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The Blue-and-White Badge of Courage

by Robin Rieger
Our 12-year-old daughter’s latest fashion accessory is navy blue and white. It’s not part of a school uniform or a team uniform but she wears it every day. In fact it’s what’s kept her from the end of her middle school basketball season and the start of spring soccer. Yup, this blue cloth with a white strap is a sling holding her fractured right arm immobile against her body for six weeks so it will heal. It’s the result of a wicked combination of a snowboard and her first attempt to conquer a ski hill riding it.

Our ski trip last month got off to a great start with our kids picking up where they left off the previous year, following ski lessons and a few days on the mountain with a group of friends. Some of their friends are great snowboarders but our son and daughter were content to stick with skis and take their time navigating the different lifts and paths within their comfort zone. I couldn’t blame them; at my age my comfort zone is slow and slower. They took to skiing easily and spent their time getting better and better.

Now why would we go and mess all that up trying to snowboard, on our last day no less? Because, if we worried about breaking an arm or leg we wouldn’t try anything new, would we? That’s what I keep telling myself now when I look at the sling and feel guilty for suggesting she at least give snowboarding a try.

Winter trips for skiing weren’t usually part of our agenda when our kids were younger since Tom’s work schedule usually meant he was unable to join us. I was too nervous to take the kids myself, fearing I’d be overwhelmed trying to keep track of two newcomers to skiing at the same time. Then two years ago friends invited us on a ski trip to a Pennsylvania ski resort less than an hour-and-a-half away. Tom couldn’t make it, but I felt confident that with private lessons and lots of friends around that we would have a great time. It was a blast! Ski lessons gave them confidence and the skills they were developing gave them a new sense of freedom and those awesome feelings that skiing down a mountain creates—empowerment and overcoming a fear of the unknown.

This year we made the trip again and were happy to have Tom along, thanks to a three-day gap between Sixers games. He is not a skier but with our slopeside room he was able to watch a lot of our activity on the mountain. This may sound corny, but I have to say, I rewind so many moments of this trip in my mind just to appreciate again how fortunate we are to share the time away with a great group of friends. Tom and I freely admit we are pilot and co-pilot in our helicopter parenting world.

This trip almost demands that we ease off the controls because our kids, at ages 10 and 12 and their friends have their own agendas and are creating their own memories. They didn’t want to know what “we” were doing next because they already made plans with their friends. Thanks to that independence, the parents were able to enjoy conversations together at a table in the restaurant or by the fire.

During the day moms or dads with little ones always had a table in the lodge where the kids would gravitate to at some point to refuel. Parents who skied or could snowboard offered help and even companionship to kids on a run or two until they rejoined friends they got separated from. I skied for a while with our son and one of his friends who was snowboarding. I laughed often because every time we took the ski lift up they’d talk about how awful the loop of 1970s and ’80s rock music was that was blaring from the speakers mounted on poles we passed. Quietly I was thinking, “Oooh I love this song,” especially when it was Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Maybe that was an omen, because on the last day I was singing the blues. I was excited in the morning when our daughter said the girls were going to give snowboarding a try. I told her she could always get her skis back on if she didn’t like it and off she went to give it a shot with Tom getting her out to the bunny slope. By the time our son and I got out there to ski she and the other girls were in the repetitive process of strapping the boards to their feet, standing up, moving forward, sideways and backwards and falling down. Eventually our son and I decided we would try to snowboard too. It wasn’t until I strapped my own feet onto the board and managed to stand up that I realized the only way to break an inevitable fall was with your butt, your wrists or your face. Check, check, check!!! Despite how hard it was, it was fun learning until our daughter fell for the last time about 30 feet in front of me. Unable to turn the board to slow down, she fell backwards and partially flipped over. We were all wearing helmets but I kept thinking “Thank God she didn’t hit her head.” Still, she wasn’t getting up and when I got to her she couldn’t move her right arm without pain.

An X-ray ordered by our pediatrician that night who thought the swelling in our daughter’s arm was troublesome confirmed the fracture across the top of her arm bone right under her growth plate. Our daughter’s tears had long dried; mine were just starting. She was going to be fine, but I have felt awful that I had encouraged her to do something and she got hurt. When I explained that to her recently she said “I didn’t try it just because of what you said. All the girls wanted to try it and I did too. When I watched the people snowboarding down the mountain I thought it looked like so much fun. Mom, you shouldn’t feel bad at all.” It was as if she took the sling off of her arm and put it around the piece of my heart that had broken for her then sent me on my way to heal. Wow! As I take pride in the strength and maturity I see in our daughter—who will no doubt hit the slopes again next year with the rest of the gang—I smile and ask myself now, which one of us really needed the sling?

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 12 (March, 2016).
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