What to Expect from You When You’re Expecting

Here’s what I’d like to see from the plethora of pregnancy and parenting information, in addition to the weekly updates on the size of your fetus: this week a plum! next week your little cabbage will sprout hair and kick your bladder non-stop!, but also the real, hard and sometimes ugly truths about what happens to you, and your relationship with your spouse during those long months of gestation and the first year of your child’s life.

Week 5 of pregnancy: You just learned your pregnant because you feel like you’d been hungover for a week and you’d only had two glasses of wine with dinner. You’re excited! You’re terrified. You do not realize that from this moment forward, ever since the positive pregnancy test, you will be gripped in terror and anxiety. Joy and elation will factor in there too, somewhere, of course, but between the waves of nausea, you’re mostly going want to bury your head under the covers and wonder what is going on in your body.

Week 10 of pregnancy: you’re sitting in your car. In the garage. You’re sitting in your car in the garage because the man you think is your loving husband is cooking salmon for dinner and this is the only place, since it’s freakin’ winter outside, you can escape the stench. He claims he opened a window and the has the exhaust van on high but he doesn’t realize how insidious the smell of oily fried fish carcass is. Go ahead, sir, eat your fish, you say, while you nibble on Saltines and sob into the steering wheel.

Week 27 of pregnancy: Husband told you that when you plodded home from work, your feet the size of balloons, that dinner would be ready. Dinner will be ready at 7:30. You’re exhausted, and sweaty, and your underwear really no longer fits. Nothing fits. You’re starving. So hungry. Famished. So hungry you could *almost* eat salmon. You enter through the garage, and you note the lack of dinner smell emanating from the house. Husband greets you at the door, and he’s wearing his jogging clothes, looking fit and healthy and strong. Dinner is not ready. He went for a longer run than normal. Sorry! You absolutely lose your mind. You cry so hard, cry like the dog died tears. You stomp and pout and slam doors. Doesn’t he realize how hungry you are? Husband stares and seriously considers putting his running shoes back on and going for a run that will last for years.

Week 37 of pregnancy: While you continue to grow and expand and visit the Dairy Queen drive through for your daily intake of calcium ice cream, your super fit husband who hasn’t gained 45 50 pounds like you, runs a marathon. He is claiming he needs to do this before the baby comes. And he asks you not to go into labor until after the run. As if you have any sort of control. You can’t even control your bladder anymore. You have given up all forms of control, and really, this whole pregnancy deal is a great giant, and often mostly uncomfortable lesson in how little control you have over life.

Week 39 of pregnancy: you have a baby! A baby boy! It is nothing like you imagined. It is utterly nothing like you imagined. But somehow, in all of the weeks and months prior to this moment, in all the times of hysterics and tears, blissful joy when you feel those flutters and kicks, you actually do not utter one curse word during the 12 hours of labor. You, who use swear words like punctuation marks. You who have spat nasty things about your husband, do not yell or scream. Sure, you cry. Of course you cry. But you don’t even say damn. What’s happening to you?

Week 3 of Your Baby’s Life: you and your husband are in horror! You call the pediatrician’s office right away. Your son’s umbilical cord stump falls off and no one has prepared you for this: it’s gooey and slightly bloody. Something is very wrong. You are both disgusted and, my god, you recently gave birth using a mirror and that was exponentially more startling than this. Your husband dials up Doctor Google while you’re on hold with the nurse at the pediatricians office. You both wonder if your doctor has a limit to how many times you, as newly terrified and woefully unprepared parents, can call. Perhaps you’ve already reached that limit.

Week 6 of Your Baby’s Life: Husband goes off to the gym for like 3 hours while you’re in a fog of deep, deep exhaustion. This begins the barter system, this begins the keeping track of who does what, and soon you’ll be trading solo trips to the grocery store for diaper changes. You know you’re supposed to be so happy! so so happy! about the new baby but this beautiful boy has ripped your life and your marriage wide open, exposing old grievances and highlighting how dang selfish you both are. What have you done?

