“The skier took off like a bat out of hell. Only one person was going to win this race and he knew it. In an effort to encourage him, his dad told him to ‘Go Big or Go Home!’ He was heeding that advice with everything he had. As he navigated his way through the moguls, he began to increase his speed. He knew a jump was coming up in the middle of the course and he planned to soar.
Although he could hear the crowd roaring, he could not pick out individual voices and therefore his coach’s cries to slow down were lost on the wind as he hit the jump. This was it. This was his moment to shine. He flew into the air, high above the tallest head…and came crashing down. In the explosion that was white powder, skis, and poles, it was hard to tell what extremity the skier had landed on, whether he was moving. The crowd, so loud only seconds before, was still and silent as the snow settled back down and the EMT rushed out onto the course.
And I, arriving late to the top of the run, see only that racer 108 has moved to the front of the line, meaning racer 107 is in mid-course. Before I can take my place amongst the spectators, I hear the cries of the crowd, the unmistakable climax of shock, and then silence. My breath catches mid-inhalation.
Skier 107 is my son. My six-year-old son.
Seconds turn into years as my mind begins playing out a variety of scenarios. ‘Oh, buddy,’ I whimper, already close to tears and then the crowd cheers again. Through the multitude of colored helmets, I see horns move slowly to the sidelines. As I flip my board around and slide straight down the hill to be near him, he looks up, searching for me. His big, beautiful brown eyes, so full of soul, are at this moment, full of tears.
I shed the board and race towards him. When I reach him, he doesn’t dive into my arms as I expect. Instead, he stands his ground, his quivering lip betraying his big boy stance. And although it is excruciating, I respect his space. This is a recent development–his newfound independence outside of me. It took him six years, but he has realized he isn’t actually attached to me. And while I knew it would come and want to encourage his individuality, it hurts. Oh my God, does it hurt.
He removes his helmet, the one with Viking horns taped to it, tries to smile, and then looks quickly at the ground. It comes in a breathless whisper, ‘Mommy, I fell. I’m not going to win.’ And then he rushes at me. I bend down and swoop up all 46 pounds of him. He cries into my neck and I feel the ever-lengthening fall of his feet against my legs. Although he has no broken bones, although he is not being carried away on a stretcher, although the only thing bruised is his pride–my heart breaks.
This little boy has big dreams and none of them (at this stage) involve a textbook. He wants to be the next Travis Rice (extreme snowboarder–‘extreme’ meaning he jumps out of helicopters on the tippy tops of mountains with his snowboard attached to his feet). And although I want to support all his dreams in every way I can, this one is difficult for me because it scares me. I (kinda) jokingly remind him accountants, lawyers, and teachers are all really cool professions, too.
The day he was born, my husband, in a complete panic inspired by an epiphany, prophesized he would grow up to be a surfer or a drummer. Although he is young and his tastes could change, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if one day he is jumping out of helicopters alongside Mr. Rice. And while he is a risk-taker in every sense of the word, he has a hard time with losing. It isn’t that he is a sore loser, but if he thinks he is going to lose, then he doesn’t even want to try, which is how he ended up on this ski team in the first place. We were hoping it would help him overcome his fears of not winning.
The night before his first race, I tucked him into bed. As I pulled his superhero comforter up to his chin, fat, hot tears raced down his cheeks before splashing on Superman’s head.
‘Honey, this is supposed to be a fun thing,’ I told him as I brushed back his golden hair. ‘But Mommy, what if I lose?’ he cried. While clenching my toes to hold back my own tears, I did my best to explain the very best people who have conquered their fields in life–athletes, businessmen, artists–had to lose at some point in order to learn and grow.
‘This is way too much pressure on such a little guy,’ I told my husband later that night.
‘He will figure it out, baby, just give him some time,’ he replied.
And the next day, our little racer did. He was calm and collected at the starting line and although he did not place, he finished both races. We stood by proudly as he collected his White Participant Ribbon.
Nearly a month later, as I tucked him into bed the night before his Slope Style Competition, there was a little anxiety, but Superman’s head was only mildly damp. The next day, he came in third and fifth. Again, we stood by proudly as he collected his green Fifth Place Ribbon and his Third Place Medal.
Then last night, not only was Superman dry, but my son was excited and confident as he proudly proclaimed, ‘I am going to win tomorrow.’ I gently reminded him just doing his best was more important than winning. Although I was relieved he was so excited, I was also nervous because I didn’t want a White Participant Ribbon to delay the progress he had made over the past couple of months. I tried my best to stoke his confidence while also explaining sometimes people who tried their best, didn’t actually win, sometimes they even fell. ‘Not me, Mommy!’ he said as I turned out the lights.
And now here we were, in a moment I knew would eventually occur, despite our gentle coaching: his first big fall. I stroke his golden hair and rock him back and forth in the shape of a figure 8, the same way I have done since he was an infant. His snow pants and coat make it a little difficult, but I persevere. One day, he will be too big for me to pick up, but I try not to think about that now. Instead, I focus on thinking of something encouraging to say.
