Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In the lodge

"I"ll just sit in the lodge" used to conjure images of hot coffee next to a cozy fireplace with lots of mahagony.  The children, all bundled up, would eagerly scurry off to ski school while I would read peacefully by the toasty flames as the server warmed the magnificent contents of my large ceramic mug.  I would reserve time in the afternoon to peek at the mountain, proudly beam at the girls' progress and contently retreat back for the last few minutes of quiet, perhaps indulging in a warm winter cocktail before our congratulatory family afternoon reunion when we would swap antidotes from the day's adventures.    

The gondola ride takes seven minutes from Mammoth Village to the mountain and we debarked on Saturday morning at 9:16 while I scanned the landscape for my sanctuary; book, reading glasses and lip gloss tucked away in the bottom of the tote. A strikingly sunny white day, the only structure in sight looked more like my Texas public high school than anything Norman Rockwell would have recognized.   Adjusting expectations, I led the girls into Canyon Lodge, an enormous orange-trimmed imposingly grey rectangle.  After impressively and patiently finding our locker among throngs of Angelino families, many from Malibu and, despite a sudden onset of vertigo, I recognized some behind goggles and helmets while others waved, stating who they were and giving context to our acquaintance, e.g., "Hi.  It's Larry, our daughters played soccer together.  You know, the Purple People Eaters?"

Satisfied that the girls were in gear and ready to sign them over to sign them over to ski school, we were given dirty looks by young scruffy Ken who explained that even though the waitress at the Westin told me it was ok to arrive a little bit late to ski school that 35 minutes was not a little bit and maybe he could still get us in.  I apologized profusely and although Ken did not demonstrate much empathy to my single mom story, he walked us over and I handed my darlings off to teenagers on the mountain.

Time to assess and plan for the next 5 hours until pick up and a self-guided tour of the lodge led me past the lift line, up the stairs and to the...bar?  No dark wood nor chimneys, there was only a small bar with hard chairs and an industrial sized buffet with two giant rooms filled with long tables arranged in rows.  Holding to hope, I ascended to the fourth floor because surely I was missing the cozy spot only to discover a roof deck leading out to a smoking deck in 12 degrees Fahrenheit.   I needed a new plan and decided it was time to learn to ski.  

Returning to the locker room in order to regroup the gear which I had sprawled over the benches in an effort to launch the children, I noticed that I had lost my pants.  By this point, after spending over $200 on ski goggles, I felt like a human ATM, automatically dispensing cash whenever prompted.  BTW, I now see them on the web for $15.99 and am not sure where I went wrong.  There was one pair of ski pants in the shop that fit and that didn't hit over the belly button so I bought those for $159.00 and tried not to calculate the weekend expenses in my head.  I never did admit losing pants to the children and my socks cost $32.00.

Adult ski lessons began at 12:45 and after roaming the lodge, floor by floor in the hopes of something good for three hours, it was time for me to enter the "beginner corral." Arriving right on time and totally irritated by nervy stragglers appearing up until 20 minutes past class time, I learned about french friespizzas and the art of dislodging snow from the bottom of the boot.  Two hours later and I skied and I did not fall.  Yes, it was smaller than the bunny and after applying the lip gloss now stashed in my right pocket, I went up on a pulley with a disk between my legs and it was magnificent and I beamed as I snow plowed down the hill and the slight breeze felt better than the heat of a fire and my aching back did not wish for a comfy couch and I wrote my own story in sporty new yellow lensed eye wear on a glorious day outside.

Diane Prince Johnston
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Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Christmas Divided


Flying back home from the last leg of the second holiday season of living apart.  Having been separated for 14 months now, Mom and Dad each navigated the holidays in their own way with a bit of collaboration.

We were to deviate from our regular holiday custody schedule of 2-2-5-5 in order that Dad had one full week with Chrismas (he is Catholic) and Mom (Jewish) would have the week of New Year's.  When I first learned that Dad would not be taking them to our vacation home in Wisconsin for Christmas, I felt their worlds cave in as I walked up to the soccer field where Sally was about to play.  My in-laws on the sidelines and children in tears.  "We're not going to Wisconsin they sobbed," red-eyed and down trodden.  My heart sank.

In my mind, Dad was to competently bundle up the children, whisking them away to Winter Wonderland (only last year did Lucy start noticing the grayed-out slushy parking lots of Minoqua WalMart) where they would make gingerbread houses with Grandma, listen to Grandpa's stories and throw snowballs at cousins.  As my Christmas week would be lonely, I would have been ok: Chanukah over, and waiting for the children to return for the New Year.  As such, I would not have needed to worry about witnessing the childrens sadness and disappointments as we entered the world of broken Christmas. I had even booked a trip of my own.