Week 26 of Your Baby’s Life: At this point, you have no real clue how old 26 weeks is. Is it a wonder week? A wise week? Two months old? 6 months? Are you supposed to be keeping track? You measure your days in gummy smiles, explosive poop updates and how much 5 hours of sleep seems like a full, restful night. Together, you’re giddy. You’re slap happy together, and while those spats about who gets to go for a run without the baby or scrubs the toilet crop up every now and then, you’re starting to find purchase together.

Month 11 of Your Baby’s Life Because You Can’t Even Recall What Day It Is: Today, your husband worked 16 hours. Sometimes you forget this because when you’re home with baby all day you think that a grueling 16 hour brew day is like a mini vacation. And your husband thinks that rolling around in the grass with your almost year old son is a vacation. (Don’t tell him but it kinda is.) So, you bring your son to work, lucky you because work is a brewery, so you get to drink beer and your son gets to scream in delight when he sees his dad, soaked in his dirty Carthartts, through the glass windows separating production floor from tasting room. When your husband walks through the door, your son reaches for him and smiles bloom on both of their faces. Your son clings to your husband.

And, you think, we’ve almost made it to one year. We didn’t know what the fuck  heck to expect, and no one tells you that really your baby is fine, it’s you two who need to be raised, nurtured, and sometimes coddled, but somehow, you’re arriving at this milestone, together, as a family.

 

To the Lake We Went

Today, August 26th, my little baby, who’s not so baby-like anymore, is 11 months old. The last month of his first year of life. What a full life it’s already been. What a full almost-year it has been.

But, wait. This is not about Charlie’s  first year of life, or my first year as a mother. I am not completely ready (OK, slight rant: this whole talk about readiness either when you’re pregnant, just about to give birth, or even trying to raise a baby who will now require three people to pin him down to change a dirty diaper is complete and utter bullshit. There is no ready! It does not exist!) to meditate on Charlie turning one years old. What I am ready to write about is our lovely summer together, one in which Charlie Barley got to visit Marquette Island and meet his Neal/Pittman family relatives and experience the magical lure of Lake Huron.

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Lucky me: I got to return home to the island for two weeks in July. Two whole weeks on Marquette Island. Two whole weeks of riding in the Boston Whaler, jumping off the dock into the brisk waters of the flowing Middle Entrance Channel, cocktail time on the deck with my cousins, our laughter echoing between that space between land and water, family meals gathered around the enormous dining table that was, in its previous life, a conference table from my grandfather Donald Neal’s tenure at General Motors, and afternoons spent wandering the cedar strewn paths to Peck’s Bay with Charlie on my back in his little carrier. In the decade plus since I moved to Montana, I’ve longed for home, but always knew my heart resided in northwest Montana. Yet this trip, imbued with so much meaning, and loveliness, sharing the island with my firstborn, I did not long for Montana. In fact, I found it difficult to leave, especially when Cole arrived for the last four days of our vacation. I thought: we’re all together now, surrounded by water, and couldn’t we just stay a few more days? The whole summer?

That’s what the island will do to you. Especially when there’s shoddy cell phone service and no Internet.

Especially when your baby boy learns to crawl, devours his meals on the deck, eating with such great gusto thanks to all that fresh air and, of course, the entourage of loving relatives who gathered around his high chair at each meal, marveling in how well he ate his broccoli and what seemed to be a pound of raspberries. Especially when you take your nine month old son into Lake Huron for the first time, and he pedals his legs in the water. It’s as if he wants to run further and further into the lake. He shrieks and is just so happy! And you think: is this happiness hereditary? Is it in his genes to absolutely adore this place like his mom, his grandmother and great-grandmother do? Does he know that last July, before he was known to his parents and the whole wild world that he was here at this island, that while still in the womb his mother swam, err–floated, bobbed, in the lake, wondering just who “Figgy” would become?

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Perhaps it was how darn excited Charlie was to ride in my grandmother’s trusty and steadfast Boston Whaler that did it. Is what made me say: I’m not ready to go home, just yet. Charlie — a little man who has little patience for car seats or any other restraining device did not fuss or balk at wearing his life jacket. He loved sitting in the bow with me, turning backwards to look at my mom driving the boat, screaming with delight. He even loved the boat rides so much, that in the rough choppy ride to see where my Aunt Darcy used to live, he fell asleep in Cole’s arms. To say my heart melted into a puddle is an understatement. It was windy and cool, and not a smooth boat ride whatsoever, but cradled in his father’s arms, Lake Huron lulled him to sleep.

