10 Lessons When Skiing with Kids

This winter I took it upon myself to get the kids outside for a “learn to love winter” experience . With a father who despises cold weather and does not participate in any winter sports, I knew it was up to this Canadian mom to introduce the kids to all the character building and fun activities in the land of ice and snow.

Last year, 2 out of 3 kids took private ski lessons. They had a great time, bonded with cousins and found a sport that they both were pretty good at. With the little guy turning 4 years old, I figured why not try him on skis and see what happens? So I investigated ski schools, nearby hills, whether to purchase a membership or just private lessons. We even hit the ski show and the swap shop to get the girls their own gear. It was with awe when I walked into the local ski/snowboard shop for the first time overwhelmed at the choices for baklava and toques.

By early January (albeit it with little snow at that time) I booked lessons at Chicopee in Kitchener, Ontario about an hour from where live. Sundays became ski day. I packed up the van early Sunday morning with skis, bags, helmets. Threw some snacks into a Ziploc bag and filled the water bottles.

“How are you going to carry all that and get all 3 kids in their gear?” A befuddled Mr. L asked one chilly Sunday morning. I shrugged. He is talking to a mom of three kids. We are pros at being pack animals.

“I’ll figure it out.”

As ski season winds down, here is what I learned:

1) If it takes you an hour to drive to your ski destination, give yourself two hours. Why? Because you can’t account for traffic, parking mayhem at a ski hill, washroom breaks for kids and line-ups for rentals.

2) Rentals. Don’t purchase the gear until you know if your kid is going to like it. Most rentals for little kids are half the price of adult rentals or included in the cost of the private lesson. Ask your ski hill the options. I chose to buy gear this year for the older kids because they had a year of lessons and I knew they enjoyed it. In Jacob’s case, I had no idea so why spend the money?

3) But, if you want to buy any gear for your kids, purchase the helmet and goggles. Rent the rest.

4) Gear can be an incentive. Jacob desperately wanted a pair of his own goggles after the girls got theirs. The deal, two lessons without complaining and give it a real chance and if he liked skiing, he got goggles. Also, if you have mixed gender siblings, try to buy skis, goggles and helmets that are gender neutral colours. Easy to pass down to the next kid.

5) Choose a hill that’s a good fit for your family. Where you go may not be the most popular one or even the closest to you. Do your research or try out a class at the hill, check out the facilities before committing to a batch of lessons. We drive an hour to get to the ski hill of our choice. Why? Because the instructors are experienced but young enough to have fun. The beginner hills are not intimidating. It has a cafeteria, lockers, washroom and chalet all at the base of the hills. Parking is close to the hill. Important factors when you are carrying all the gear trying to watch three little kids in a busy parking lot on your own. In one word: convenience.

6) Get your kids packs for their boots and let them carry their gear! My standard phrase is this: you want to ski? You have to learn to carry the equipment. I’m a five foot two person. I cannot carry 3 sets of skis, 4 helmets (if I’m skiing) and your boots. The kids can help if we teach them in their early years to be responsible for their own equipment.

7) Take snacks and dole them out as you snap on boots and helmets. I’m on my own each weekend with three little kids getting gear on. They have time to wolf down a banana or granola bar while I get another kid dressed. This ensures they aren’t starving and gives them something to do.

8) Adjust your expectations. Unless you are an experienced skier (which I am not!) or have other people to ski with don’t bother taking your own stuff. You won’t have time to hit the hills in between snapping pictures, bouncing between hills to watch each kid come flying down the hill at least once, run to the bathroom (because it’s your only chance alone) and maybe grab a coffee. I know after an hour of lessons, my kids are done. That may change as they get more experienced but an hour of skiing is a lot for young kids.

9) Consider private lessons for new skiers. I found private lessons a great resource. It really helped move the kids along quickly and they benefitted from having one-on-one attention with an instructor. Jacob was really nervous this past Sunday on his second lesson. He was okay with the bunny hill and magic carpet but did not want to go on the chair lift. His instructor knew exactly how to handle him and made him very comfortable. He needed that one-on-one to build up his confidence.

