Thank you for all of your kind words and manic cheering for the post that went a little grass-roots crazy Thursday (huge!) and Friday (huge-er!). I’ve never, ever had anything like that happen before. It was amazing.
Many of you mentioned the photo: it was taken exactly 2 years ago at a gas station. It was difficult to see that face popping up on facebook all day- the stray hair bothers me like bad grammar in a church bulletin. It took more out of me to post that photo than to write the essay Wednesday night. But it was exactly right for those words, and now I know why I saved it all this time.
So, what will I do now?
I will do what I have always tried to do: tell you a good story.
This is a big year for my parents: both celebrate birthdays with a zero at the end. Today and Thursday will be tributes to each.
In 1986, I lived three hours from Germany’s Zugspitze. My brother and I learned to ski very young, a perk of being ARMY brats with adventurous (and Lawd knows, patient) parents. We spent every snow-filled weekend and every school vacation on those slopes. By the time this photo was taken, our family was skiing every color run from top to bottom and sometimes, if the snow was exceptional, all the way to our Jeep’s hatchback in the parking lot. I’m guessing I was 9 and Danny was 6 here. Or maybe 10 and 7. That would make Mom 32 or 33.
[I’m realizing that right now I am older than she was in this picture and it’s completely blowing my mind.]
That’s me in the red. People, I was no. joke. Hardcore and way too cool for school. Obviously, posing for a family photo was completely ruining my life. And then there was Danny… goggles up, snow in his eyes, pompom hat, who cares. Happy go lucky. Mom in her classic powder blue one piece. We never had trouble finding Mom on the hill.
See that buckle around my waist? It holds my fanny pack on. Danny’s is hidden under his jacket thus protecting him from direct incrimination, BUT WE ALL HAD THEM. They were packed each morning with tangerines, fun-size snickers, capri suns, and slimjims- treats for the long lift rides to the top of the mountain.
So, ok. I’m ten and I always ride with Dad on the lifts. Danny rides with Mom and they are always behind us. The chairs scoop you up and you swing a bar down over the top of yourself to stay in… and then you dig into your fanny pack for a quick snack on the way up. At the top of the hill, you raise the bar and glide out to the side of the hill while the chair continues around a huge wheel and then back down the line to the bottom… empty.
The day was perfect and sunny against a brilliant blue sky. We were literally on top of the world. This particular double lift dropped you off on the left, which meant Danny and I sat to the left of our parents. So 10-year old Katie slides off and confidently takes her place at the top of the hill and begins to adjust her goggles. Her dad is right behind her. Danny is bombing toward us at a ridiculous speed because he is not now nor ever careful. And, Mom? Mom is bringing up the rear.
But there is no Mom.
Which is when we heard the scream. It was immediately clear in a sea of international skiers that this was an American scream… and even more obvious in my deepest heart of hearts that it was my mother’s. I still have this sense of turning in slow motion back toward the chair lift and seeing… nothing.
And then looking up…
up the 10-foot snow bank piled against the large metal pole anchoring the return wheel…
and then up another 5 feet…
There. THERE was my mother in her powder blue snow suit against a sunny and brilliant blue sky… dangling by her fanny pack strap.
[Just take a moment and picture it, please.]
It was the funniest and most embarrassing moment of my 10-year old existence. My dad giggled, folks… and you know Mister Dan. He doesn’t giggle.
I decided then and there that I would never be like my mom. She could work a full-time job, cook 99% of our meals from scratch, raise two kids in a foreign country while Dad drove tanks, and teach us to ski in the clouds, but she would never be cool to me. Someone PLEASE get that woman down from the wheel before I melt into the mountain.
The truth is I never knew my mother until I became one myself.
And while our whole story could be told in Brandi Carlile lyrics, suffice it to say I get it now.
This is a big year for you, Mom. In your life, you’ve lived on 2 continents, traveled to 3, had 2 kids on a military budget, taught hundreds of America’s youth to read and write and do math, tap danced at your school, and welcomed 4 grandchildren. You’ve cooked 40 Thanksgiving dinners, been to infinite gymnastics tournaments, and prayed your husband home from war. You’ve fed horses, goats, bunnies, hedgehogs, hamsters, and dogs… and all while grading papers with a red pen in your mouth.
All those times, I was looking the other way and you… you were looking out for me. I was a kid- arrogant and too smart and awkward and you were doing the best you could to work full-time, cook 99% of our meals from scratch, raise two kids in a foreign country, and teach us to ski in the clouds.
I love teaching and old movies and milky ways because of you. I know the importance of canning tomato sauce, going to church, and eating as a family because of you. I appreciate antiques, I work well alone, and I picked a good man because I was watching you… even when I was pretending I wasn’t.
You did all right.
Happy Big Birthday Year to you, and many, many more.
I got a new interpretation and it’s a better point of view.
You were looking for a landslide;
I was looking out for you, I was looking out for you.
Someone’s looking out for you.
Brandi Carlile, Looking Out