone wishing to remain in her mother’s good graces). I am NOT afraid. Afraid is NOT my thing and fear is NOT my word. Have you seen “Fight Club”? Tyler Durden has nothing on my alter ego.
But I had been snowboarding (in Iowa!!!) for less than a month… snowboarding in Colorado for, um, less than a day! The trees were making ominous faces at me and the moguls standing straighter, seeming to rise even taller… and my kids (ages three and eight remember!) were DISAPPEARING BEHIND THEM!
“I choose death,” I muttered to myself, and prepared to follow the two boys in my life down what was certain to end in a meet-and-greet with the ski patrol – not for my kids, you understand. No, I was quite certain the two of them would fare just fine. It was me I was worried about.
I suppose I have some explaining to do before you wonder what kind of mother in her right mind lets her small children snowboard down the peak of a mountain and call child services on me. I know what you’re thinking… Eight years old, okay. Maybe he’s an exceptional snowboarder and he can handle it. Three years old… IS HIS MOTHER SMOKING CRACK?! !! Believe me, if I had not witnessed the events of the past winter, I would be thinking that same thing right along with you.
Devin, my eight year-old, and his little brother, Wesley, are better snowboarders than I will ever be. I do not suck at snowboarding. But hitting 30 foot double kink rails, handrails, launch rails, horizontally tipped rails, flying off the kickers getting twice my height in air, and doing spins and jumps in the superpipe is not a day in the life of Danelle snowboarding; however, this is a day in the life of Wesley. Yes, Wesley… my three year-old.
Earlier this year – and quite by accident – I discovered that I had given birth to a freak of nature…
Faced with another long, dreary, Iowa winter, I had decided to buy a pass to our local ski resort. (I had skied a few times as a kid.) Devin and Wesley are homeschooled, which works out wonderfully in the spring, summer and fall when I can send them outside to expend their energy, but not so well in the winter when they are trapped indoors. You know the saying, “Boys will be boys”? That’s a ridiculous way of saying, “Boys will smash holes in your walls, break your furniture, crack heads, wrestle, punch, knock each other’s teeth out, sled down the stairs, jump off the garage roof, “accidentally” cause a concussion playing army (but that rock was my grenade, mom!), cause the nurses in the ER to know you by name – first and last – and generally wreak every kind of havoc imaginable on your habitat if their energy is not given direction.
I figured that letting the boys ride around the bunny hill on snowboards would be better than having them crashing and banging around inside the house all winter. And, although I would have to remain skiing on the bunny hill to supervise them, this was also better than sitting around the house all winter.
But something happened. Devin and Wesley were not content on the bunny hill. In fact, Devin tried to sneak off to the bigger runs immediately (boys will be boys). Wesley was not going to be outdone by his big brother, four and a-half-year age difference or not. He followed Devin down the big hill by cutting his toe edge into the hill and going down backwards while simultaneously bending over to look between his legs, so as not to lose visual navigation – though I’m not sure how helpful upside down visual navigation is. Devin and Wesley fell madly in love with snowboarding, and I fell madly in love with the way that snowboarding exhausted Devin and Wesley so that they fell into a peaceful slumber within minutes of arriving home at night.
When three year-old Wesley met his regular instructor for the first time, he had already been snowboarding for a few weeks. His instructor tried to take him on the bunny hill. “NO! I’m gonna do halfpipe.” Wesley had already made plans detailing what he wanted to learn how to do. His instructor had him sliding rails and hitting the pipe by the end of that lesson. Wesley continued to progress rapidly, and was spending the majority of his time in the terrain park with the big guys. I guess it’s true what they say about kids picking things up quickly.
I was completely oblivious to Wesley’s level of skill. I remember the day that my neighbor, who often skis with us, said that I should make a video of Wesley for people to see.
“You think anyone would be interested in Wesley?” I asked innocently enough.
“Of course! He rides around in the terrain park and it’s really cute.”
“But most of the kids out here do that.” I still didn’t get it. I thought that any little kid that strapped into bindings would progress as Wesley had.
“Because he’s three! Three year-olds don’t do that stuff!”
“Oh.” I pondered this. I still couldn’t quite believe that what Wesley was doing was extra special, but I decided to make a video and put it on YouTube.
Wesley ended up on our local news and the story was picked up all over the country. He was on NBC News, The Rachel Maddow Show, Bill O’ Reilly, The Today Show, CNN, MSN, and the US Snowboarding Team’s website. He entered a rail jam where he took 2nd place in the 9 and under age division. I started to think that Wesley must be a little bit talented.
Somewhere in all of this craziness, I got the brilliant idea that I needed to learn to snowboard so I could help Wesley. A noble cause, but I soon discovered that Wesley was so far ahead of me in his skill level that I would never ever catch up. Nevertheless, I enjoyed learning to snowboard. Wait, correction… I enjoyed snowboarding after 2 painful days of catching my edge and rolling down the hill while my kids cracked up laughing at me and said things like, “Come on, Mom! Why can’t ya do it? It’s easy! We can do it – see?” They would then take off and leave me on the ground trying to figure out which way to move so as to minimize the excruciating pain in my tailbone. There were a couple of falls that were so bad that I should have quit and tried another day. I wouldn’t quit. I was too proud. This kind of thing happens when your three year-old is kicking your butt at something.
