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Ski Patrol

Originally posted on BabyCenter.com  04/11/07

Zadie (my dad) plans a family ski vacation every spring. This year’s destination, Park City, Utah as it has been for the past four or five years. Absent in ’05 and ’06, due to the fact that ski trips and infants/toddlers don’t mix well, this marked the end of my longest stint away from the slopes since the age of fourteen when I first started skiing. I was dying to get back to the mountains. Skiing is therapeutic; speeding downhill from the top of a picturesque mountain, the only immediate concern is concentrating on each and every turn to find the best path.

The first and only mountain vacation for Kim was back in 2000, a scenic trip to Sun Valley Idaho’s Bald Mountain. By nature Kim is a beach bum and dislikes cold weather, but she trudged along with an open mind. Her first day she had a ski lesson on the beginner hill, she learned how to turn and stop, so I figured she could handle the easiest green run on the second day. I was wrong. We rode up two different quad-chair lifts to the summit, around 9000 feet and started down a gentle green ‘slow zone’ run. Right at the start of our slothful decent, Kim face-planted, going down harder than a giant sack of Idaho spuds and twisted her knee in the process. Quickly I slid over to her and I knew there was only one way she was going to get down the mountain. I drove her skis into the snow creating an upright criss-cross to alert ski patrol and within minutes Kim was assessed then carefully placed inside a safety sled. The ski patrol guy swiftly towed her down the remainder of the mountain, I skied close behind. She was finished skiing that day and perhaps forever. At the base lodge she found a soft arm chair and propped her twisted knee up near a raging fire where it was warm and relaxing.

I really wanted to go skiing this year. Kim did not. Hailey is still a bit too reckless for a trip to the mountains however Olivia is at the perfect age to learn how to ski. So, with Kim’s consent, I booked a flight for Olivia and me, planning a five night stay from Wednesday to the following Monday.

We flew Delta. I hate Delta. No pre boarding. No pre boarding? No wings for kids. Aside from that, I had called Delta’s customer service right after I purchased the tickets to find out if Olivia needed a seat restraint and the representative told me that she would need one. I was confused because I have heard different things about flying with children from other parents. I even looked the subject up on FAA’s website which was more confusing. Under two years (lap babies) no ticket required, over forty-four pounds no restraint necessary, between twenty and forty-four pounds was this grey area which I assumed would be left up to the airline to determine. So, at ten-thirty the night before the trip, Kim called Delta once again, (I was still packing) and the customer service rep told her that Olivia would not need a seat restraint.

Olivia has been on an airplane once before when she was ten months old, so flying was sort of a new experience for her. I could tell she was anxious to fly when she exclaimed “got to hurry dad” as I was forced to open my luggage and transfer three pounds of weight from one bag to another at the curbside check. She skipped along next to me through the busy airport rolling her princess backpack-carryon. She got a bit antsy waiting in the long line at the security check. “Why do we have to take our shoes off?” she asked. I told her that it was so all the travelers would feel safer and she gave me her confused ‘we’ll talk about that later’ look and I was glad she didn’t question the tight security any further. She was so excited when we got to the gate. I said, “Look there’s our plane.” She rushed to the window and pressed her face flat against the glass to see it.

Since there was no pre-boarding, Olivia and I waited until all the other passengers boarded. I figured, why rush to confine her to a seat for the three hour flight? We waited until the final boarding call was made to disembark. As we were walking through the jetway it started to shutter and then recoiled a bit away from the entrance to the airplane. It scared Olivia and she jumped into my arms, “I don’t want to go! I don’t want to get on the plane! I want to go home!”

I calmed her as best I could inside the jetway which bounced back to the entrance of the plane. “You’re scared and that’s ok sweetie.” I said something like that, “I always touch the side of the plane for good luck sweetie, try that it will make you feel better.” That statement was accurate because it is my personal preflight superstition. I place my palm on the outside of the plane as I enter. A connection between me and an uncertain faith in technology. By this time the characteristically pretty but unfriendly attendant was giving us the eye. I slowly proceeded through the entrance of the plane lugging my backpack, her backpack, my laptop and Olivia who was balling so loudly that the passengers at the back of the eighty-seat airplane were giving me sympathy looks. As we turned down the isle ready to make our way to the seats Olivia screamed, “Wait! I want to touch the plane!” And she did, just before the evil-eye stewardess closed the hatch.

