The gondola
Monday, September 6, 2010 at 4:14PM

This post was originally published on September 7, 2009.

“One of the important keys in understanding the remarkable smoothness of a Five-year-old is that he has an almost uncanny ability to judge what he can and cannot do… With tremendous accuracy he judges what things are and what are not within his ability, and he tries only what he is sure of.”

-Louise Bates Ames, Your Five-Year-Old

I have been reading my book about 5 year-olds and was struck by this statement.  What a lovely quality, to know yourself and live in this truth.

Normally, I would say that the years of my life have brought me to a place where others might describe me with these same words.  I know myself and live comfortably within my limitations.  As I was reading this statement and thinking about WJ, I found a deep pleasure in knowing that this time in his childhood would be characterized by such peace.  I was thinking about how I would need to be certain to trust him in these coming months as he declared his limitations.  I had noticed already a new bravery in some instances and also his matter-of-fact rationale for passing over an opportunity.

But then we saw the gondolas and I forgot to trust him and, even worse, I forgot to trust myself.

We had set out for one last summer getaway out at a discounted off-season ski resort.  Everything was perfect.  As we batted around ideas for our final morning, sipping hot coffee out in the Adirondack chairs and enjoying the cool morning and the view of the mountain, Dave noticed that the gondola lift was running.  It was carrying mountain bikers up the hill to their treacherous trails.  Dave had read that one could purchase a ticket to ride on the gondola lift.  For fun. 

I know myself.  I know that there is no way such a ride would be fun. Nevertheless, we wandered over to the bottom of the hill to investigate.  I think maybe I thought that we would find it was only for the bikers.  Or maybe that there would be an exorbitant fee that would offend the frugal sensibilities of my Dutch husband.

But I think mostly I was just trying very hard to honor my husband, to respect his ideas for our plans, to participate in one of the things that he finds enjoyable.  There are wonderful benefits reaped from our opposites-attract kind of relationship.  But sometimes it just gets us in trouble.

Looking up the mountain at the gondola cars waggling up and down on the limp wires, I mumbled that I didn’t think I could do that.  And WJ echoed.  No.  Not fun.  Not for us.  But Dave was talking to the operator, who had lifted his eyes begrudgingly from a book, and had taken out his wallet.  Four dollars for all three of us.  What a bargain. Dave was stepping on.

WJ and I followed aboard.  The doors closed.  There were no seats and no window panes.  The floor was a grill and the green whizzed by underneath.  I held on with both hands and Dave lifted WJ up so that he could have a better view.  Dave asked me something, something like, “Isn’t this fun?”

I began to chuckle but it turned immediately into the hysterical laughing of an up-too-late junior high girl at a sleepover.  I couldn’t stop; I gasped for breath; tears streamed down my cheeks.  The laughing lasted only a moment, though.  It quickly changed to outright sobbing.  I called out the name of the Lord, and not in vain, as the gondola car swayed. 

WJ was worried too.  I tried to comfort him.  “We are almost at the top!” I exclaimed with false composure, “When we get to the top we will be halfway finished!” 

“But going down is more scary!” he replied.

As if he had to tell me.

When WJ began to sob too, I pulled myself together.  “Do you think there is a way to walk down?” I asked Dave hopefully.  Maybe, was his reply.  As the gondola slowed into the station at the top of the mountain, Dave called out to the teenagers supervising to learn that we could probably walk down.  Probably was enough.  We stepped off of the ride.

It took forty-five minutes to climb down from the top of the mountain to the valley resort.  It was a steep, rocky fire road, littered and overgrown.  Have I mentioned yet that WJ was wearing Crocs?  It felt like we were searching unprepared through the wilderness for help after abandoning a broken car.  Our hike felt somehow desperate. 

But my feet were on the ground and I became myself again.

Slowly WJ became himself again too.  He spotted a frog and chased it.  Then a moth and a very fuzzy caterpillar.  In one of the happier moments of the walk, he took my hand and said, “I wish I could be like Daddy.  I wish I could like the gondola ride.”

I wish that too. 

Sometimes a five-year-old knows himself and his abilities but, for the love of the one he admires, he pretends as best he can to be someone braver.  It can happen to you when you are thirty-six as well.  Sometimes you can pretend hard enough.  But sometimes you have to walk back down the mountain.

This post is part of Steady Mom’s 30 Minute Blogging Challenge.  If you are a blogger, why don’t you give her Tuesday carnival a try?  It is a great way to get a midweek post up without ignoring your other responsibilities… for more than 30 minutes anyway.  

Update on Monday, September 6, 2010 at 4:17PM by Registered CommenterEmily

This is just to say that we have returned again from the same, gondola-ridden Labor Day vacation spot.  This year I did not attempt a ride on the gondola.  WJ, however, did ride with his dad and some friends and enjoyed it very much. TWICE. What a difference a year makes.  

What a difference the absence of your hysterical, sobbing mother makes.

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