Carrying Wesley off the chairlift on my skis had been a cinch. Trying to carry him off the chairlift while learning to ride my own snowboard off the lift was a circus. I could usually ensure that Wesley made it safely to the ground. But the effort this required caused me to do somersaults off the lift – and not pretty ones. But a mother I am. So long as my offspring exited the lift unscathed, all was right with the world.
I eventually settled into snowboarding. I was told that I had picked it up quickly. My aching knees, wrists, and bottom begged to differ. When the Iowa ski season ended in mid-March, we headed out to Summit County, Colorado. None of us had ever skied or ridden snowboards on a mountain before.
…And there we were, riding down Wolverine at Keystone. Just call us the crazy family. I had never done moguls on a snowboard before. I learned the hard way that they are not kickers… you cannot fly off one and land on the next; you have to go around them on a snowboard, just as you do on skis. I was not doing too bad. I was not keeping up with my children… but I hadn’t died yet, either, so it was going well. Left, right, right, left, right, AHHHHHHHHHH! I was hugging a tree. Hugging is better than hitting. That was close. Another snowboarder saw me, cracked up laughing, took his camera out, and snapped a picture of me and the tree. I did not find it funny. I would kill him later when I got to the bottom of the run… if I survived.
I struggled on. Two guys rode past me and told me that my kids are awesome. Another guy asked how I taught my three year-old to snowboard? Had he taken a closer look at my skills, he would have deduced that I did not teach Wesley anything. But who would be looking at my snowboarding skills when there’s a midget ninja flying down the moguls like he owns them? I wouldn’t be looking at me, either.
Wolverine seemed so long that I was certain Keystone would close before we made it to the bottom. But we made it… two kids, one adult, no injuries… a miracle. Then we did something really crazy. We did it again.
Wolverine became our signature run. My kids could not get enough… and honestly, I started to love Wolverine as well. It was funny. I had been so upset with my kids for taking me down that run, but I can’t imagine if they hadn’t done it. It opened my eyes, not only to what my kids were capable of shredding, but to what I was capable of as well.
During the rest of our week in Summit County, as I watched skiers and snowboarders stop and stare in amazement at Devin and Wesley shredding moguls, doing tricks in the superpipe, and hitting the park, I realized that my kids really do an amazing job at snowboarding for their ages.
I still received the occasional, “Are you nuts?” looks, but they were less frequent and easier to ignore. We took a snowcat to the top of Keystone one day.
The snowcat was transporting all adults… and Devin and Wesley. I could feel the questioning stares without looking up. I decided to make an announcement: “Don’t worry about my kids… they’re really good snowboarders… they’re actually better riders than me.” I smiled and laughed. Oops. This did not have the effect I had hoped for. Now they all thought I was really crazy — because if those small children were better snowboarders than their insane mother, all of us were in big trouble. Nobody likes being judged, especially when it involves their parenting skills so – I have to be honest – it was quite satisfying when the snowcat reached the peak and Devin and Wesley took off like bats out of hell. Everyone realized I had spoken the truth.
Another day, we were at Breckenridge, waiting in line to ride the 6 Chair and then take the Imperial Express Lift to the top of Peak 8 (Elevation 12,840 feet) to shred down the (double black diamond) Imperial Bowl. Everyone was staring at Wesley. The guy in front of me turned around, “How old is he?”
“Can he do this?” he asked incredulously. “Can he shred it?”
I was about to open my mouth to defend my decision to let my three year-old “shred it”, when another guy from behind me spoke up. “Do you think he’d be on the 6 Chair if he couldn’t?”
And then a different guy, “Didn’t you see him on The Today Show? He’s been all over TV! Of course he can shred it!”
Everyone started talking about Wesley… about the hilarity of him being from Iowa, of all places, about wanting to watch him shred down the peak, and then someone yelled out, “He’s the next Shaun White!” This is a huge wonderful compliment. Wesley and Devin loved watching Shaun White in the Olympics. But whenever I hear someone refer to Wesley as “the next Shaun White”… I kind of want to remind them that Wesley, at the moment, is just three years-old.
Wicked Wes… Wild Wild Wes… Tiny Firecracker of an Athlete… Pint-Size Power Rider… Future Boy II… Little Superman… Snowboard Legend… Snowboard Prodigy… all nicknames given to my baby, who is… well… just a baby! I don’t know what the future will bring for Wesley. I don’t know what he is going to be when he grows up. I do know that he’s a very little boy, who loves snowboarding a very huge amount… if he ever decides that he doesn’t want to do it, he’s free to quit anytime… but as long as he loves it and he’s having fun, he has my support 100 percent. And that’s not going to change.
Whatever happens, I can’t wait to share the adventure of my kids growing up with them… I love being a Mom. In my new role as a Shred Mom, I know the adventures will be crazy and wonderful… and that they are only just beginning…