Miracle… on Snow

The kids have been asking for snowboarding lessons. Even Babyboy, who has no interest in most physical activities, and can’t yet swim, nor ride a bike…

Well, he does like hiking, and also trampoline jumping, but not for any length of time… We had gone hiking back in in December. It had been an unseasonably warm day and the hiking trail was dry. But right next to the trail was the ski slope, and the ski recreation area folks had made snow, lots and lots of snow. As we ambled and scrambled up, we could spy skiers and snowboarders swooshing and whooping their way down.

“I want to do that too, mom! Can we go?” begged Babyboy.

“Yeah, me too, mom! Me too!” piped in Babygirl.

I explained that one needed equipment, lessons, a ski pass, and alot of practice first. “It’s kind of a big deal to go skiing or snowboarding, hon, and neither Daddy nor I really knows how, either.” Hubby and I cross-country ski, or we used to, before kids.

Babyboy persisted: “But I want to learn, mom. When can we go?”

I figured he’d forget. I’m ashamed to admit I had my doubts about Babyboy’s ability to snowboard… or even tolerate a lesson, which was sure to involve alot of falling and frustration. His balance is poor, low muscle tone, alot of tripping and falling… I didn’t want to set him up to fail, in the cold, and after spending alot of money. So I kind of let it slide.

But he didn’t.

The few times it snowed in December and January, the kids went sledding, and he’d try to “snowboard” on the sled. He managed to stay up for a short run or two, and loved it.

He kept asking to go.

So here it is February, and I realized, if we don’t do something about this now, we’ll end up having to wait for next year.

So last week I got online, created an account, entered all of the kids’ info, and committed via Visa for one “Polar Cubs” group lesson for Babygirl, and a private lesson for Babyboy this past Sunday afternoon.

We’d never been there before and had no idea what the deal was, so we showed up an hour early, and thank God we did.

The place was madhouse. No parking– Hubby had to drop us off with all our snow clothes, find a spot and then meet back up with us. The “lodge” was crazy crowded, loud, and confusing. There were multiple long chaotic lines for everything: the slope pass, the boots, the boards, the helmets, the lesson check-in…

Babyboy was overwhelmed. Miserable, tortured even, he held his head in his hands and occasionally sank to the floor wailing. People stared.

At the boots counter, the very nice lady handed me Babyboy’s size boots and asked me to have him try them on, right there. But the boots were stiff, and there was jostling, and he just couldn’t manage it. “They’re too tight! They’re too tight! I can’t get them on! Just let me wear my own boots, mom. Tell them I’ll wear my own boots!” He cried, kicking the rentals away.

I grabbed the boots and him and figured we’d make our way to a little bench and get them on where we had more space. But we still had to get through more rental lines…

The poor kid was just at his limit. In the helmet line he collapsed to the floor and refused to budge, howling, protesting… But never saying that he wanted to go home.

“Just let’s go outside, tell them I’ll wear my own boots, I just want to go snowboarding now! No more lines, let’s just go!”

I got down on his level and begged: “Just get through this one last line so they can make sure the helmet fits right, okay? Hang in there hon, we’ll get out of here soon…” I was hopeful that he hadn’t yet asked to give the whole thing up.

I had originally thought that we’d have lots of extra time before the actual lesson, and the kids would have a snack to fortify them through 75-minutes of physical activity.

But there was no time, and we were rushing to get them where they needed to be. They hadn’t had a snack, or a drink, and both of them were totally freaked out by the whole process.

And I could not get Babyboy to put the rental boots on. We’d all had it with the lodge, so Hubby took Babygirl off to her lesson and I took Babyboy to his. Once at the meeting point, he plopped down on the snow and declared “I’m hungry, mom. Really hungry. I can’t do it, I need something to eat…” and he was probably right, as it has been a few hours, and when he crashes, he really crashes.

I grabbed the closest person wearing the fire engine red jacket and holding a walkie-talkie, presumably a ski patrol guy, and (kind of desperately) explained the situation: “Listen, my kid is melting down, he really needs a snack before he goes out there, can I leave him here at the meeting spot and run and get him a granola bar or something?” I was worried that he would say no, and there was NO WAY I was going to take Babyboy with me into the crowded, loud, hot cafeteria area.

“Oh, yeah, sure, he can hang with me right here. No problem. That okay, kiddo?” He smiled at Babyboy.

