Going on family road trips is easy when the kids are little. You strap them into their car seats. Head off on your adventure. Make emergency adjustments if needed. Take lots of pictures. And retell your (heavily edited) version when they get older, since they cannot remember a thing.
As the children mature it gets a bit trickier. They want to have a say. They make known their preferences regarding activities. They are too big to sling over your shoulder and haul to what they have deemed a “non-preferred” outing. And if anything goes wrong, they never let you forget it.
My husband, Brian, and I moved our family from Southern California to Syracuse almost six years ago. We promised ourselves we would embrace the change of seasons. The biggest season of all being, of course, winter.
With this in mind, one of our annual treks is a February weekend in the Adirondacks. We have found a rental property in Blue Mountain Lake that is reasonably priced and close to all types of free outdoor fun.
Brian and my 9-year-old-son Jason enjoy the outdoors. They can turn anything into a father-son competition. Who can snowboard down the hill the fastest. Who can skate around the rink the quickest. Who can cross country ski to the end of the trail first. Snow just adds another challenge to the contest, making it more fun when you win.
The only damper on this family-bonding weekend is cold-weather activities are not my 14-year-old daughter Amanda’s cup of tea. Ice skating, sledding, cross-country skiing—all way out of her comfort zone.
This does not deter me in the least. I figure this is another challenge that will eventually lead to growth and shared learning. We have approached much of Amanda’s medical issues and her having Down syndrome in that way and it has worked, so why change now?
I always have visions of the two of us putting on our cross-country skis and waving happily to Brian and Jason as they head to the lift with their snowboards. Then she and I go off to the trails for high adventure, mother-daughter joy and much exercise.
The reality is I get more exercise and produce more sweat just trying to get her to let me put her boots into the bindings on her skis. Just when I almost have the pins lined up on her boot, she will flinch. And, yes, she does it on purpose.
There is good news. During our last two ski attempts, she had at least a little fun. Keeping this in mind, I once again persuaded her to give it a try last February. After Brian and Jason ventured to the cross-country ski trail across the street, I hauled her tushy outdoors and became only mildly dewy as I wedged her feet in place. Amanda and I stood there for about five minutes congratulating her on the fact that she was in her skis. We then proceeded toward the trail we knew the boys had taken.
And then she saw the hill. The incline was minimal, but it posed a challenge because she had only done flat so far. She looked at the hill, glanced back at me, looked again, and yelled “No, Mom!” while shaking her head. I can’t say I blamed her.
I stood in my skis, staring at the tracks left by Brian and Jason that led up and over the crest. I weighed the possible thrill of success with the hill against the amount of frustration I would go through in the attempt. I was pretty sure I would end up on the raw end of the deal.
Just then a trail groomer on a snowmobile appeared at the top of the daunting ridge and headed toward us. We shuffled off the trail as he motored by. I watched him disappear around the bend, and, lo and behold, it was flat that way. And now there was a path of freshly groomed snow.
“Let’s follow the dude on the sled!” I said to Amanda. She contemplated. She knew Daddy went the other way. She would rather go anywhere with Daddy than with me. But she also could see the hill.
I slid past her, yelled “Come on!”, and proceeded slowly along the nice, flat trail. I skied about 20 yards and waited.
I wish I could have read all the thought bubbles that formed over her head. “I don’t want to go that way. Daddy went the other way.” “But it is flat the way Mommy went. Flat is good!” “I hate Mommy for making me do this!” “Daddy wouldn’t make me keep going!” “I hate these stupid skis!” “It is cold out here and my nose is running!” “Why can’t we just stay inside and watch the Disney Channel?” “Hannah Montana never has to go skiing, why do I?” “I am hungry.” “Stupid, stupid skis!”
I paused, making skiing motions with my arms but not really going anywhere, and glanced back. She had her poles in her hands and was gradually moving forward. I hurried to face forward and kept going. Maybe about 10 yards farther I sneaked a peek, and she was actually sort of skiing. I kept my pretend arm movements going while letting her catch up.
While I waited, I considered my surroundings. It was absolutely soundless, other than the scraping of the skis on the snow. The trees were dusted with snow. The trail was perfectly white. The sky was a bit cloudy but in a wispy, painted way. It was perfect.
I turned back to check on Amanda. She was standing right behind me. “Hey!” I said, “You are skiing!” She looked up at me with a true smile on her face and said, “Yes, I am! It’s awesome!” (Honestly, that is what she said.) We looked at each other and grinned. Then we looked at the world before us. This was not a vacation moment I would have to alter, ever.
Deborah Cavanagh lives in Manlius with her husband and two children. She has written for local organizations supporting children and adults with special needs and publishes the blog momofmanyneeds.com.
Picture above: © Anders Lundstedt | Dreamstime.com