I was 13 years old when I first skied downhill. Being athletic seemed to favor a rapid learning of a new skill. But this perception and reality did not match.
Getting the equipment on my body was the first hurdle. I was familiar with boots that allowed my ankles to move; ski boots denied them that right. The people helping me gear up told me the boots should “fit like a glove.” What an insult to gloves everywhere.
The next test was the beginner slope. Not going down it (that was still a few steps away), but rather, lumbering toward the mechanism that propelled me up the hill. There is no video evidence of me learning to walk as a toddler, but you could have rolled tape on my attempt to get up the ski hill and filmed a similar scene.
These thoughts permeated my mind last month as I took my oldest daughter Ashleigh (age 6) skiing for her first time.
She’s a perfectionist and stubborn, just like her daddy. She is the same person who asked, 15 seconds after strapping on ice skates for the first time, “Why am I not good at this?”
I prepared for a day of having my patience tried. My advice to her was, “Don’t give up, keep trying.”
Ashleigh’s first few times up the tow rope were rough for her — and me. I had no experience picking ski-strapped children off the ground, and it showed.
But soon she got the hang of it. She was grabbing the rope, bending her knees, and hanging on for dear life as the line dragged her up the bunny slope.
She got better going down the hill too. After mastering the skill of balancing on two long, thin pieces of wood, she moved on to controlling her speed.
She came long way in a short time and soon wanted to go on the bigger hills that — and here my fear for her kicked in — required going on the chair lift.
This is the part where I began failing as a parent. Rather than encouraging her desire to advance, I tried to dampen it. I didn’t want her newfound love of skiing to be destroyed by a bad experience on the chair lift, or by struggling down a hill that was beyond her abilities.
Rather than stopping her altogether, I did something even worse: I went into “helicopter parent” mode. Mind you, I have criticized the practice of parents who overdo it, but for some reason I let my fears turn me into Airwolf. Even the lift operator had more confidence in her than I did. I tried to get the lift slowed down but the worker balked, saying, “She’ll do fine.”
And she did.
Ashleigh got off the lift as if she had invented the practice, but that didn’t stop me from hovering. I can only imagine the embarrassment she felt. Her father was skiing beside her the whole time, his arm in front of her, as if keeping her back in the seat of a car that had stopped abruptly.
Oftentimes, fear of failure results not only in bad parenting, but also in bad public policy. In the name of promoting public safety or consumer well-being, governments pile regulation upon regulation and our political leaders hesitate to repeal bad laws. “What if something goes wrong?”
My fear of my daughter failing may have kept her from falling, but it also stifled her ability to learn from her mistakes. My good intentions made it more difficult for her to get better, because I was stopping her from trying to improve herself. I also contradicted my advice to her earlier in the day. “Don’t give up, keep trying.”
Hypocrite, table for one.
While I’m not proud of my actions, I am proud to say that Ashleigh taught me more than she ever learned that day.