10) Walk away if you’re feeling nervous. Mr. L does not believe his children are on their way to becoming good little skiers. “They’re so young!” He states again and again. (Remember, this is a guy who does not ski.) One lesson he attended, he grimaced watching the girls easily hop onto a chair lift riding to the top of a larger hill without looking back. I told him to walk away and let the instructors do their job. Then I did the same thing last week when Jacob’s instructor cheerily said to my 4 year old, “Let’s go on the chair lift.”

My immediate response, “But he’s only 4 years old, it was a big jump to get him on the bunny hill last week. Do you think he’s ready?”   The instructor calmly looked at Jacob and said, “We can try, right?”

With a hesitant shrug and high-five the instructor took his little gloved hand shuffling to the chair lift. I walked away. He was right, I shouldn’t stand in Jacob’s way but let him try and I need to trust the instructor.

Lastly, just a note. Plan something fun afterwards. Hot chocolate. Lunch out. Whatever it is, reward your kids for doing something that a lot of people are afraid to do. Getting outside in winter and actually having fun.

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Post-Race Round Up

It is hard to believe but autumn is upon us! The first official day today and the weather has gone from balmy humidity to crisp fall air in a microsecond. All I am thankful for is that I finished my first mini Tri race last weekend when it was cool but not crisp outside!

Yes, I finally reached my own personal fitness goal. The race was swam, cycled and ran last Sunday at Lakeside, Ontario organized by MultiSport Canada. A four-hundred meter swim, ten kilometer bike and two-and-a-half kilometer run all in one shot. I reached deep into my own stubborn nature and pushed my training the last two weeks getting ready determined not to let my first race intimidate me. How do you train with three small kids? In truth, pockets of time are so precious that more and more thought goes into how I spend any time I can carve out for myself. This race took precedence over everything else. I had committed to it and was determined to finish it. I went swimming at night after I had kissed my babies good night at a local health club. I ran in the dark the last couple of weeks. I cycled on the weekends as Mr. L napped during a mandatory quiet time in our house.

We managed to fit it in my training and Mr. L was supportive, for the most part. I tried to run anywhere I could. My little guy, still at home with me most of the week, would jog with me to the park his cute little laugh echoing down the quiet streets once the older kids went back to school. At times it was tough to fit in training. Family events, a friend who needed a shoulder for support, Mr. L’s insanely busy schedule. They all took precedence over the training because for me, my training does come second. It is as important, but being flexible and creative organizing my time was paramount. I had to be okay if my Sunday morning planned run was delayed because we decided at the last-minute to squeeze in one more family outing. I still did it, just later that day.

Two out of three kids with me at starting line.

Two out of three kids with me at starting line.

Race day came. I plunged into crisp lake temperatures on a gray day as my family looked on cheering. I ignored the weeds at the bottom of the lake and used whatever stroke felt right swimming to the  finish line praying I would not have to pull the cap off and wave down one of the nearby aides. I shook off the stiff fingers as I pulled socks over wet feet and tried to do up the laces on my shoes ignoring the others bypassing me in transition as I stumbled over what shirt to pull over my wet bathing suit. I groaned but kept pedalling up the rolling hills of the Ontario countryside cursing myself for only road bike training on the flat and safe streets by Lake Ontario. I threw my bike onto the rack and hit the pavement during the run ignoring my feet that had gone numb from the cages on my bike and let my legs do their job. And I finished, not last and not feeling like a truck hit me. My family was at the finish line cheering me on as I sped up and I felt great. Great for finishing and then cold. Asking for a sweater to pull over my quickly cooling body, my sister-in-law asked, “Wasn’t that fun?”

Finish Line. Photo by Zoomphoto Inc.

