The fog is thicker as we drop in elevation. I sit down on the snow to fix her goggles; I admire her: rosy lips, white-blond hair coming out from under her ski helmet, excited eyes, a smile that sends butterflies through my heart. I’m kneeling down in front of my three-year-old as people ski and snowboard by. They smile down at us, and it’s sweet. I am a mom snowboarding alongside my little girl and I feel like a rock star. I couldn’t be prouder of myself and my baby. I want people to see me like this. We set off.
“Bayu,” I say for the twentieth time, “make turns.” I tell her this so that she doesn’t go straight down, picking up speed, with no way to stop. I’m watching her and not paying attention to what I’m doing. I catch an edge, fall back on my butt, bang my head on the ice, hear my neck crack. I roll over, and try to find her. The fog is thick and I can’t see ten feet in front of me. I head down with my scattered vertebra. I imagine Bayu getting lost, unable to find me through the fog. There is a little girl out there, without a parent around her. The tightness in my chest and racing heart subside when I see her waiting fearlessly at the next summit for me.
“Mommy, are you okay? I saw you fall.”
“Yes, love, yes. Please go slower. Make more turns.”
We get to the last part of the descent, the steep part, the part that makes me doubt the safety of my direction. I am scared. Should I just pick her up? I know her teachers take her down this, but I am terrified. The teachers are on skis and they are able to hold onto her if they need to. I get in front of her and tell her to make turns, lots of turns. There are trees on either side. I think about just carrying her down. I’m on the edge of my board, pointing her horizontally across the mountain. It’s too icy, and the fog is dense; I’m angry that I’m in this position. I try to blame it on my husband, Greg, but I know it’s not his fault: I agreed to take her to the base. In my effort to get in front of her and completely control her descent, my edge catches. I fall backwards, hitting my tailbone on the ice, then my head. I wonder if I can move. I manage to flip over and see Bayu out of control, unable to stop, sliding like a piece of ice, over the moguls, going faster and faster, now out-of-bounds. I hear myself screaming, “No no no no!” There are large, frozen snowdrifts on the side of the trail that her body bounces off of. No longer on her feet, she goes headfirst into the next hard-packed off-piste clump. I unclick my board and scramble across, to see her legs in an impossible position. I don’t see her moving and I hear myself say, “Please God, please God.” I pull her head out of the snow, and I spot her tears, which are gold pouring into my heart. She’s alive.
Early that morning we sat in the lodge having coffee while we waited for the lifts to open. My husband, Greg, and I negotiated with Bayu and Judah, our six-year-old son, over how much sugar they could take in for the morning. Bayu’s wearing a neck/head warmer that makes her look like a bank robber. Greg and I share smiles as we admire our children dressed in their masks, helmets, and heavy boots. They are impossibly cute. This feels like family time that is nourishing, active, and challenging in all the right ways, and I know that both Greg and I are full to the brim with a sense of accomplishment and pride in this moment.
We sit tight high above the slope, our little family in the brisk, cold, diamond-flecked air, and I say, “This is the highlight of my year.”
Smiles all around, except Judah is saying, “Mom, stop helping me or I’m not going with you anymore.” Judah trains with professionals for three hours a day, five days a week; he is a black-diamond skier. He has been begging Greg and me to try out for the racing team. I can’t believe that he came from me.
My little girl is a bright sunshine with emerald eyes that stare lovingly into my soul. She is the kind of brave that will try things without any prior understanding of the task, which could improve the outcome and make it safer. I know that she has a habit of heading straight down the hill. Her teachers seem to be able to make her turn, and not pick up as much speed. They have her flagged as a blue-run skier, which is intermediate. This is maybe my fourth time to go with her, and I am shocked and scared by her speed and fearlessness. Her little legs start shaking at the high speed she is gaining as she flies down the hill. “Make turns, Bayu,” Greg says, and she does. Judah smiles in wonder and excitement.
“Wow, Mom, Bayu’s really fast.”
Our little family is successfully managing down the slope, so Greg is confident that we can split up. I am supposed to take Bayu down to the lodge, while Greg and Judah go cat-skiing. I haven’t been alone with Bayu because I am a snowboarder. It’s a little harder for me to help her on cat tracks or hold her hand at times like Greg does. But it seems like I will be fine taking her down the last leg of the run. I’ll just follow her.
I stared at her limp body, and the pride I was feeling as a mother just moments ago was flipped on its face. I became the target of my hate and disparagement. You are an awful mother,I say to myself. This perfect creature has been put in your care, and you aren’t worthy; you aren’t good enough to be her mother. She deserves much better than you. Did my desire to have a young family of skiers put my daughter in danger, and almost get her killed?
I pick her up like a momma cat by her back, relieved by her tears. I still don’t know if anything is broken. I find strength that I don’t normally have and hold her under one arm—ski boots, helmet and all—snowboard under the other, and I hike her out and down the hill.
Her lips are blue. That effervescent smile isn’t there. “I’m sorry, Bayu. That was Mommy’s fault. Will you forgive me?” She turns her head away from me.
I make it down to the base with her, where I lay her down in the snow and check her body. I don’t think she has any breaks. “Bayu, I’m sorry.” She turns her face from me. She doesn’t want to look at me.
Finally, she glances at me with her defeated eyes and blue lips. She says, “I never want to ski again.”
Hearing these words, I don’t want to ski ever again, slid into me like a knife. I have battled fear my whole life. I want to protect my kids from accidents, from anything that could ever make them second-guess themselves, their talent, their growing into the best versions of themselves.
We sit inside the lodge. I don’t allow a lot of sugar because I think it brings depression, bad behavior, and so on. “Can we please get a Shirley Temple with a cherry on top?” I ask the waiter. I will do anything to raise her spirits. Her sadness is bringing me down into the depths of self-doubt. Looking into the eyes of my defeated little girl and feeling that it was my responsibility is painfully sobering.
I put on the label of unworthy, dangerous, and irresponsible parent, and wore it all night, rendering myself useless to my family. Then I said to myself: I should not have taken her down that hill. I wasn’t comfortable doing it. I should have listened to myself. But in order to move forward as a mother, I am going to have to watch my child’s heart break and I can’t fear that they will be like me. I am her mother. I was chosen for this job, this gift. I will make mistakes and they will get hurt. But I am going to call upon my best self for the job, and in order to do that I will forgive myself, and start over tomorrow.
Natalie King is a native to the San Juan Islands in the pacific northwest. She is raising two small children with her husband Greg. They spend the weekends boating around the the puget sound, pulling crab pots, and collecting shells from the shore. Natalie has a degree in philosophy, she is a professional actor, and she makes a mean apple pie (she won best apple pie award at the county fair). When the kids are in school she writes, reads and folds heaps of laundry. Every Thursday Natalie presents new material on her YouTube channel called, NATALIE KING LIT. Her work has been published by GNU Journal, Penmen Review, Punctuate, and Carbon Culture Review.