It's awesome having smart kids. Knowing that the curriculum is well withing their grasp, I have no problem regularly taking them out of school to enjoy other activities. Today, for example, was a glorious day for snowboarding at Horseshoe Valley Resort - bright, sunny, lots of groomed corn snow - so I signed Jack out of Marchmont Public School at first recess.
"Does Jack have an appointment with a doctor?" asked the receptionist.
"Nope. But he has an appointment with a lift attendent" I replied.
Much to her credit, she broke into a broad smile and wished us a fabulous day :)
After picking up some pizza, Jack and I headed for the hill, with Hollywood Undead blasting from his iPod to my truck's BlueTooth (the first clue that I am not the strictest parent around). Pulling into the resort, we were thrilled to see a half empty parking lot and no lines at the lifts.
"This is going to be an epic day!" predicted Jack.
He chattered like an auctioneer on amphetamines all the way up the chairlift. Since we'd last boarded together, Jack had apparently mastered several new tricks in the terrain park and he was eager to show them off. Jack has been skiing since he was two, and snowboarding the last five seasons. Yet, last year he still seemed to me like a little kid just out there having fun. This season, though, he'd decided to kick out the jams.
Jack gets to the hill 3 or 4 times a week, usually once with me. The other times he's with his intrepid pals Max, Pierson, Conor and Mason. As tween boys are so great at doing, they each push one another to go a bit faster, higher, further, harder. And when they're not on the hill, they're watching videos showcasing the most extreme boarding imaginable. I love it! I eat that shit up, and am eager for Jack to develop skills far surpassing mine.
Still, I find myself a bit nerve-wracked as his jumps get bigger and, inherently, more dangerous. Twice, while living in Whistler in the 90's, I was taken off Blackcomb Mountain on a spinal board, so my risk threshold has diminished significantly. Until now, Jack had incurred nothing worse than a sprained wrist so he is still pretty fearless. Thus, we exited the chair and headed straight for the fun stuff.
The park was closed temporarily, but we were assured it would reopen by the time we got back up the hill. No worries, we had all day! So, I hit the halfpipe and Jack nailed some practice rails in the "progression park" and we met up at the bottom. Now loosened up, we were both eager to make this, the last day of our season, memorable. With the hills practically to ourselves, we skied right back onto the lift.
Bingo! Park was re-opened. Jack blew through the gate and went straight for the first rail. I couldn't believe how fast he approached it, blasting off the approach ramp and landing halfway down the steel in a nose ride. He landed it smoothly and turned into the next trick. It was a multi-step box that looked a lot like this ...
... and that was very much how Jack came into it. Airborne until about halfway down. I hadn't seen him attack the rails with this much confidence before and I was blown away.
Unfortunately for Jack, though, this landing did not go as smoothly. As soon as his board hit the rail it slid out from under him and he went face first into the ground. No chance of his wrists being sprained this time - his nose took the brunt of the impact.
In fact, IT looked a lot like this :( ...
I saw the whole thing. Especially the bounce. Of his face. Off the hardpack. Ouch.
"I'm okay" he reported - much too quickly. But he didn't get up. Obviously shaken, he stayed on his knees with his face in his hands. That is why I didn't see the damage right away.
But as soon as he looked up I knew it wasn't good. His nose spread from cheek to cheek and was an open faucet of red. As he looked down at his blood-soaked gloves, the disappointment set in. I don't know if he was more concerned about this being the end of the day or that his handsome face may not be quite the same. I think if you ask Jack he will just say - "Dude. I had just smashed my face into the ground and was bleeding like I'd been hit with an axe. That's why I may have looked a little perturbed!"
There was a sprawling puddle on the once-white snow, and other boarders kept whizzing by, unaware that we were stopped just below the jump, so he used his toque to clamp down on his pulsing probiscus and we started walking down the hill. Only a few steps in we were intercepted by the ski patrol, who'd been alerted to his injury.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't the Waite boys!"
Our first responder was my old friend Dave Lauer. He is a bit of a rock star - firefighter, waterskier, ski racer - and last time I'd seen him we were jumping out of a plane together last summer at 13,000 feet. He also has a great sense of humour.
By now, Jack's face was an absolute mess. There was blood from chin to cheekbones. His eyes were starting to swell. Obviously Dave had recognized me and done some forensic genealogy to ID the lad to whom he would be tending. I asked Jack if I could take a picture but he did not think that was a good idea at all. So you will have to take my word for it. He looked like crap!
Unphased, Dave and his partner were absolute professionals. Putting Jack at ease with their friendly manner and evident experience, they ran the requisite tests for spinal injuries and concussion. Satisfied that the damage was limited to Jack's visage, they plunked him on the back of the snowmobile and the partner drove him to the medical station. Dave and I took the lift back up to ski over to join them. As we chatted, it occurred to me that I was neither upset nor worried. Jack would be fine. He'd broken his nose. Not the end of the world. In fact, the emotion I was most aware of was pride. But in what?
By the time we arrived at the "alpine emerg", Jack had wiped up most of the blood. Now I could see the gash across the bridge of his nose, cut and bruised. He was still quite swollen too, with his nostrils about twice as wide as normal. There was a nasty scrape all across the one side that looked angry and sore, and another gash across the bottom. His eyes were starting to go black.
As we drove into town, Jack's spirits had improved noticeably. He kept checking himself out in the vanity mirror. He posted a Facebook status: "So I just broke my nose.... It was a great second run :P". Again, I was aware of feeling immensely proud of him.
What was I proud of? Obviously I don't enjoy my kids getting injured. But I do very much admire their willingness to risk injury. To "go for it". Jack's big air on his snowboard. Katy's aggression in wrestling. Their unique personal styles. Their daring senses of humour.
When you go for it, sometimes bad stuff happens. Noses break (both of my kids have now broken theirs). Wrists sprain. People laugh at you. Or worse.
But when you don't go for it, nothing happens. Which is a much greater tragedy.
So, that is why I am very proud of Jack for breaking his nose today, and prouder still of his already looking forward to next season when he can hit the same rail again.
"Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you'll regret the things you didn't do more than the ones you did."
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.