Finish Line. Photo by Mike Cheliak My Sports Shooter

Fun? No. No it wasn’t. Challenging. Satisfying. Absolutely. I had set a goal and accomplished it. But fun? It was not the first word that came to mind. My hip hurt, a residual post-pregnancy ache that will probably haunt me whatever I decide to do next for the rest of my life. I was tired. I was cold. I was hungry. It was absolutely nice to see all the encouragement from my family, the other racers and the great spirit of camaraderie at the event, but for me, fun? Not really.

A week post-race where I indulged in massage, chiropractic care, a facial and even a new pair of running shoes (Hot pink Saucony pair much lighter weight than my old clunkers. This alone is new behaviour!) where my only exercise was chasing my kids and a couple of much-missed yoga classes (something had to give during training and it was yoga which I desperately missed), my hip is still aching. I got some writing done for my new class I started as well a couple of weeks ago with my new free time. However, as much as I resist, the fitness mama has been born. My body used to the regular activity and exercise craves a run down by the lake or a few laps in the pool. Even a quick bike ride. Something that gets my body moving. I know something has shifted, slightly, when yesterday morning during the girl’s tennis lessons, instead of hiding drinking another cup of coffee typing on my laptop, I asked Mr. L if he wanted to play tennis instead. I needed to move.  To help my hip, I have to balance light running with training to give it a chance to rest but my body is starting to scream…no! Get out before it snows. This alone is a new outlook for this parent who craves a good nap, warm bed and good book.

So what is the lesson learned from this experience? Do it. If you’re thinking about it, go for it. It may be fun, challenging or a goal but whatever your reason, if you want to do it, you can.  If I can find time to train for a mini tri, you can find time if that is what you want to do. I did this as a goal and truthfully, to get my behind moving knowing I needed a bigger goal than “let’s go to the gym” to reach for helping create what is I hope a regular lifestyle choice for me that includes some fitness. The biggest question people have asked me this past week, “Are you going to do it again?”

Without hesitation I answer, “Yes. I want to better my swim in open water.” Even six months ago, I had no idea I would say something like that and mean it. Than I usually add, “And maybe have some fun next time.” Because, at the end of the day, if you cannot find the fun in what you are doing, what is the point?

Dancing around the maypole.

“The wind is tossing the lilacs,
The new leaves laugh in the sun,
And the petals fall on the orchard wall,
But for me the spring is done.

Beneath the apple blossoms
I go a wintry way,
For love that smiled in April
Is false to me in May.”
–  Sara Teasdale, May

Has spring actually finally arrived in my little piece of Southwestern Ontario? Within less than five days all the spring flowers have bloomed, the trees are budding, birds are chirping happily building nests and my children are running for the warmth of the sunshine like butterflies eagerly awaiting the warm temperatures. It has been a long wait this year, but with confidence I think we can state, it is spring!

A person can feel their mood lifting with the onset of constant sun. This week is the longest stretch we have had consistently warmer temperatures and sunshine in a few months. I can already feel my whole being sigh with relief and my house is welcoming the open windows.

Last weekend we packed up the family for an hour long trip to a very close friend’s house. R and S are like family to us and we lament that they live so far. Last year we started an annual family sleepover tradition all having young kids still requiring parental supervision where the adults can enjoy some drinks out on the threadbare patios and the kids can giggle and do well, kid-stuff. The girls bunked with their little girl and Jacob bunked with us. It was glorious. The first real taste of a warm spring. A nice change to our little pocket of Ontario where we left gray skies and lower temperatures down by Lake Ontario.

Beauty in the sun.

Beauty in the sun.

This week my two girls have been obsessed with fairy houses and have been diligently writing note after note hoping for the fairies to visit. Currently our playset in our backyard is being turned into a fairy playhouse. Some of my cherished moments are of hearing them playing in harmony instead of the petty bickering that inevitable arises when there are multiple children in a family. I have learned the art this past month of taking a step back and firmly encouraging them to work it out themselves. A constant phrase is, “Is this an emergency? Have you tried to work out? Talk to your sister about it.” A phrase I hear echoed in the classroom and it is with hope I leave them to it turning back to a household chore or chasing a little man who has decided to empty a bag of rice chips all over the kitchen floor.

