• Lijing Cobb

What happened?

We found ourselves whooshing down the ski slopes again yesterday. Yes I know it was Tuesday, and kids were supposed to be in school. But considering that there always seem to be insurmountable obstacles to joining the throngs of skiers in our attempts to learn and be safe over the weekend, we decide that pulling kids out of school one day a week to have a quality family day is not that outrageous of a concept. Our kids are younger; they are all doing very well in school; they all understand that it is a weighty choice we make, and they need to value it as such. So, knowing that they can be on the slopes only if they continue to be great students in school, our kids find their feet in skis again on a Tuesday. And so do I.

For most of our 4 hours on the slopes, I find myself in my own company down the slopes and up the lift. The kids want to be with their cool dad who’s able to teach, guide, and challenge them on the snow, and I’m content figuring things out on my own. There are so many things to see and learn! On the long rides back to the top of the mountain I learn that there are 125 cable cars on the left and 122 on the right for example. If I look down I see gloves and poles people lost with a shriek and a cry, along with beer cans and empty fireball bottles people tossed carelessly in their tipsy abandon. Imagine all the stories behind each of these items!

And then there are the skiers and snowboarders. I start to focus on observing how the skiers hold their bodies, and try to decipher how they are able to make the snaking motion seem so effortless. When I’m spat out at the top of the lift and start again on my downward journey, I try to apply some of the things I learn in my stillness. It is working! I start to gain more confidence.

We all know that accidents love to strike just when we think we got it, right?

My husband and kids want me to abandon my green and go down a gentle blue with them. What the heck, I say to myself, I can trust him one more time now that I’m doing better. So off we go, gliding down the said blue, and after staying with me for the first 1/3 of the slope and assessing that my competence could carry me through the rest of the ride, my dear husband disappears with the kids. Ok, I got this.

There is an older gentleman to my left maneuvering down the slope at about the same speed as mine, but he seems to be so much more at ease in his endeavor. Shoulder to shoulder we go a peaceful 3 seconds, and as if he suddenly forgets that I am right there, in bright orange, obviously navigating the slope with burning thighs, he cuts right and is promptly right in front of my face. Unable to summon the skill to dodge this bullet, I put my hands on his back to prevent myself from falling on top of him, and he goes down like butter.

For about 10 minutes, give or take 20 (it was a LONG time), he stays on the ground, slowly gathering himself. My frozen lips carried my profuse apologies over the 5 feet of icy air to where he lays. Unable to move myself without either skiing away or falling down, I stay with him in my upright position to make sure that he is ok.

Eventually he gets up on his feet, which gives me permission to leave. So I say what I think is my last apology and goodbye to that man, and leave.

Another third of the way down, I find myself on the ground. My left leg stuck to a snowbank, my right leg bent behind me. Thank God I practice yoga.

The same gentleman stops right next to me. He asks me if I was ok, and then waits patiently for me to extricate myself from my pretzel and get up. Secretly I think of my fall as yet another apology to him: look at me in my pretzel. I really could not have done anything else except knocking you over!

So he accompanies me through the rest of the downslope, and I should have known better to let him stay on my left. Right when we are about to glide into the lift gate, he makes the same cut to the right, I repeat the same motion, and he is again on the ground.

From the ground he looks up towards another gentleman who must be his friend. “This is the gal who made me fall!” He mumbles, and then as if confused, adds, “What happened?”

His friend smiles and says, “Well, you cut her off!”

FOR THE SECOND TIME IN ONE RUN! Thank God there is witness!

As I was about to unleash another string of apologies to the fallen angel, his friend waves me off. “Don’t worry about it. I got him.” And then he gives me another warm smile and mouths the words, “he’s fine.”

So I push myself forward with my ski poles and as I leave, I say, “Ok, I’m going to stay as far away from you as possible!”

Behind me in his jovial voice, his friend shouts back, “yes, go to the other side of the mountain!”

Well, I guess some people have a hard time staying out of other people’s way, and sometimes they get a little hurt when other people don’t know how to not collide into them. Don’t we all do that sometimes? With only our path and goal lit up in front of our eyes, oblivious of what’s around us, and when we fall suddenly, we shake with incomprehension and cry, “what happened?”

When my husband has enough of wait and calls me to ask my whereabouts, I regale him with the bizarre tale. He’s sympathetic to my plight, but then adds, “you know, it is the responsibility of the person on top to watch out for the people below them. You need to be always on guard!”

“But he was next to me, not below me!” True, but I was standing for 10 +/- 20 minutes above the gentleman after he fell. And true, I had trusted his competency to stay out of my way, and that was a mistake.

Ah, sometimes we can fall standing up!

At night when I made the rounds to say good night to my children, I initiated a topic with my 7yo. I’d been meaning to do that for a while now and it was time.

My little one has been super defensive and sensitive lately. Half of the time she spends with her siblings, she is either shouting or crying, and most of the time both. I knew it’s time to work with her and figure out a strategy for her to get back to her cheery and carefree self.

“You know how I’ve been working with your brother on some things that needed attention.” I started, looking at her little face with a glint of tears in her eyes, brows furrowed, lips shaking slightly. “I want to do the same with you.”

She nods, quiet, listening.

“I noticed that your temper is a little bit out of control lately. You seem to be angry all the time. It just hurts me to see that you are so unhappy. Can we work on that together please?”

Quietly she nods again, her face softening, her body relaxing.

“I know you are good and kind, and you want to be happy. Right?”

Again, she acknowledges my assessment, and waits for me to go on.

“It feels to me like you are looking at everyone as your attackers and they want to hurt you, so you defend yourself.”

A gleam of recognition in her eyes, she lets out a breath, and acquiesces to my observation.

“So, let’s pay attention to that. But I ask you to do one thing for me, no matter what happens: if all of us are talking to you, and I speak to you as well, take ME out of your pile of attackers, and put ME into your circle of friends. No matter what happens, always think of me that way, because you know I love you and I want to do everything I can to make sure you are happy. So this way, you’ll never be alone. You’ll always have a friend who loves and supports you. Does that sound good?”

She nods her head vigorously, and I give her a hug. I know the night has come to a peaceful end for her, and she can now go to sleep knowing she’s not alone.

My 7yo is not used to me paying so much attention to my boy, her brother. It used to be that us girls were tight, and the boy was ostracized. We got used to that, so she doesn’t quite know how to adjust to the new dynamic among us. To her I was once her exclusive friend and ally, but I’m deserting camp. In her loneliness she takes up the role of her sole defender, and lashes out against anyone who dares to encroach upon her sovereignty. She’s in her fight or flight status, and I’m glad she’s fighting and not flighting. But it’s time for her to take off her vigilante cape and just be a kid.

There are so many lessons in a day, and if we take the time to think about what happens to us, and sort through what otherwise seem to be a complete jumble and mess, there is always a coherence that binds it all together. Things don’t just happen to us; we always have the capacity to diagnose and understand what’s going on, take caution and precaution, so that we can navigate the slopes of life with ease and grace. Taking the cue from the older gentleman who fell twice on the same run courtesy of my reflex hands, let’s ask ourselves, what happened?

But don’t stop there. Pursue the question until we find out why things happen the way they do. What can we do to make things happen the way we want them to? The people on top are always responsible for the people on the bottom: that is quite a great rule. Parents are always responsible for the kids who cannot see as well as they do, because all their experiences give them greater perspectives and put them on top. I can agree with that.

So let’s keep an eye on it and figure things out together as friends, shall we?

A mentor and a mentee

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