A few months ago, I asked a question on Chairman Mom about taking my kids skiing for the first time. Beyond CM, I’ve been asking this question to people since the kids could walk. I got a lot of answers, but no one really spoke to the question I was really asking, because I wasn’t really thinking of the question I was really asking.
It wasn’t about taking some California kids up to Tahoe and putting them in a ski camp. That is—in and of itself—hardly an unfathomable concept. What was unfathomable to me was the world of skiing and what it signifies.
I did not grow up poor by a lot of people’s standards, but I grew up without a lot of things those around me had. I only rode on a plane once before my 20s, and that was a class trip to Washington DC, paid for by the school because my parents couldn’t afford it and the school didn’t know what to do with me if I was the only kid who didn’t go. I turned down the meal, because I was the first one on the row and thought it would cost extra. I spent the rest of the flight starving and feeling stupid.
This is the thing when you grow up just poorer than everyone around you. You spend a lot of it trying to pass and then feeling the equivalent of starving and stupid later on. I had a roof over my head and got a great education, so I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me. I understand how much privilege I have. And in many ways, growing up this way was a gift. When I graduated and got my first reporting job making a whopping $24,000 a year I felt rich because I could go out to eat every once in a while and afford basic cable.
But I spent way too much of my childhood and teens always trying to hide this from people around me and hide from my parents that this was a thing I always felt and was trying to hide. One of the only times I remember lying at school was when I had to write a restaurant review for an assignment in 7th grade. My family didn’t go to restaurants. McDonald’s was a special occasion, and if I picked McDonalds I was gonna be laughed at for sure. So I lied. I reached into the recesses of my mind to a restaurant I went for my dad’s birthday, maybe, five years earlier—the only one I could remember. I made up the rest of the details and hoped I didn’t get called out.
I have a million stories like that. (Just ask my kids. “We know, your entire family only got one bag of goldfish a week and we get one in our lunches every day…”)
People think I’m overly confident and unapologetic about who I am, and that’s true, mostly. But there’s something about growing up with so much less than those around you that permanently does sort of a head f*** on you. You are doing well enough to be part of their world, but you are aware you aren’t really in it.
Skiing is that to me. It’s a sport of extreme privilege, where the better you are tends to correlate with the resources you were raised with. I know there are exceptions, but most people really into it start young and grow up in it. It felt like a permanent gulf. This was both the reason I felt I needed to take my kids skiing and why it felt like such an incomprehensible thing to me at the same time.
These things aren’t rational. For many years now, I’ve had the proximity to skiing and enough money to try it out. I’ve even been invited on many conferences and events where the skiing was free and included. I would always find an excuse to stay in the lobby.
Evie made skiing her New Year’s resolution this year, confident I could make that happen. I might as well have made a resolution about going to the moon when I was her age. Eli couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that Paul had only skied once growing up. “Why couldn’t you just go to Tahoe?” he kept saying. It’s weird when you see your kids becoming the things that made you feel like an “other” for the first 20-plus years of your life. Is that progress? Or is that the opposite?
I made so many stupid, rookie mistakes this past weekend that betrayed this gap. (Um…who knew kids’ eyes could get sunburned????) I felt like people kept having to explain very basic things about the unspoken norms of ski resorts. Like, after our lesson, where were we allowed… to go??? I felt shame even asking these questions. It was my school days all over again. This place and this life wasn’t for me. It was only then that I realized why planning this trip had felt like such an ordeal for so many years.
When I watched them on their first lesson, and I was mostly proud of the life I’ve been able to give them, modest as it still seems for most people I know in the Bay Area. I mostly just felt a weight off me, because this thing about skiing has grown and grown and grown each year I put it off.
And then, on our final day, I decided to take the lesson with them. They couldn’t really understand why a 40-year-old woman who seems afraid of nothing and loves to exercise had spent her whole life never putting on a pair of skis. And they may never get it. But I wanted to model to them that my baggage would never need to become their baggage.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Teaching elementary school kids, and introducing the idea of gender bias
- Tips for mid-career burnout recovery – and preventing a recurrence
- How are you navigating the legalization of pot and kids?
- Expectations around job seeking and thank you notes?