With spring also comes the reality of taking stock of the winter damage to your property. Gardening, washing windows, finally putting away the winter gear. We also realized that our stone steps although lovely to look at have loosened and sloped to such an extent that measures need to be taken to rebuild or replace them. Add it to the project list. Do they every truly end?

After sneaking away in early April to a writer’s retreat and a renewed dedication to finish a fiction project I am working on, I spent last month forgoing other activities (including this blog) to re-focus myself on finishing a project in the pockets of time I am able to grasp in between family life. A routine has been set-up and to my delight, a fiction novel has developed and I am nearing the last quarter of the story. I can see the finish line!

Now I cannot pretend a lot of hard work is in store as I re-write and edit but the story will be complete which is an accomplishment for this newbie writer and busy mom. On top of that,  I also implemented a new fitness training routine to help prepare for some goals later this summer and truthfully, am feeling stronger each time I pull myself to the gym and leave feeling that natural high that comes after a good work-out.

So what is in store for May? Outside time with the kids. Baseball season starts next week for the girls so I will be trekking to fields across the 401 highway in between spring concerts at school and packing for a big family trip in June. Fitness is on my mind this month. Now that I have a base routine in place, it is time to amp it up and with that figure out how to include the kids.

What are your plans for May?

My dance around the maypole continues.

Parenting Milestones

My path has not been determined. I shall have more experiences and pass many more milestones.

Agnetha Faltskog

A windy April has flown the days by quicker than I imagined. As we still wait for warm weather to appear, our little household is winding down winter activities and there will be a brief lull that I will welcome with open arms. No more running around Monday nights to get the girls ready for skating as tonight marks the last class. Thank goodness too. The girls’ skates are a touch on the small side. Elizabeth (who has never been fond of skating although to give her credit plugs along knowing she is behind others younger than her) has given up and I have become the Mom who is cringing on the bleachers watching my eldest child hang off her instructor or clinging to the side wall. Finding anything to do but the skating drills the rest of her class is doing. Audrey actually seems to be gaining more confidence in skating and although her little shuffles are still cautious, she is precise in her moves and attempting all the drills. But, I think even she will appreciate the break and this mom will gladly take their certificates, pat them on the back for making it through another term of skating and put it aside until next winter. After all, baseball season starts in three weeks and there will be a whole new set of challenges to face for my two girls.

Jacob only knows he is not going skating and watches each week sadly out the front window as we leave. Upon our return home he keeps repeating, “I skate when I three?” To which I respond by kissing his cute little fingers and nod yes, next winter Mommy will take him skating. I am sure he will also appreciate the break of having a babysitter every Monday afternoon and some much needed quality time with his sisters. One benefit of being a mom of three or more, hopefully one of your brood will embrace some of the sports and activities you try so hard to diligently expose them to.

Knowing that each child has their own unique strengths and challenges, Mr. L and I always believed that there are a set of skills necessary as part of childhood. We do not expect Olympic athletes. But we do strongly encourage our kids to learn the basics of some sports and skills in the hopes they will have fun, get some exercise and maybe learn to find their hobbies/passions that will stay with them through life. These markers of childhood are plentiful. Riding a bike, learning to skate, (after all we do live in Canada where cold weather is dominant most of the year). Learning to ski. Swimming on their own with no life jacket and water safety. Along with other non-sport skills like reading, learning the basics to playing an instrument and how to tie shoe-laces, it is our job to help teach them these things. We do our best in our busy household, sometimes taking things upon ourselves and often taking advantage of the wonderful community programs available to help us.

However, the time it takes to do this with three or more, well anyone who has tried with one child, multiply that times three, especially if you have kids all within a similar age range without the benefit of having older children to model the behaviours or help younger siblings. It is a lot of work for two people. I applaud those families that are single-parent families going through these parenting milestones.  Most days I feel I am not doing enough or teaching them quick enough.