Charlie’s now the 4th generation of my family to enjoy Middle Entrance. Four generations of kids growing up learning about waves and boats, cedar trees and cool waters imprinting on our bodies, minds and hearts. Journeying to the island with my baby boy renewed my love for the island, and my “vacation” home felt much more than a reprieve from the realities of life, but rather, a gift. A continuance of family legacy, of discovery, and wonder, and really: of love.

Leave a Trace

Leave a trace.

I’m not talking about your digital footprint, or littering your snack wrappers alongside a trail. You’re mindful of the types of photos that surface on the Internet, right? And you know not to pick the wildflowers, or put a baby bison in the back of your car, correct? From the headlines and celebrity gossip rags, we know that just because you hit delete on a photo or incendiary post, doesn’t mean it disappears. Put down the selfie stick and take up the pen. Or you could do both, selfie stick in one hand and take a photo of you writing a letter to your mom.

What I want is for you to leave trace, the physical objects of your life. Surely, with your smartphone and all of your apps, you still have something tangible to mark your existence, no update needed. Even if it is a shopping list. In our house, there is a very particular order in which Cole or I write our grocery shopping list. And in case you’re curious he and I do not ascribe to the same methodology of list creation and organization. If you add something to the list you better do it in the same fashion as the one who will be using said list or else half and half or diapers or–gasp–the bottle of wine will be forgotten.

Believe you me, someone in the future, be it in a week or a generation from now will be glad, delighted even, that you left a trace. Even if it is a grocery list. Perhaps one day, Charlie will say: in my house my parents only really shopped for coffee, meat and something called dog meat*.

(*Wylie and Matti are spoiled and get real food to accompany their dry dog food. No, we do not buy or consume dog meat. FYI.)

Operating systems will go obsolete. Batteries die. Charging cables break. In twenty, fifty years from now who will actually plug in your old iphone and search for photos? Facebook might not even be the “thing” two years from now. Do not let your precious memories, the photos of a messy, messy baby smeared  from chin to crown of head in raspberries go away. Print the damn photo. It takes but a click or two these days. Sure, it may be ambitious to keep a baby book but at the very least scrawl or note or two, like: “this is the second time this week Charlie’s had a poop explosion in his high chair and it leaked everywhere. Motherhood is SO much fun!”

Combine the ease of connective technology with the lasting kind too. I text my mom, dad and mother in law daily photos of Charlie. It’s irresistible. Plus he’s so damn cute. But I also try to jot a quick note and mail it off in the post. I am fortunate to have relatives who’ve left a trace. In preparation for Passover, I poured over Cole’s grandmother’s cookbooks. Marking certain recipes were clippings from old newspapers, receipts or notes written in her small, tight cursive. I never had the opportunity to celebrate a Passover Seder with Cynthia before she died, so what I have left is her Jewish cookbooks, and the physical remnants of her life well lived, serving as a guidepost on how to carry on traditions.

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Cole’s passion, or perhaps his obsession with record keeping comes from his mom. Jeanne’s given me the journals she dutifully kept throughout his childhood. His 111th word was “no” for snow. On Friday, November 16th, 1984 he and his family dined at the Imperial Palace and do you know what his first fortune from the cookie said? “You are a credit to your parents.” How’s that for kismet? My mom gave me my baby book, and I very much enjoy seeing how my weight and height stack up to Charlie’s when I was his age. And, most importantly, I have the best gift from my childhood. The letters my mom wrote to her sister, my Aunt Darcy, from my birth to the mid 1980s. I not only cherish the glimpse into my mother’s life with her two young children, but also the opportunity to experience the close relationship between two sisters, sadly cutoff when my aunt died in 2000.

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You may not think it now but your sticky notes with funny baby words jotted down, and birthday cards, and letters shared between siblings are important, but they are. Save them.

