Ski Lessons from My Middle Schooler

A couple days ago my eleven-year-old son wanted to spend his morning off of school, not sleeping in, not even playing video games, but coming along with me to a coffee shop to sip lattes, read, and chat. He prefers a plain latte in a mug with the only additive a design in the foam. He finished reading a prose poem book, which had me flashing back to age 13 or so reading Out of the Dust. He spoke to me of the merits of certain shows, saying phrases like, “There are some core aspects…”

He has always been precocious, and now his “old man” persona continues as a joke among his friends. I look at him with his shaggy hair that he refuses to cut, how it nearly hides his beautiful blue eyes and long eyelashes, and wonder how he is so self-possessed. He’s not so young as to be brazen and unaware of outside influence, but he’s so sure of all he loves and all he wants to dive into with curiosity (and a little too sure of all he thinks he knows). On the one hand, I see so much of myself reflected in him–an odd comfort–but there are the bolder, braver, and self-assured pieces in him that bewilder me as to how they’ve come to be.

We went skiing that afternoon off school, and as I was not-so-quietly grumbling about how afraid I was to go down the bunny hill, how nervous I was to injure myself, he was coaching me through it– how everyone falls, but you have to get back up and try again. He reminded me how scared he was when he was learning, too, and now if he falls, he just tries again. I wanted to scold him for throwing this semi-condescending advice in my terrified face, but why must directions only go from parent to child and not the reverse? Simply being younger doesn’t preclude one from an ability to offer instruction or advice if they’ve been through it themselves. It was humbling to hear the tough love from my middle schooler, but it did the trick. I proceeded down the hill…very slowly.

I admire my son’s fearlessness, or, more likely, ability to overcome his fears, and his confidence the way you might admire an elder, some sage who’s garnered the wisdom of years. Yet here I am, glowing with maternal pride that I must’ve done a thing or two right in this motherhood marathon to raise, support, and encourage him to grow more and more into his true self. He doesn’t seem limited by insecurity or anxiety the way I am and always have been. So, as silly as it seems, I’ll continue looking to him for cues about how to build my own confidence and face down my fears, like when I crested that snowy hill and felt immobilized but was able to forge ahead.

It’s important to notice this gift that we can find wisdom, inspiration, and guidance in unexpected places if we’re paying attention. We will only catch it if we’re present and receptive, like when I wanted to block out my son’s remarks but let them propel me down the hill instead. On this lifelong learning journey, I intend to remain open to advice and role modeling wherever I find it, even if it’s from the goofy kid smiling at me from beneath his bright orange knit cap.

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