Through the last year or so, I have learned to take help when offered. Often, trying to teach your children yourself just does not work well for various reasons. You need infinite patience that is truthfully sometimes hard to attain after arguing about homework with a seven-year old or falling asleep because your toddler was up at four am demanding that Mommy sleep in his room. You also need time. Time taken away from all the other things you have to manage in your life.

So it is with a great amount of pride and relief when I saw my eldest girl teaching her younger brother his colours. She patiently spent a half hour taking different coloured-crayons out of our huge assortment of pencils/pencil crayons/crayons/markers Ziploc bag and having him repeat each colour to her. It was with little surprise that shortly after that, my two-year old could rattle off correctly nearly every primary colour. Check that off my parenting list!

It was also with gratitude I said, “Yes!!” when my mother and step-father asked if they could get the girls their new big girl bikes for their birthdays. Being February babies, they waited until this past weekend and picked up two very excited girls. Elizabeth had already started on a bike when she turned five. Rejecting the tricycle, she went straight to a bright blue two-wheeler with streamers and training wheels. With a little hard work she managed to take-off and enjoyed leisurely riding around the neighbourhood.

On one of the rare warmer days earlier this spring, she hopped on the blue bike. Right away we noticed how much she had grown since last summer. It was time for the next bike size. Her younger sister then attempted to get on Elizabeth’s old bike but the clunky monster was hard for her to pedal and she was easily frustrated. We hoped by getting her a brand new bike of her own, it would encourage her to keep pedaling.

After a lunch out with the grandparents, they arrived banging on our front door asking me to come outside with Jacob. Jacob ran to get his tricycle, desperate to keep up with his sisters, whom to my delight hopped on their shiny new bikes and took off down the sidewalk only pedaling back when I yelled, “Helmets!!”

“Audrey is doing it!” I exclaimed feeling excited at seeing my younger daughter pedal her first bike.

“She kept riding it in the store until she got it!” Responded my mom. Somewhere in my mind, I knew the excursion to buy bikes with their grandparents worked better for my girls than if I had taken them. I can picture myself distractedly trying to get them on the bikes to size them while chasing a toddler through the store and the inevitable whining as each tried to get my attention. Instead, they were excited and proud to show their grandparents what they could do and my mom and step-dad were infinitely more patient with them than I could have been this spring. A win-win for my girls.

An impromptu walk/ride around the block was next and even after a couple of falls and firm encouragement to get back on their bikes and keep going, both girls did not care their hands were freezing on the chilly April afternoon. They simply rode their bikes while their little brother took it all in watching them pedal their two-wheelers.

As I look ahead with excitement to warmer temperatures and the winding down of activities, I will try to remember the joy and happiness I could sense from my kids doing the simple things. The couple of times we went skating this year and my older daughter just glided in the softly falling snow without the demands of lessons. Riding their bikes on a sunny afternoon or  colouring together at our kitchen table. I will take these moments and try to remember that even if it takes a bit of time and sometimes frustration, it is well worth it to help them learn these life lessons.

Next step. Removing the training wheels on a a seven-year old’s bike. The teaching never stops.

New things to do – finding time.

January 17, 2013

Large snowflakes are lazily drifting off and on all day. It is as if the sky cannot decide whether to completely open and save us from the frozen brown ground since the rain last week or is just teasing us with a winter kiss, reminding us how snowflakes can be magical.

Jacob and I were having a lazy day at home. Well, not lazy in the sense that I’ve managed to get a lot of domestic chores done and there is only a handful of presents left to find places for. Jacob was having so much fun during our “time to get the dusters out games” peppered in between with story times or an impromptu dance party, that he refused to leave for our tykes yoga class. An epic battle of coats and boots later, we were late. As we entered the class, I then had to chase him down as he proceeded to grab the lunch bag carefully hidden underneath my coat, yelling, “Hungry!” I caved and we sat outside the class while he happily smushed pieces of ham into his little mouth gripping the plastic container in case I dare suggest we put it away until after the class.

