Recently our family went skiing. It was a miracle, literally.
First, because we have never been skiing as a family before. Ever.
And second, because we all survived and came home smiling.
Now, don’t get too excited. It wasn’t downhill skiing—only cross-country. But for this inexperienced family, successfully skiing together was a victory.
My kids were just fine. They strapped on their skis and raced back and forth across the trails. If there was a slight decline, they pushed their poles into the snow and went as fast as possible. They screamed and laughed and had a wonderful day.
Then there was me.
After I finally learned how to keep my feet underneath myself, I slowly inched along.
One mile, two miles, three miles, four miles up the tree-lined trail to the turnaround point.
We reached our destination clearing, turned around, and…Whiz! Whiz! Whiz! My kids sped back down the mountain laughing and yelling.
I turned halfway around… and froze with fear and realization.
Suddenly I wasn’t pushing my skis anymore. They were pulling me! I hadn’t noticed that the four miles into the woods had actually been slightly uphill. And now I was skiing back downhill.
My skis were quickly cutting through the icy snow and I was on top. My stomach did a flip and my entire body went out of control. I involuntarily let out a yell.
Thankfully, my levelheaded husband called, “Fall over!” I hate falling, but I did what he said. And then I lay in the snow. My heart was pounding, my hands were sweaty and my stomach was still lurching.
My husband skied up to me and stifled his laughter.
“I don’t want to get up.” I said. I could envision the entire four miles back to our car: all downhill, all slightly declined, with me on top of the skis screaming my lungs out. A terrible fear gripped me. I couldn’t physically or emotionally or mentally pull myself together.
My husband took my arms and hands and did his best to talk me through standing up again, but to no avail.
“I’m going to take off my skis and walk down,” I said.
“You can do this,” he encouraged.
All at once I could see exactly what was happening. Walking down the mountain was absolutely doable. In fact, four miles trekking through the beautiful woods would even be pleasant!
But, like a ton of bricks, the truth hit me. If I didn’t try skiing again right then, I never, ever would. I would spend the rest of my life with that same gripping, throat crunching fear paralyzing me.
“I can do this,” I said to myself, and somehow stood up.
“This time, push your ankles out,” my husband coached.
I was hardly aware of my ankles before, but as I started downhill again, I pushed out my ankles with all my might. Somehow, it slowed me just enough to catch my breath and fall over…again. I lay in the snow, panting and crying. But, I had done it! I had pressed through my fear and stood up and skied.
I could stand up again.
My husband righted me in the snow and, doing my best to ignore the familiar fear inside, I slowly started skiing again, pushing my ankles and praying that I wouldn’t die.
I lurched. I fell. I stood up. I tried. I lurched and fumbled and fell into the snow again.
After the first mile I could finally see through my tears. After the second mile I noticed the beautiful white snow and stunning forest around me. After the third mile my husband suggested we stop to catch our breath.
But I didn’t stop. I was terrified that if I waited at the side of the trail I would be overcome with anxiety and never try again, so I hobble-skied past him and continued downward.
Then came the final hill. It was bigger than any I had stayed standing up on before.
“This is my last chance to succeed,” I told myself. “I’m not falling over this time, I’m going to make it to the bottom.” And then, I started down. I pushed my ankles out with all my strength until gravity took over and I flew straight down the hill.
“Don’t fall, you’re fine…” I insisted in my mind. My stomach did multiple flips and I saw my children laughing as they watched, but I stayed standing until….I reached the bottom and came to a natural stop.
It was only then that I noticed I had bitten my lip so hard it was throbbing. But I didn’t care. I had done it!!! I had skied to the bottom of the four-mile incline.
And miraculously, I was alive.
That feeling of victory stayed with me for days, and I realized an incredible similarity between skiing and motherhood.
We can’t stop.
Motherhood is us at the top of an incline, with our skis pointed downward. We have absolutely no choice but to let gravity take over.
Once we conceive, once we give birth, once we adopt a baby—we are stuck.
Like it or not, we must go on.
Just like me, in tears at the top of the hill, the reality of mothering is that there is no way out but through.
This truth is the WORST and BEST part of motherhood. Why?
It’s the worst part because no matter how difficult, we must keep going. Somehow we must get up each morning and care for our children. Somehow we must keep loving them even when they have embarrassed or hurt us. Somehow we must keep moving along, one clumsy step in front of the other, raising children who ultimately become better than we are. Somehow we must parent without a handbook, learning through trial and error, forcing ourselves through the thick and thin and exhaustion and exhilaration of everyday life.
This part of parenthood is painful, and often—like skiing— filled with tears. Sometimes I don’t want to stand up again. Sometimes I just want a little break. It is hard to face the reality of miles that are difficult.
But, I’ve noticed that this truth is also the best part of motherhood.
We can’t give up so we don’t, and eventually, we succeed.
We learn to parent. We learn to live without sleep. We learn to deal with temper tantrums and diapers. We learn to talk to toddlers, and tweens, and teenagers. We learn to give of ourselves, and love more deeply. We learn to plant flowers and manage budgets and grocery shop and do laundry and dry tears and help with homework and hug sweaty kids and laugh and cry and live. We learn to get up every morning. We learn that we are stronger and better than we once thought we were.
And soon, we are.
In a paradoxical way, the fact that there is no way out but through forces us to become. And the becoming is the pinnacle piece of a perfect plan.
I have no desire to ski again any time soon. But if and when I do, I’ll be more confident than I was. In fact, I may even have fun.
And I’ll admit that here on mile 3 of motherhood, (having survived my first two miles, err…10 children) I’m enjoying the beautiful scenery of life. I’m standing a little taller, feeling a little more confident, and sensing sprouts of exhilaration and success in my soul.
I’m grateful for the days that I couldn’t give up, so I didn’t, and now I’m in a better place because I kept going. The initial fears and doubts were stepping stones to an inspiring place, where I’m suddenly rich with experience and joy.
Motherhood is the perfect metaphor for life.
Thank goodness we are trapped in this reality, forcing us to move on and move up and eventually come out on top. (Or, arrive at the bottom of the hill, if you’re skiing.)
Thank goodness life teaches us to be better.
Thank goodness we are sometimes forced to try difficult things.
Thank goodness we are challenged when we otherwise would choose not to be.
Thank goodness we are stuck…with no way out but through.
Thank goodness we cannot give up, so we don’t.
This is the worst—but best—part of motherhood.
This is the best fact of life.