Last week was Queen's "reading week," a week off from classes during which, I was assured by my students, little reading is actually done. I did little reading myself and, I admit (for those who are still hanging around here), no writing (truth be told, I'm in a bit of a muddle, as Forster would say. But perhaps more on that another day).
We went to Mont Tremblant, in Quebec, for my first bona fide vacation (i.e., non-family-related travel) in seven years. I had learned to ski at a small hill near Tremblant -- called Gray Rocks -- when I was six years old, and looked forward to teaching my own children. My daughter, now six (I was pregnant with her during my last vacation), took to the slopes like a duck to water: smooth and determined. My four-year-old son, otherwise exceptionally athletic, presented something of a challenge.
When placed on a slippery incline bolted to two sleek boards, most humans will tend to, well . . . tense up. Not my boy. Ready to go. Loose as spaghetti. Built for speed. In development-speak, Oliver has "low danger awareness."
This means he has no fear.
Oliver also has a language disorder that makes it difficult for him to process speech -- in particular, to comprehend what is said to him and to respond appropriately, either through speech or behavior. Otherwise known as "listen to directions."
No matter how often I flanked my own skis in a snow plow (as a model), or got down on the ground and placed Ollie's skis in the same position, or put my verbal instructions in the most concrete terms possible, nothing was going to prevent that boy from going down the mountain as fast -- and potentially out of control -- as possible. Needless to say, I did not relish the prospect of peeling Ollie's dairy-soft skin from the bark of a mountain pine.
In a moment of inspiration (otherwise known as frustration), I physically engulfed my son from behind: I planted my skis outside his (his tips were linked by a "ski bra"), gripping his hips with my knees; fastened my poles as a horizontal bar in front of his chest; reached under his shoulders to grasp the poles in front of him, thus bracing him with my arms; and told Ollie to hang on to my poles. We skied together, as one, for the rest of the week.
Those who know Ollie know how naturally exuberant he is: the combination of the ongoing warmth and closeness of our two bodies and his unvarnished exhilaration at the free-sweeping movement downhill, well. . . where was Master Card to capture it? It was priceless (though admittedly facilitated by copious amounts of ibuprofen and apres-ski hot-tubbing).
Not surprisingly, my little thrill-seeker sought any opportunity to "take air." We skied on broad flat green runs the whole week, but even those trails have ravines on the edges where the adventuresome might divert briefly before popping back up, with a jump, back onto the main slope. Ollie took it upon himself to scan the trails for every such opportunity.
"So, you're a hotdogger, eh?" I chided him initially. "Ok, hotdogger, let's have fun." The squeals of delight when I would lift him up (most concerned to maintain total control, I was actually lifting him out of the jumps) were exquisite -- indescribable -- and I admit I indulged his (what I called) hotdogging.
At the end of the day, waiting for the shuttle van, we ran into someone we had met from the hotel, who was kind enough to strike up a conversation with my tyrolean tyro.
"So, Ollie, did you enjoy skiing today? Are you a good skier?"
"No, I'm not a good skier. I'm a hot doctor."
Work it out.