In my optimistic, nothing-will-ruin-our-day voice I said, “It’s okay. He knew we were going to be here. He knows we don’t get to do a mid-week escape very often. He hasn’t asked to ski with us. This will all work out. Trust me.”
Will said, “I just wanna ski with you two today. We never get to ski just the three of us.”
I lifted a pair of skis to my shoulder and said, “It’ll work out.”
As we walked to the lodge my brain put on skis and started getting comfortable in its old grooves. Oh! it felt so good to ski there in the familiar terrain. I know the trees and the moguls there. I know when to slow down and when I can cut loose. In those grooves the signs read: “You better not hurt feelings.” “What would it hurt to invite him to ski with you today?” “It’s your job to facilitate his relationship with his kids.” “Above all, be nice.”
From the old grooves I could see some new trails where my brain is trying to make healthier grooves. Those new trails have sign posts marking the route, too. The signs read: “You don’t need to facilitate his relationship with the kids.” “He skis all the time with Will – more than you do.” “If he wants to be in Jen’s life, then he has to be the one to make the effort.” “This is the result of his choices.” “You can’t fix this.” “Do NOT accommodate.” “Have fun skiing with your kids and don’t feel guilty!”
I kept my eye on those sign posts as we put on our gear.
We exited the lodge, found our skis and there he was. He didn’t say a word. He appeared to be waiting for an invite.
I said, “Wow! It’s a gorgeous day!” to prevent myself from saying, “Would you like to ski with us.” And then I said, “Let’s go!” We skied to the lift. It’s a small ski hill. On a Wednesday, there’s a good chance we’d be the only ones on a run, which means we’d be the only ones in the lift line. So we jostled into position. Maybe we pretended not to see him. He got on a chair. Maybe he pretended not to see us.
Once on the chair, Jen said, “Well that was awkward.”
Will said, “I’m not skiing with him today. He told me he thought that you and Jen would rather not ski with him – that you guys often have had enough of him. I told him to ask you.”
I said, “It’s gonna be fine. I’ll explain that we need this day to ourselves.”
And we skied and laughed and skied some more. At one point, the three of us skied directly under the chair he was riding. Most folks would say, “Hey Will! Wait up! I’ll be right there!”
But no. He didn’t wave. He didn’t holler.
And we skied some more.
We didn’t see him at lunch, but I’ll admit that I kept my head down so as not to see him.
The sun was still out after lunch. We skied a new trail that Will said his dad would never agree to ski. We skied that trail twice. I asked Will why he liked it so much. He said, “Because dad wouldn’t want to go here, and you guys did.”
I spent some time wondering/worrying about whether to apologize for not inviting him to ski with us. I gave some thought to explaining that these days are few and far between. I considered telling him that it won’t be long before Will won’t want to ski with his mom and sister any more. Those old grooves can still be attractive, for some damn reason.
The stellar ski day came to a close. The sun shone on the untracked sparkles as we walked to the car. Sure enough, he was loading his car at the same time.
You can ski a whole day and never find someone you want to connect with, but if you want to avoid someone, they are there at every turn.
I encouraged the kids to tell their dad how fast they’d skied. I encouraged them to ask of his day. (Damn those grooves.)
As we drove home, the sky to the north was streaked with blues and lavenders. The sky to the south was glowing red and orange. We were the good kind of tired that comes from laughing hard in the fresh air. Nothing could ruin this good mood.
I said, “Well that worked out pretty well. He didn’t seem too pouty when we saw him at the car.”
Will said, “He was a little mopey when we talked to him, but I expected him to be worse.”
I said, “I decided to leave it alone instead of apologizing for not inviting him to ski with us. I don’t need to facilitate any more.”
That night my cell rang. I could see it was his number. My stomach clenched out of habit. When I said hello, he asked if it might be a good time to drop off the neck gator he’d found for Will. He wasn’t pouty or mopey or surly.
I hung up the phone and wondered how much time I’d wasted – over the years – facilitating, accommodating and making nice.
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