After that, Olivia was great and enjoyed the flight without any complaints. A steady stream of lolly-pops, cherry licorice, computer games, markers, crayons, books and movies on my laptop kept her busy. “Look dad, everything is getting bigger again,” she said as we approached for a landing.

We took a forty-five minute shuttle ride from the airport to the lodge. Olivia’s first shuttle bus. She enjoyed the freedom of a booster seat rather than the five-point harness car seat. I was hoping she would take a little siesta during the shuttle however she was entranced by the mountain scenery and occupied in devouring half a pound of cherry licorice.

Zadie, my older brother Joe, his kids Nathan (sixteen) and Shaina (thirteen) flew in the day previous to our arrival. When we got to the lodge they were out skiing, so Olivia and I took a quick nap, the last nap for the remainder of the vacation.

Later that afternoon we took a bus from the lodge to Park City’s historic Main Street. Olivia’s first bus ride. She loved the bus, she could jump from seat to seat and she could pull the cord to alert the driver when to stop. Total freedom mixed with control. To Olivia’s delight, we ended up using the bus quite a bit on our vacation. Main Street is charmingly lined with t-shirt shops, art galleries, pro shops, spas and restaurants. I was specifically looking for a powder jacket and new gloves for Olivia which I was unsuccessful in finding. But I did rent some skis and boots for myself as well as a helmet for Olivia.

My older sister Rachel and her husband Alan along with their kids Louis (six) and Sadie (four) arrived late that Wednesday night. Olivia and I were already asleep when they checked in. The next day when we woke up, Olivia was excited to see Sadie and they fused together for the rest of the vacation. That morning we did more shopping and I found Olivia a new jacket and ski pants but no new gloves. She had to squeeze into her old ones which she could care less about. After lunch we went ice skating. Another first for Olivia. Unfortunately, she had some troubles, as I was renting my skates; she attempted to put her skates on by herself. Somehow she flipped over backward falling off the bench that she was sitting on and hit the back of her head hard on the cement floor. She cried for a while, I got her an ice pack, but when Sadie started skating Olivia collected herself and wanted to get on the ice. I had to try a few different skates on her because the figure skates were too narrow and she ended up in hockey skates which are not ideal for learning how to ice skate. She had a hard time just standing up on the ice and after one frustrating trip around the olympic-sized rink she was ready for a break. I got her a little bag of fruit snacks from a vending machine and she watched from the stands. Lou was also having difficulties keeping his feet underneath him and he really got fumed watching Sadie, his little sister, doing exceptionally well. It was also Sadie’s first time on skates and she did amazing, a natural. She was zooming all over the ice pretending to be a Disney Princess on ice. After her snack, Olivia wanted to lace-up her skates and give the ice another go and she did well the second time around. I was so proud of her.

Late Thursday night my other older brother Sam and his youngest daughter Samantha (fifteen) joined the vacation. They didn’t make it in until past midnight and they were up and out the door before anyone even woke up the next morning.

Olivia's First Day Skiing in Park City UtahFinally, on Friday we skied. We signed-up Lou, Sadie and Olivia for ski school. I wanted to make sure Olivia and Sadie got to be in the same class so I lied and said that Olivia was four years old. Actually that turned out to be a good thing because the three year old kids only got to go out skiing once in the morning for an hour as opposed to the four year olds who got to ski twice accumulating almost three hours of ski time. Another first for Olivia, skiing. They all had such a great time at ski school that we signed them up the following day as well.

Later that afternoon we hit the lodge’s outdoor heated pool and hot tub. There were a ton of other kids and parents poolside and some of the kids got a bit wound up running and diving ignoring the clearly painted warnings of no diving and no running. Their parents were oblivious or indifferent on vacation from parenting as well as from their normal lives. So of course Olivia wanted to run and dive too. Some rules are bendable but pool safety is high on my must-be-a-smart-parent list so I had to say something to Olivia about following the rules and this was another first for Olivia, she responded with “well everyone else is doing it.” A mantra I had used many times throughout my own childhood. However I stood firm, “you follow the rules or no swimming.” She tested me and we ended up having to leave the pool.