My mind races ahead to what a lifetime’s future holds. Although this is his first big fall, it will not be his last. Not only are there more crashes during races in his future, but there will also be missed test questions and lost contests. There will be crushes whose affection is not returned. There will be job interviews, but no offer.
Being his mother, I want to save him from these things, put up a force field, and banish anything that is not wonderful from crossing his path. But I cannot. This little boy will be a man one day and I am raising someone else’s husband, someone else’s father. He has to learn to rise on his own because character is built when you are down in the dirt, with bloody knees and palms. Although stumbling, falling, failing is a fact of life and therefore not as important–getting back up is everything.
‘Oh, baby,’ I whisper, ‘Although you may not remember, this is not the first time you have fallen, and it won’t be the last. Falling is part of life and a very important part because what you do after you fall matters. You will fall so many times in life. Sometimes your fall will be more like a stumble and you will catch your balance and continue on. And other times, like today, you will fall hard. And sometimes you will fall so hard, you may think you cannot get up, but you must. Even if you have to lay there for a little while to catch your breath, you must always get back up because falling is part of the journey to success.’
I wasn’t sure if he understood the whole message or the symbolism behind it. After all, he is just a little boy. He doesn’t know how difficult life can be. But I hoped some of it sunk in, especially since he was not done with his competitions for the day. His tears dry, we have lunch, and then put our gear back on to head to the next competition. When we arrive at the top of the mountain, he panics. ‘I don’t want to do it, Mommy. I am scared.’
I fumble for words. I don’t want him to do it, either. They have appropriately named this competition ‘Big Mountain’ and it is just that: big, steep, and full of moguls. Even on a good day, I wouldn’t want him charging down it and this day has not been good. What I want to do is pick him back up, make his world safe again, and tell him he doesn’t have to. But I know from the look on my husband’s face, that is not going to fly.
Seeing my internal struggle, my husband steps in. ‘I’ve got this, ‘ he says. ‘Go find a spot to videotape our racer.’
When I hesitate, he kisses my cheek and gives me a little push. ‘Mommy is going to go find a place to cheer you on.’ And although I don’t want to leave, I remind myself I have faith in my husband. He may not be a mom, but he is one hell of a dad.
‘Do not tell him to Go Big or Go Home!’ I whisper and instantly regret it. It’s a low blow and I know it. He didn’t want our boy to fall any more than I did. I wink to try and lighten the moment and then turn to my son. ‘Good luck, buddy! I love you and am so proud of you,’ I say as I hug him tightly. Although my board seems to be attached to the spot refusing to leave his side, it slowly unglues itself and I find myself making wide turns down the steep terrain.
As I set myself up on the sidelines, I pray the same prayer I have been praying fervently since he was born. ‘Oh, please God. Oh please. Oh please. Oh please. Please give him strength. Please protect him. Please keep him safe.’ And then I add, ‘Please just let him finish!’
Then the signal sounds and although he should have been the seventh racer, I see horns poking up over the numerous moguls that decorate this slope. It is him. My boy. He has gone first. Although my mouth is yelling words of encouragement, my heart continues my mother’s prayer as I watch him navigate an entire mountain face full of hidden obstacles. When he arrives at the finish line, I look to the heavens with a heart full of gratitude. He made it. He didn’t fall.
When my husband and I join him, he is excited and happy once again. ‘I did it!’ he exclaims and my husband hugs him and then me. It’s a feel-good parenting moment.
Two hours later, as we stand by waiting for the Award Ceremony to begin, I ask my husband what he said to get our boy to participate in the competition. He replies, ‘He said you told him he always has to get back up after he falls. I told him trying again, even when he was nervous or scared, even if it took him a long time, is also part of getting back up. And that’s all it took.’
My heart soars. I love this man.
When they call up the racers for the Big Mountain Ceremony, we cheer loudly. Our son beams when they announce fourth place and shout his name. He collects his yellow Fourth Place Ribbon and makes his way back to us.
‘Are you ready, buddy?’ we ask him.
‘But they haven’t done the Mogul Ceremony, yet,’ He protests.
My husband and I wince in unison. There had been a lot of high-fives and talk about the amount of air he had gotten on that jump. We didn’t want him to get confused he might place because of it. We were dreading more tears and hurt feelings. We make a few excuses about how it is getting colder and windier outside, that we are hungry, that we have been there all day…and then we just come clean with him.
‘I know, baby, but you aren’t going to place in the ceremony,’ I tell him softly. ‘You fell, remember?’
He thinks about it for a minute and then looks into my eyes solemnly, ‘Mommy, I know I am not going to win a medal or a colored ribbon because I fell… but I got back up. I fell really hard and it hurt, but I got back up and then I participated in the second competition even though I was scared. May we stay so I can get my White Participant Ribbon?’
I see the surprise in my husband’s eyes and then pride. It is reflected in mine as well. Just like that, the student becomes the teacher. The lesson has been learned and now is re-taught.
As they call up the Mogul racers and present the top five with colored ribbons and medals, we cheer loudly. When our son collects his White Participant Ribbon, we shout and whistle louder than we ever have before because he is right: celebrating rising after a big fall is just as important (perhaps even more so) as winning.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jaci Ohayon of Colorado. Follow her on Instagram here and visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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