“Oookaay…” came Babyboy’s weak and resigned response.

So I ran. I ran, pushed my way past indecisive customers, snatched granola bars and– something I NEVER buy– ginger ale in a bottle. Babyboy loves ginger ale, which he only gets from us if he’s throwing up or has diarrhea. I figured, it’s comforting and it has sugar. He really needed a sugar boost.

I plopped down a five dollar bill, told the bemused cashier to keep the change, and hustled it back to the slope, where Babyboy had literally not moved from the feet of the instructor guy. Who was not his instructor guy. While we waited for that guy, Babyboy devoured a granola bar and guzzled a bunch of ginger ale.

He immediately and visibly revived. I had renewed hope.

Now, the boots. I tried again to get his regular boots off and the snowboard boots on, but, no. Again with the collapsing and wailing, on the ground, on the snow, everyone staring.

An older ski instructor, a supervisor of sorts (he had a walkie-talkie) came over and bent down. “Everything okay? Someone hurt?” He had kind, smiling, nonjudgmental eyes.

I thought maybe he would understand, so I blurted out the whole deal: “My son’s on the spectrum, he’s been begging to try snowboarding, but the boots are stiff, and he doesn’t like tight fitting things, and the lodge was a nightmare. I’m not sure we can get past all this, but, I know he really wants to try.” My voice cracked a little at the end, which surprised the both of us.

The kind supervisor guy stared at me for a second, kind of a long second, then jumped into action: “Yes, yes, I see. I’m a special ed teacher during the week. I can help. Let’s get to a bench, and one of our junior instructors can grab the next size boots up. Better a little loose and it gets him onto the board, then not at all, right? Hand me those ones and we’ll switch them out.”

We made our way to a bench on the outskirts of the mayhem. A young instructor was summoned to switch the boots, while this guy stayed and chatted with us. He was not only a special ed teacher, but also a seasoned Special Olympics ski coach. I stood there nodding, thinking, We could not possibly have encountered a more perfect person to help us with this. The younger one appeared with larger boots, which slipped on. They were probably too big, but, they were on his feet.

“Okay. Ready to go, buddy? We’re going to help you learn to snowboard, right now. You ready?” Supervisor guy smiled, and Babyboy, shy and hesitant, smiled back.

Supervisor guy gave some instructions to the young instructor, said, “I’ll do this one with you, okay? Just need to pass off this thing first–” he waved the walkie-talkie in the air. Then he turned to me. “Okay, mama, you get to stay slopeside, just in case we need information or reassurance, is that okay?”

I nodded vigorously, and off they went.

In a few minutes they had Babyboy up on the bunny slope and on the snowboard. In another minute he was… snowboarding! Slowly, tentatively, and with the instructor a few inches away, but, snowboarding!

And me, I was that mom sobbing, sobbing I tell you, a complete freaking grateful mess, at the edge of the slope. Supervisor guy– whose name was David, we learned– checked in with me several times, asking things, explaining things. I don’t even remember what, because I was so embarrassed, and my nose kept running, and I had no tissue.

Oh yes, I remember, at one point Babyboy got upset again, because he was sweating, and the helmet was itchy, so they let him take it off. “I’m not worried about head injuries with what he’s doing right now, but if you are, we can see if we can get a different helmet…”

“Naaah,” I waved it off, “He’s fine, let him keep having fun. Thanks.” Sniff. Sob.

A mess, I tell you. But happy, especially because at the end, Babyboy asked if he could go snowboarding again soon.

Babygirl had a wonderful time at her lesson, and also wants to go back. The next time, we’ll gather all the equipment first, now that we know the sizes to get, and the kids won’t enter that busy lodge at all. They’ll feel more comfortable, knowing what to expect. And maybe I won’t be the sobbing mom at slopeside.

*Special thanks to the instructors at Blue Hills Ski Area who went above and beyond to make sure our son had a positive experience, especially David. We’ll be back!



4 thoughts on “Miracle… on Snow”

  • Reading this, I am a MESS right there with you. You have described every ordeal with something new I’ve ever had with my own autistic son. So amazing when people are understanding. And even more amazing when these kiddos make it to the start of something new and enjoy it. I am that sobbing mess, and I do t know if I’ll ever be able to get a grip on my emotions when it comes to him accomplishing what seems to be the impossible. I live for those moments when he surprises me and everyone else.

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