The two days that I skied, the conditions were abysmal. Mostly slush, the temperature on the mountain was in the fifties and by noon it was like skiing in Elmer’s. I skied like a chump too, taking no real risks, I kept envisioning myself getting hurt, ending up in a body cast and unable to take care of Olivia. So I worked on mechanics and told myself I needed to fine tune my form.

Olivia wanted to go back to ski school a third time. If the ski conditions would have been better I may have let her. But it was our last day of vacation and I wanted to spend the day with her. We ended up driving the Dodge Caravan that Joe rented into Salt Lake to visit the zoo. Rach and Sadie came along too and it ended up being the perfect day to go to a zoo, sunny and in the seventies. Salt Lake’s Hogle zoo is just the right size, we walked it in about three hours and there were plenty of animals to watch. One surprise, a Red Panda, it looked like a cross between a raccoon and a fox with a beautiful fire red coat. The map for the zoo was coherent enough that Olivia could follow it and I was stunned by her ability to conceptualize our movements though the park. She even plotted our course by which animals she and Sadie wanted to see.

The zoo experience ended with an hour long playground romp at Discovery Land, a corner of the zoo dedicated to children. There were a few slick hands-on type things, a bat cave, a snake slide, giant eggs that Olivia and Sadie could hatch from and some other play apparati. It was a great place to parent watch. Unlike local parks where most parents are stereotypically the same, this play area undoubtedly attracted all sorts. I couldn’t help myself from analytically observing other parents. For instance, a morbidly obese father who’s son (five or six) was passionately pretending to be eaten by an alligator sculpture. The boy was screaming and animating himself with exuberance only to be rebuked by his father for being to loud. The large stationary dad, unable to lift himself off the bench he was attached too, yelling from across the playground at his son to be quiet. Another thing I thought was funny; a curvy mom had her daughter on a leash. In itself not hilarious because I seriously considered one of those for Hailey, but this poor little two year old was strapped to her mother inside an enclosed play area while she was actively climbing, running, sliding, the mom being pulled along while holding a conversation on her cell phone. The parent observations were much more intriguing than watching the animals.

We departed early the next morning. Our shuttle picked us up at seven to take us to the airport. Olivia made her way though the airport like a seasoned traveler. I have yet another complaint about Delta. They had everyone board the airplane and then discovered a problem with the lavatories. We sat on the plane for over an hour before the problem was fixed and then it took an additional forty-five minutes to taxi into position for takeoff. The three hour flight turned into five and I only had about four hours worth of activities for Olivia to occupy herself with. She was getting extremely fidgety the last half hour. Pushing all the buttons, playing with the stow-away tray, kicking the seat in front of her standing in her seat staring at the passengers behind us and she kept getting up to use the restroom. Tiny airplane lavatories are definitely not designed for parent-child uses and both bathrooms were completely disgusting even by an old fraternity boy standard. Seriously, these things resembled port-a-potties at a drunken Oktoberfest.

One more spit at Delta, when Olivia’s brand new pink polka-dot bag came off the luggage carrousel I noticed that one of the plastic pieces which aligns the pull-along handle had been severed; now the bag wobbles and rolls lopsided.

The night we got home Olivia was completely exhausted and she fell asleep before eight o’clock in her bedroom on the hardwood floor. It took her a couple days to catch-up on the lack of sleep during our trip. Coincidently, the insufficient rest had manifested itself while we were in Park City in the shape of night terrors. Thankfully, the midnight screaming, sobbing and convulsing disappeared once we got home.

Olivia had an adventuresome trip chocked full with many first time experiences. There was one big first time for me as well and that was traveling solo with a child in tow. Transforming me from nonchalant explorer into must bring the wipes into the airplane lavatory and scour it clean. Changing me from ‘Uncle Hocky has a Death Wish’ a song my nieces and nephew made up years ago regarding my audacious skiing style, into better not go down that blue (intermediate) run, may get hurt. The other big first for me was being away from Hailey for more than a day. I missed Hailey and Kim. The entire time we were in Park City I felt that something was missing and even while preoccupied with all the fun and exciting activities it was not enough to fill that emptiness.