My memory is already shoddy. Charlie grows so quickly and the nature of his being resides solely in the present. With a baby, you can hardly catch your breath before the next action. There is no past, or future. It’s here and now. Very much now, says the Spoon Czar at lunch, peaches and cereal plugging his nostrils. In addition to the multiple photos I take with my phone, I keep his baby book close at hand. A quick note here, recording the funny fart noise he makes when we ask: “Can you say Daddy?” The pictures I print are not organized, dated and few make it into frames. Many dangle from magnets on our fridge, next to always forgotten coupons for diapers and the “here’s what your baby should be doing” worksheet from the pediatrician’s office. My trace is messy, stacks of notes here and there.

Leave your handwriting scrawled on scraps of paper or birthday cards. Leave love letters and signed permission slips. Leave underlined books and actual printed photos stuck to actual pages in a baby book. Take up the pen, marker or pencil and leave your mark. Clip out articles from a newspaper, don’t just share a link on social media. Send the ones of interest to your mother, your grandmother. Dog ear magazines articles about hikes in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Leave a trace. Leave your trace.

Swell

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Motherhood: smooth and rough. But you stay afloat.

Last Thursday, I moved around the house, sorting through piles of dirty laundry, restocking baby wipes, cooking apples to make applesauce for Charlie. A lump in my throat swelled. Charlie sat atop a quilt my mom made, belly pushed out over his forever-in-motion legs, raking toys in his plump hands, while smiling, squawking, babbling and screeching in delight. A wave of love, tinged with grief rolled over me.

My soon to be eight-month-old son is growing up. Each day, he grows, he develops, he becomes less of me, and more of him. This is what a parent hopes for. A healthy baby, moving through childhood. In bed that night, before we turned out the lights, I looked at Cole and cried, “He needs me less and less. He no longer nurses before he goes to bed. And soon, so soon he’ll be eating solid meals three times a day! What about me?!” Cole squeezed my shoulder.

Since last January when I learned I was pregnant, I’ve been flooded with this sense of creation and dependence. For those 39 weeks in utero, Charlie was utterly dependent on me. For his life. My life, no longer my own, was submerged, swimming through the often cloudy waters of pregnancy, strange and unknown, uncharted but navigable. Consumed, obsessed, full (pregnant, in so many senses than the physical) I was heavy, preoccupied, concerned, anxious, excited, nervous, terrified, ecstatic for the baby. It’s all I thought about. And when you’re pregnant you need little reminder of what you’re carrying. (And oh god, once baby arrives. Obsession/worry/anxiety/joy –as in am I getting high off the feeling of the weight of his small body on my chest?– goes to an entirely new level.)

Cole says I’m willfully independent, sometimes to a fault. So, here’s what happens. You take a willfully independent woman and turn her into a mother. For all those weeks of gestation, you tether her to her unborn child. She is one and two at the same time. She gives birth and the physical symbol of connection is cut, but she is terrifyingly still connected to this child. She has to continue to sustain his life. Sometimes she feels like she’s drowning, a feeling that is a combination fierce love — a sense of devotion that floods her veins —  and also fragility, caused by exhaustion, fear. Oddly, this sense of drowning is beautiful. She’s buoyant. There is, actually, air. She can breathe.

Yet this boy, he starts to float away.

This business of motherhood is a lesson in letting go. In surrender. In trust, in faith. In allowing yourself to be carried by the waves, taken further and further from shore.

I inform Cole that I’ll breastfeed Charlie forever. He laughs. Then in his matter-of-fact, “I love science” way, he tells me that no longer does my breastmilk provide all the nutrients Charlie needs. He needs other foods.

There it is, right there, in that sentence: He needs other….

I could not have become Charlie’s mother if I did not need, experience “other.” And he needs other: others to give him love, nourishment. For others to dote on him, to spoon the mess of applesauce into his bell shaped mouth. For others to hand the wooden block to his outstretched fingers.

I know not to dam my heart, but rather to let myself take on the swells. My boat will surely take on water, list and tip. No one said the crossing was smooth sailing. Like the many times on Lake Huron when we rode my grandmother’s Boston Whaler through a storm, fog so thickly set between land and water, bow of the boat crashing into the whitecaps, the wind and boat’s engine mixing together into one all encompassing sound, we rode up, up up into the waves, bow airborne for a second until the fall, and then hitting water again, a brief pause until we hit another wave. Exhilarating, surely. Face wet and cold from the sting of rain pellets, I did not bury my face into the collar of my rain jacket. I looked out, staring at each wave, knowing my grandmother could always handle the boat with indomitable confidence and skill. I did not worry about our stormy journey, we’d always make it back to the boathouse, even if the boat swamped with water.