When the message hit - no Wisconsin, I called the child therapist.  What do we do?  How could this be and what irreperable damage would be caused by skipping the only  Christmas tradition that they have known?   And as the reality sunk in that Santa would not be filling the home sewn stockings lovingly created while on bed rest with my third pregnancy, acceptance took hold.    Was this an ex husband evil plot to somehow get at me or was it a thought out plan which was the best solution for him and could possibly work?  Was there any way that skipping Wisconsin was not tragic ruin?  Not a casualty of the failed marriage but rather an event that wasn't feasible at the time and a chance to experience a different way to celebrate the holiday?  I had no choice but to find out.

Understanding that the decision was final, and realizing that Mom would now take part in Christmas I canceled my trip to the Bahamas, called the handy man to put up lights outside the house and I replaced the throw pillows in the living room with ones with the words, "Peace" and "Joy."  I said goodbye to dreams of denial on the a white and sandy beach and bought a Santa Cookie Jar from Target.  The girls were staying at Dad's for the big day, but would be with me the weekend before and so became our first Christmas in two houses.

Lucy was sad that she would not be seeing her cousins in Wisconsin and so we  allowed her to start a Facebook account (had been in discussion for a few weeks).  Our nine nieces are all on it and they were able to connect that way.  Grandma and Grandpa made a trip to California in November and celebrated with the girls then, bringing gifts and messages from god parents.  Yes, the girls were broken hearted and they missed the snow, family time and fried cheese curds.   They wanted to be with Dad's side of their family and do the things that they know and love.  And somehow it still went ok.

It was decided  since everyone would be in town that all five of us would spend most of Christmas day as a family.  Dad set up his house, had a tree and bought and wrapped most of the presents (Chanukah was a much easier task) and I baked and cooked.  During Dad's custody time, he dropped the girls off at my house to bake cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.  The girls also were able to make a video holiday card in front of my fire place, which they edited and we have not yet sent.

Christmas Eve Dad had the girls and I stayed home and baked.  More cookies and appetizers, providing samples to the Xmas eve shift at Howe's Market while I went back and forth for ingredients (I think I kept forgetting them for an excuse to go back to the market and have someone to talk to).  Christmas morning, as planned, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and drove over to Dad's house, waiting outside for a text that the children had woken and instead of reading a novel on the beach of a tropical island, sipping a pina colada, wind gently breezing across my lotioned skin, I thumbed through The Collosal Failure of Common Sense, blowing on a Starbucks grande drip with the vent blowing hot air on my freshly washed and unmade face.

Sally called at 7:10 a.m. and it was time to see if Santa was able to keep track and find Dad's new rental house.  As the children came out of their bedrooms, they looked for the cookie crumbs left by Santa and were not dissappointed.  He had been and gone and there were brightly wrapped presents under the tree decorated with the new ornaments that the children had bought with Dad.  I was thrown by the site of unfamiliar store bought stockings and quickly regained my footing while I watched the girls smile as they opened thier presents and insisted that Mom and Dad open ours too.

Exhausted from late night baking and early morning lurking, I was ready to go home for a nap.  "Mommy, will you play this with me?"  A smile struggled out which surely was seen as a fake by Daisy who boasts that she "knows all of my upset faces."    I mustered up the strength to watch a fashion show of new clothes, frosting an Easy Bake Cake and participated in a text message conversation on a plastic Hello Kitty device and then I went home to take a nap.

I finished the afternoon cooking, back and forth to the store some more, and went back to Dad's at 5.  He invited me to join them along with two other families and although it was slightly awkward, it was nice to be there, spend time with the girls and  have someone (not my ex) ooh and aah over my brussel sprout and cauliflower gratin.  As I excused myself and left the party at 9, Daisy told me it "Was the best Christmas ever."

10 days later, we are flying back from a New Year's Weekend with friends in Dallas (me and the girls).  While in Texas, we learned the Cotton Eyed Joe, bowled, ate Tex Mex downtown and not only did we all survive, we had some good times.  Departing from our traditions and holiday comforts was not without tears (girls) and moments of depression (me).  It included disappointment (not seeing snow) and mess ups (didn't get around to sending the card).    It was not an ideal holiday season nor was it fraught with devasation.  There were some firsts:  Lucy carefully thought out perfect gifts for sisters, I made Snickerdoodles and Dad Roasted a turkey.  Who knows, we may even have unwittingly started some new traditions and then again, maybe it was just a pieced together couple of weeks that we lived through and which will hopefully get easier every year.