Zoo Animals

Originally posted on BabyCenter.com 01/10/07

Olivia and Hailey split off in opposite directions from the penguin house ignoring my calls leaving me holding the backpack, the juice bottles and the snack bag. Olivia headed toward the grizzly bear pit and Hailey ran for the Zoo-line railroad crossing. I wasn’t sure who to go after first. Screaming, “Stop! Come back here now!” had no effect on either of them. I chased down Hailey, yanked her off the tracks, dragged her a hundred yards or so, over to the grizzlies and pulled Olivia off the protective fence. “If you two can’t listen to me we are leaving the zoo. Do you understand me? This is your warning, no running away from daddy or it’s bye-bye zoo!”

“Daddy, daddy, the grizzly bears are waking up.” Olivia has mastered diversion. Sure enough the two beastly bears had popped-up from slumber and were tuned into my scolding. There were no people around, yet I still felt a twinge of embarrassment, the two massive grizzlies were watching me, judging my parenting abilities. I saw them roll their eyes, shake their big bear heads in dismissal and snooted amongst themselves.

Olivia climbs the perfect for climbing but “no climbing” cliff facade outside the Penguin and Puffin Visitor Center.

Rewind about twenty-five minutes: Olivia and Hailey were climbing the perfect for climbing but ‘no climbing’ cliff facade outside the penguin house. What was I doing? “Say pinguino cheese.” Encouraging them, snapping away on the digital camera. I was getting some great shots and that seemed more important at the moment than teaching rules of conduct in public places.

We were practically the only guests at the zoo on an unseasonably warm day and had the penguin exhibit all to ourselves until an unkempt mother of two polished boys sauntered up in a side-by-side. The boys were probably about the same ages as Olivia and Hailey and were strapped tightly into their stroller. I sent the mom a friendly smile, she looked at my girls who were carelessly clambering around infected by some bizarre animal spirit and she sent me back a raised eyebrow. Her little boys contractually started squirming in their seats wanting to join in the fun. Sloppy mom sensed the bestial pandemic and quickly sped off with two displeased boys.

When not scaling the penguin coast, Olivia and Hailey were running up and down the wide entry ramp which wraps around a glacier splash-pool and leads into the Penguin and Puffin Visitor Center. For about twenty minutes they ran unrestrained, up and down the incline, over and over again. Hailey would hug and Hailey kisses a life sized Humboldt Penguin statuekiss a life sized Humboldt Penguin statue at the bottom of the ramp after every trip. If that statue had feelings, I’m positive it felt violated in some way. At the top of the gentle slope Olivia kept deliberately stepping into sensor range of the automatic entry and when the frosted glass doors slid open she would dingdong-dash back down the glacis. She tested the sensor’s invisible boundary a dozen or so times. Bedeviled by phantom visitors a young pimple-faced zoo keeper bolted out from the interior of the penguin house, he quickly figured out what was going on and shot me a snide ‘this isn’t a public playground’ look. I shrugged my shoulders implying that I wasn’t going to do anything to stop my girls and the lanky attendant went back inside without saying a word.

Back to the bears: We had a good conversation with the massive grizzlies; sounds strange, but maybe they were lonely that day and when I shouted across the pitch, “Hi grizzlies!” both bears lazily raised their heads and sniffed at the air in our direction. I excitedly announced to Olivia and Hailey that they were listening. So I asked the bears, “You guys tired?” and one of them let out a big bear yawn. “You guys bored?” One of them sniffed at us again which kind of looked like a head bob. I asked Olivia and Hailey if they wanted to say something to the grizzlies. Hailey enthusiastically yelled out “Hi grizzies!” and Olivia shyly hid behind me. We watched the grizzlies for several minutes although I’m not sure who was watching who.

At some point during the surreal bear whispering, the big grizzlies made me realize that I have become one of those dads. The kind of dad who nonchalantly lets his kids run amuck acting in a sociably unacceptable manner without any guidance or reprisal for disturbing the peace. Not the unkempt mother, not the young zoo keeper, it was the grizzlies that brought me to understand; I have been enabling my kids to be rule breakers.

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