Here’s my life raft: the boy will float, carried through the surges of water, and like the waves, will at some point, return to shore.

 

 

 

 

Mama Strength

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Seven months postpartum, I love my mama body. Seriously, I do. And it’s not like it’s a body that I could be convinced, without a healthy dose of gin martinis, to pose in a bikini on the cover of a magazine (oh wait, those are totally fake photos anyway!). It’s not like I’ve subscribed to the unhealthy focus on the post-baby body and workouts, getting my pre-baby body back. On this journey of motherhood, there is no going back, in the physical or any other sense.

For the first time in my adult life, or probably since high school, I love my body. No longer do I curse my thighs or wish for hard abs. Sure, I could do without the periodic zit or two, and the dark circles under my eyes are bothersome, but my body itself? My body is Mama Strong now. This is a body, that without me consciously knowing or telling it to grow, developed and nurtured a tiny, tiny cluster of cells that turned into the young boy that is wholly, beautifully, Charlie. This is a body, until recently, provided my son with his sole source of nutrients. Sustained on breast milk alone, this wonder of a child grew gorgeously and enviously long dark eyelashes, found strength to hold up his head, roll and grasp toys, giggled, cooed and says “Ma.” (Side note, Charlie usually says “Ma” when he’s tasting a food he does not like…sigh).

My body is not perfect. My thighs are lumpy and bear stretch marks. Part of my part are softer and bigger than they were before pregnancy and childbirth. But this imperfect body and this imperfect mother has little time or care for perfection. Or to indulge in the ridiculous expectation of a rockin’ mama beach bod. I do not have time nor the energy to really aspire to do so.

I have Mama Strength, which means I can lift, hoist and wrangle an-always in motion baby onto a changing table with minimal mess during a massive diaper blowout. My boobs leak breast milk anytime I dare to wear an item of clothing that requires hand washing, a lesson learned the hard way. Mama Strength is strong in not just the physical sense, as in bike rides with my baby boy chuckling behind me in his little trailer, but also in the emotional sense. I am strong because my heart breaks daily. Whether it’s a first: rolling onto his belly or plucking Cheerios off his tray, or the massive smile he flashes when his father returns home from work. Or when it’s a rough day, the teething pains, the no napping, the fussing, the crying and the bone-tired weariness sets in and I wonder: will I ever get a moment to myself?

Mama Strength helps me carry on.

Mama Strength comes not only from pushing strollers and cradling newborns but from also, and a major emphasis on also, mamas themselves. Like my mother. Oh how oh how oh how can I fully give credit to my own mother for giving me guidance, confidence-ish, and encouragement for raising Charlie? There are not enough skies spread across this Big Sky state to capture my gratefulness to my mom. Then there are the many mamas of my family: mother in law, grandmother, aunts and cousins who bestow their advice and love near and far. Mama Strength comes when you break down in front of your friends, sobbing that it’s just too hard, you’re too exhausted. And you know what? They’re tired too. They’re as clueless about raising babies as you. But they are strong, they are kind, and they are compassionate.

Just what you need. 

So yes, I may still pee a little bit while I sneeze or laugh. My body isn’t it’s old telemark racing self, a body that could deadlift hundreds of pounds. You know what? I am not longing for those days (well, maybe a little bit. Ski racing in Europe? Oh yeah, life was damn good then, even if I always came in last place in nearly every race.). I’m ok, I’m more than okay with this new, transformed body. This body, inhabited by a less than perfect woman, who’s day by day showing her son the world be it on the trail in Glacier National Park, along the paved bike paths of our Flathead Valley or simply our lawn while I mulch, via Mama Strength.

 

 

It Takes a Village

While I think it’s beyond true that it takes a village to raise a child, recently I’ve had the revelation that it takes a village to raise a mother.