Finally his little tummy stopped grumbling enough to participate in half the class and I realized how unrealistic my expectations were having our third child be able to eat on the go. When we signed up for this class I was a little wary of the 1145 am start time knowing he runs like a clock at meal times, but figured we would try it. Mental note:  planning an earlier lunch with snack afterwards may ensure we have a good time at our class.

Today, I will be interviewing a potential babysitter in between bus pick-ups

When interviewing candidates, I ask all the standard questions, request references and confirm hourly rate. But my real test are the kids. How do they interact with them and how do my kids respond to them? I will hire a babysitter who essentially ignores me and plays or talks to my kids rather than one who just kind of waits for the kids to come to them. That means their focus is on the kids, where it should be.

Some interview questions are standard such as, asking about family background and their experiences. I also like to try to get a sense of how comfortable they are with handling three or more. A lot of babysitters are not experienced in the juggling of three or more children under the age of six. Some days Mr. L even admits he can’t handle it.

We will see how it goes today.

January 18, 2013

My first Zumba class in a long time and  I am feeling great! After a rush to get the three kids to their destinations, I drove to the health club Mr. L and I joined this past fall and which I’m lucky to make it to once a week, for a Friday morning class.

Hip-grinding music with a room full of generally uncoordinated people trying to shake all they got not caring who sees and something that gets my heart race up. I’m all in. I arrive a little late but after a few seconds, start shimmying to the latin beats along with the other women in the room and am so glad I dragged my tired self here this morning.

ZUMBA

ZUMBA

Last night (as in many nights) I went to bed way too late getting sucked into reality television after my brain felt strangely alert from writing. Of course, I get hungry so have a snack at nearly midnight and then I need to read before I go to sleep to relax. Being an avid reader, books are piled throughout our house and currently I am near the pinnacle of the latest Kate Morton book, The Secret Keeper. The part where you need to know what happens next! It is only when Mr. L pleads with me to turn the light off do I reluctantly put the book down to get some sleep. There is no way on these nights that I can wake up earlier than the kids so it is always a bit of a rush to get them and myself ready. I am actually stopping myself right now from just bailing on everything to go and finish it. But I don’t.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Back to exercise. Mr. L has been on a huge “get healthy and fit regiment” since last spring. I try to be as supportive as I can. I buy all the special foods he only eats and try not to make anything too unhealthy. After all, less carbs never hurt anyone. It has simplified our eating quite a bit as I focus on protein and vegetables for our meals and throw in homemade pizzas or Mommy’s mac n cheese to keep the kids happy. Currently he is into bodybuilding and I must say, he looks fabulous! He is trim and toned with more energy and it gives him a hugely needed personal area of his life to release any stress.

I am innately lazy. Although I love Zumba because it’s fun, I dread weight lifting, don’t see the point of running but will go to a yoga class any day of the week. Yoga helps with building strength, stretching out the most sore areas on a Mom, neck/back/shoulders and at the end I get to take a nap. In the fall, Mr. L, wanting to share his newfound hobby, put together an exercise routine to help me with all the areas I don’t want to do but realized I have to at least start. The older and more creaky I become, the more it becomes clear I need to take better care of myself physically. I got into the routine for about six weeks. It was nice to have the reprieve from the house and he really tried to be home at an earlier time so I could get to the gym. I do not like working out at home. I have no discipline and truthfully, the kids always find me and need something. So to work out I have to leave the house, but most days during the week I can’t leave until nearly 8 pm and truthfully, my energy level for anything physical when I know I have to come home and still make lunches, pack knapsacks and get all ready for the next day is very, very low.

Six weeks passed and then we had a vacation away. I was not feeling well and then the holidays were upon us and it all went out the window. Up until now I have not been motivated to get back on track. Even after a holiday of eating and little physical activity.

But, a friend of mine is really trying to get back in shape after the birth of her second baby and needs a goal. She asked me to sign up and do a “Tri-Tri” with her. What is a “Tri-Tri?” Well, it’s just as it sounds. It’s a sample of what a triathlon would be with reduced kilometers and meters in running, biking and swimming. A goal – why not I figured. It would give me a new experience this year.