If I knew you well, I might have interrupted you filming your child ski racing the other day. But you were pretty intense and there was a crowd, and I certainly didn’t want to cause a scene at the base of beautiful mountain where so many children were being brave. Being my friend means one never knows when something someone says might pop up in something I write, and I can give them credit for their inspiration. But, the problem is when I write about people I don’t know– or whom I know will never read what I write, when I really, very much want them to, so they might recognize their own voice, and realize what a jackass they sound like from where I am standing. The chance of you reading this and hearing your own voice is minimal, but I’m going to do it anyway. Kudos to those countless other parent support squads, ringing cowbells and cheering those courageous ski racers on, the only race day responsibility truly required of us– besides handwarmers, hot cocoa, and sharp skis.
There we were standing about six feet apart watching children race in a Northern Qualifier at Cannon Mountain on a cold January day. Three years ago, I wrote a different piece entitled Dear Ski Race Mom, when my daughter, then 7, stood next to me as we watched her brother ski race at Loon, our home mountain. On that day, she heard a mom tell her daughter she would never be able to beat her friend because she was a “ski academy kid.” What we say in front of kids leaves an impression, and you certainly made one on mine. The bummer is that my daughter, now 10, was sitting on my lap as we listened to you film yours, saying, “too late around the gate…too late, too late, too late” over and over until at last your daughter flew through the finish line, and you stopped recording. Perhaps when you play it back for her, you will mute the volume. We can only hope. Perhaps you were completely unaware you were talking while filming. I do this some times when I’m driving or cleaning– I think my thoughts aloud outside my head. I only hope that your girl never hears what you said, but my girl sure did.
I was unable to see if you hugged your girl after her race on this frigid day, the sun unable to slice through single digit temps. Maybe she asked for a hot cocoa; maybe she wanted to check live timing or watch the video of her run right away. Maybe she had already known she was late around the gate– and did not need you to inform her of this observation. Maybe she wants those next steps like a ski academy or the Olympics or even to race in college, and your words don’t bother her. Here is what I do know, though, in those moments. Your daughter has been doing this long enough to have an intuitive sense of her own skiing and performance. She also has very qualified coaches to do the actual coaching. I’m not sure why some parents find this part of parenting so difficult to grasp, and perhaps, ultimately, it is blessing that I know very little about ski racing. Your job is to ring the damn bell and cheer her name no matter what happens between the start and the finish and when you get in the car to drive home.
Do you know that February 2, 2022 is the National Girls and Women in Sport Day ? You likely spend a lot of money on good equipment, the right gear, tuning her skis to be racer ready every day, but, trust me when I tell you, none of that matters if she doesn’t believe in herself. I’m a high school English teacher, and I believe whole-heartedly in teachable moments. So here is today’s lesson, in language I would never use in my own classroom: You likely mean well, but when children, especially girls, don’t feel like they are enough, even for their own parents…this is the real shit that fucks them up, and sadly it can fuck them up for LIFE. Parents or that one trusted adult being overly critical in childhood is what sets them up for being treated less fairly in relationships– for tolerating, sometimes as normal or deserved, verbal, physical, even sexual abuse by boyfriends or partners– to settle for less than they are valued in the work place– to accept that their worthiness is built upon what others think of them and not, more importantly, what they think of themselves.
Sir, you can do better, and we expect you to. By we, I mean, me, my daughter, and yours. Even if she doesn’t realize that yet. Ring the bell and cheer her name; leave the coaching to the coaches.
(proud season pass holder of Loon Mountain and equally proud parent of the Loon Race Team)