On White Knuckles and Comfort Levels

white knuckle drivingA semi hauling gasoline was in front, another semi was behind, and we were crawling along a snow-packed two-lane road under heavy cloud cover and falling snow.

My hands were at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel.  The tunes weren’t blaring like they are when the roads are dry.

“Will, honey, I can’t talk right now.  I need to concentrate on these roads.”

The snow kept falling.

The skies stayed gray.

My shoulders were tight.

My knuckles were white.


Few things are more exciting for a skiing 13 year old boy than waking to two feet of fresh snow.  All the pizzas, Mountain Dews and skateboarding videos in the world can’t compete with fresh powder and untracked runs.

Will was texting his dad by 7 a.m.  “Please dad!  We have to go!  They got two feet over night and four feet since Sunday!  Dad, we’ve been waiting for a powder day.  You have to go today.  Can you get away?”

When Mark got around to returning the text, the answer was, “Sorry, Bud, I’ve got a lot going on at work today.  There’s no way I can get out of town.”

Will was bummed.

I was bummed, too.  Mark steals away in the middle of the week, every week, to ski.  Selfishly, I was hoping Mark would take Will so I could avoid the scary roads.

Will and I talked of how the snow would still be there this weekend.  He stared at the ski hill’s website, adding up projected snowfall for the next couple of days.  He talked of powder pillows and cold smoke and drifts up to his arm pits.

While Jenny and I enjoy skiing, we don’t crave it the way Will does.  Hell, I can’t even adequately ski in two feet of fresh stuff.  But we have an unconventional life style.  We can juggle learning around our passions.  We can take off in the middle of the week and make memories.

So when Jen came out of her bedroom rubbing the sleep from her eyes, I said, “Good morning, Honey.  You got to sleep in today.  That’s a good thing because we are going to be in the car in 45 minutes to head to the ski hill.”

She didn’t groan.  She didn’t complain.  She knows that what we do to make Will happy will be matched with something to make her happy.

I looked over at Will to see him wiping happy tears from his big brown eyes.


With white knuckles on the steering wheel and total silence in the car, I got to thinking about exposure, risk and fear of the unknown.

I’ve lived in these parts all my life.  I know what to expect from wintry roads.  I know not to be cavalier about driving with my babies in the car in the winter months.  And yet, I still get freaked by driving on snow-covered roads.

Yesterday, sandwiched between two trucks, stomach clenched, hands sweating, I was forced to focus and overcome my fear.  With each snowy mile and icy curve, I got more confident.  I became acclimated to the conditions and reached a level of comfort that made the trip less scary.  An hour into the drive, even though the roads hadn’t improved, we had the radio on; we were talking of how fortunate we are to live the kind of life where we can ski in the middle of the week; and I didn’t have to ask Will to quit talking.

That’s how it is with all kinds of fear, whether it’s the fear of leaving a marriage, raising kids alone, making the choice to homeschool or starting a new job.  Once the choice is made, it’s a matter of putting my head down, focusing my energies and dealing with each mile as it comes.

Slowly the unknown becomes familiar.

The fear dissipates and confidence builds.

The white knuckle part doesn’t last forever.

Funny side note:  As we were riding the chair lift, marveling at all the new fluff, talking of which run to get buried in next, we saw Mark ski under the chair. 

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  1. Your advice is spot on: Once you get over being scared you can just take it one inch at a time. And … since your hands were freshly white knuckled, I’m sure they had the strength to throttle the N! Has he no shame!? What was I thinking … of course not.

  2. Pat,

    I know… unbelievable and yet SO predictable.

  3. As you say….You couldn’t make that stuff up!

  4. The almost exact same thing happened in my family this winter break. My younger brother is a lot like Will. {Except that he almost pulled a horrible tantrum all morning and almost pushed everyone out of the house..}Dad couldn’t get away from work so my mom braved icy windy roads and pesky semis to get all of us to the ski resort. While the two boys skied, Mom and I stayed cosy inside the resort, crocheted, drank hot tea, and watched Jane Eyre :D. We did get sort of lost on our way back but it was a happy day! Thanks for sharing this snippet, Jesse. :)

  5. Christina,

    Sometimes I have to remind myself that our craziest adventures make the best memories.

    Sounds like you have an awesome mom. ;)

  6. “White knuckles” is a great way to describe facing the unknown. It is true that eventually the unknown becomes familiar–but it sure is one heck of a process to get there.

    I feel like the sand is always shifting under my feet. We are all getting stronger.

    Thanks for being here Jesse. I love reading your words!

    Warm hugs and hot steamy cocoa wishes to your two and you!

  7. LOL! I think seeing Mark ski beneath you must have made the whole trip worthwhile…

  8. Lynn,

    It is one heck of a process getting through all this crap, but it’s a heck of a lot better than staying put.

    Thanks for being here, too, Lynn.

  9. Alyson,

    At the time, I was quite pissed. Now… I realize that seeing him ski by – wave cheerily and greet the kids – was further proof (not like we need it) of just what we are dealing with.

    He, of course, was completely clueless about possible hurt feelings when I asked him why he was at the ski hill.

  10. Yes. It is because my girls are older and less prone to their father’s ‘inadvertent’ cruelty that I can see the humor in it more quickly. It took me a long time to trust that they would survive the hurt. It ripped my heart out (still does) each time it happened. They saw it all and are stronger than I ever could have hoped. They learned to laugh about him before I did–to see it as his stuff rather than a deficiency in themselves.

    Keep up the good work, my friend!

  11. Thanks, Alyson!

    Really…. I know that many who comment here – myself included – benefit from hearing your words. Your girls give us hope that our younger ones will navigate all this and come up great.

    Thank you so much.

  12. I so agree with Jesse–Alyson! Thank you for sharing.

  13. Thanks for this Jesse…. I dipped my toe into the narcissistic quicksand last week, and got sucked right down again. Coming out of my hole now. I refuse to hide. I won’t live afraid of what’s next. You are right to say that moving through the fear is what’s needed, not hiding.

    And, REALLY??? Pardon my language, but, WTF? That man has not one ounce of shame, not that it surprises me much. Ugh.

    xo, NM

  14. NM,

    I know… I’ve been saying WTF about that guy for quite a few years now.

    It sounds like your incident last week was enough to remind you of why you don’t want to go there any more. ;)

  15. Yeah, that is definitely the conclusion I always end up at over and over. Never again. But its tough dealing with someone who knows how to push your buttons/pull guilt trips on you, etc. I’m done with the Narcissist, but she’s not done with me. Hanging in there & getting stronger all the time.


  16. NM,

    Our INFJ always wants us to give ’em another chance, even when we know better.

    *kicks INFJ in the shins – but not too hard*

  17. Yeah, so many of my friends and family are like “why do you even let her bother you? Just write her off & move on. Ignore her.” Sometimes, I really wish I didn’t hold myself to a higher standard than the rest of planet Earth. I want to do what’s best for everyone, not just what’s best for me. It would be easier if I could just say “screw it” and not look back. And it’s not that I’m interacting with her, but when she crosses boundaries; I just go through the whole thing emotionally all over again. And that’s exhausting.

  18. NM,
    As for me, it helps if I realize that it’s in my nature to not give up. That’s when I take in the advice of others who say, “You deserve better treatment. You can be done giving chances now. It’s okay. That doesn’t make you a bad person to decide to move on. You’ve given your best.”

    It’s particularly difficult when so many years are invested.

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