In the Waiting Line
A young boy named Ryan Michael cries in the snow.
Photo taken from pairadocs’ photostream.
She’s sniffling as she clings to me, the blue innocence of her eyes slightly reddened from the tears.
“It’s ok,” I whisper, gently bouncing her on my arm. “The kids’ center can be a scary place, huh? Lots of people.”
“Uh huh,” she mumbles, taking it all in from her perch near my shoulder. In my arms, she’s nearly twice as tall as her 4 year-old frame would allow.
“It’s madness,” I cackle in my best mad scientist impersonation. Shelly cracks a smile for the first time this morning. As quickly as it appears, it slinks away again. I hold a tissue up to her nose and she blows, the warm gooey nast dampening the thin paper.
The Children’s Center is packed today. By the end of the day, we will have taught over 360 kids in well over 50 classes, a single day record for Eldora. Right now, though, the mobs appear a writhing mass of wiggling arms, playful chatter, whining and loud tromping footsteps as instructors pound back and forth in their boots ushering the plethora of wee ones through the assembly line.
“Are you ready get set up to ski?” I ask Shelly as another instructor brushes past me in a hurried tizzy. She nods. “Ok,” I tell her gently, “I’m going to explain exactly how everything works.
“First, we’re going to go over here and get you measured for boots. We need to make sure they fit really good so that you’re comfortable. Have you ever worn ski boots before?”
I already know the answer, but she doesn’t remember that. Her paperwork, clutched along with her jacket and mittens in my left hand, list almost everything I need to know. The orange ski school ticket attached to her jacket says the rest. She shakes her head no.
“They feel really strange, so it’s important they feel good, ok?”
She nods. I tuck the pile of accoutrements onto the top of the cubbies next to me and raise my hand, waving my pointed finger over the chaotic scene.
“You see all these kids? All of them are here to ski or snowboard. And every one of them gets their own boots here. We also get you a helmet and put the stuff you don’t need, like your hat and snow boots, in a cubby so it stays safe.
“After you’ve got your ski boots, we bring you over there to the ski chart. Depending on how tall you are, we measure you for skis.”
I spin a little, bringing the tech benches into view, the long roped line filled with stunned quiet kids grasping sheets. They could be chatting with each other, but they simply wait, staring at the back of the helmet in front of them, slowly shifting their weight from leg to leg as if the motion will somehow cool them down. Behind me, small flurries of snow and squeaking wind spin and dance through open windows. Despite them, the heat in the room is oppressive, collected from the tightly packed bodies. It’s hard to dress warmly enough for the cold and coolly enough for the warmth inside.
“One we’ve got all that taken care of, we come over here to Andrew.” Andrew glances up at me for a moment and then dives back into his job as head of the line. “Andrew checks all the papers to make sure everything is good. Then he sends people through the line to see Nancy and the rental techs.” I rock side to side as I survey the line with Shelly. It snakes all the way across the room and back again, the ropes sitting eye level or higher on most of the kids, making demarcation that much more difficult.
“Nancy and her crew make sure your skis are set up just right for you. When they’re done, you go down to the end of the line and Meghan helps people get with the right groups. Over there,” I continue, pointing at the big tables on the other side of the line, “is where all the 7-12 year-olds go. Over here,” I say, swinging to the left next to where we’re standing, “is what we call 4-6 land where all the other kids like you get set up with teachers.
“When a class is full, they’ll take you outside and then you get to have all sorts of fun skiing!”
Shelly isn’t smiling. Her eyes are starting to well up again as she sniffles. I grab another tissue and hold it to her nose. She blows.
“Do you think you’re ready to get your gear and try skiing?”
“I want my daddy,” she whines, a tear rolling down her cheek. With my thumb, I wipe it off and look into her eyes.
“Your daddy is off skiing right now, but I’m going to stay with you the whole way, ok?”
She nods and hugs me a little tighter.
I collect her things from the top of cubby. With Shelly tucked under one arm and the pile of accessories under the other, I take a deep breath and wade into the melee.
It’s rare that a child isn’t excited to ski. With the little ones, there’s sometimes separation anxiety or nerves, but once they’re on snow, it’s like a light goes off behind their eyes. Some never make it past the Sunkid, our uber-beginner area with a conveyor belt lift we call a magic carpet. Others make it up a chair lift in a single class. Most, at the very least, make it to lunch time and gain a newfound joy on snow.
When I come in for lunch, Shelly’s installed in the TLC Center, a table in the Children’s Center reserved for kids who won’t or can’t ski anymore. It’s a cold day, and with the violent air currents causing balance to waver, it’s no surprise she’s among the small collection of sick, tired, and cold kids. Unlike most of the others, she’s smiling and laughing as she plays with crayons and coloring books.
She leaps from the table and runs up to me, grasping my leg in her tiny arms and beaming.
“Hi!” she barks, her eyes glowing with happiness and recognition.
“Hi!” I say back, smiling and matching her enthusiasm. She can’t see the sadness on the inside, and I’m glad.
This morning, I had spent every moment of her trip through the Children’s Center with her. I found her the right sized boots, made sure they fit right, carried her through the lines, held her hand as she met the other kids in her class. I took special care to walk her out with her class and turn her over to Dave, carrying her skis the whole way. And yet here she is, snow pants off, ski boots gone, eyes glowing with happiness at being inside and warm.
I glance back at my class, a collection of older kids who have been playing on the EZ lift. All of them are enthused about skiing, every one of them happy to be shooting down greens, through Fun Gully and trees, learning without realizing they’re learning.
Shelly won’t get to ski any of that. She probably wouldn’t have today anyway. Teaching the little ones to ski is more about encouraging their love of the sport than actually getting them up on the bigger stuff. The Eldorables program, especially tailored for 4-6 year-olds, gives them five two-hour classes, which, if the instructor is good and a little lucky, can get a first time skier up the lift by the last day.
Shelly’s hand wraps around two of my fingers and she swings it playfully.
“How’s your day?” I ask, waggling my eyes.
“Good,” she giggles.
“Are you having fun?”
“Good!” I say emphatically.
It’s as honest as I can be. I’m glad she’s having fun. Hopefully next time it’ll be fun skiing.
Sick Day »