And for this new mom, I have a big, beautiful, kind and generous village. And I honestly don’t know if I could “raise” Charlie without my village. Besides needing me for milk, diaper changes and keeping slightly dangerous objects out of his mouth, it seems like Charlie is already so good at figuring life out. It’s me, his often anxiety ridden mom who needs the raising, the nurturing, the comforting.

Got a child? You need a village.

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A fine example of some of my village’s inhabitants.

Oh your babe will likely be fine. Seriously. Babies are amazing. But you? You, who haven’t slept well since the end of your second trimester and find a bag of dinner and dessert on your doorstep from a neighbor down the street (who, you might add has three kids, including twins of her own)? You, who may have walked three miles with your not-really-napping child only to discover you’ve done so with your nursing bra unstrapped and your lovely (and blue veiny) breasts peeking out for all the world to see through your tank top?

Yeah, you need a village.

You need meals, and baby clothes, and someone’s shoulder who might contain the exact amount of spit up as yours to cry on. You need a village to talk a walk around the block with, you need a village you can access via the Internet to send the 100th photo of your now somewhat-napping-child eating (smearing) bananas and sweet potatoes. You need a village of men, women, mothers, and grandmothers, neighbors, friends, great aunts and single friends who laugh hysterically when you text: “Mom hangover is the worst. Seriously considering daycare. And Taco Bell.” (Note: send that text to your friends. Not your mom after your first night out with your girlfriends once the wee lad is in bed and Dad is settled in for a quite evening, free of your constant questions: are you sure we should feed him homemade carrots? I think I read somewhere about nitrates…)

Your village should contain neighbors of the grandparent set who bestow you plants for your garden and gush when they can take your son on a garden tour at their house. In your village (think BIG now, not just some hut. But it’s totally OK if your village is a hut. The borders of your village should be wide.) you’ll have your mom who’s always on cellphone standby, who can distinguish between teething and an ear infection over the phone, and in less time than it takes your rather attractive pediatrician to wash his hands during the check up, because you scheduled one justincase. And your mother in law? She also knew it was teething too. Always check in with the grandmothers. They know pretty much everything.

It’s extremely helpful if your village contains other moms who’s babes are around the same age, because in the early months you’ll both be up at 3:34 am nursing and need someone to reach out to. You both understand that meeting for a walk at 10:00am with the babes tucked in their strollers will happen at 10:21, 10:45 or not at all. Or will happen for 6 minutes, and then someone will fuss, cry and have a major poop explosion. You also need moms who’s kiddos are a few years older, because well, they’ve lived/survived through the first year. They also have lots of great gear they’re willing to share. They know you need a hot dinner, a beer to bitch about your husband and they will certainly entertain your barrage of questions and fears, like: “There’s a major thunder and lightening storm, and well, it’s Charlie’s first. And! Oh no!  The power’s out and it shut off the baby monitor. Is it weird that I’m on all fours crawling into his room to figure out how to reset it? Do you think he’s scared? Is he OK?”

Response: “Is he asleep? Did he sleep through you crawling into this room? He is fine. And stop going in his room!”

Luck and blessings don’t even begin to describe my village. Fortunate is a prayer that hangs on my tongue. Joyful: he’s sitting up! First words: Mom! My village is there, ready to celebrate and share in my excitement of these milestones. Tearful: he won’t sleep! I’m exhausted! He’s teething and in such pain! There is my village, offering a hug, a sigh and all the support in the world that is needed to raise a child.

Raising a baby? Yes. But also, simultaneously, raising a mother.

And I have my village to thank.

 

 

 

A Family that Skis Together Stays Together

Earlier in March we took a family vacation to visit my brother JD and his girlfriend Marion in Lake Tahoe. The trip wasn’t limited to our new family of Cole, Charlie and me. My mom and grandmother, and Cole’s parents all flew west to ski at Squaw Valley. It was a massive family ski trip. It was a trip of many firsts, such as things are these days with a now 6 month old baby. It was the first time my mom and grandmother visited my brother in California, his adopted home of nearly a decade. It was everyone’s first time to ski in California. And, it was Charlie’s first plane ride, which he actually enjoyed and thought the bouts of turbulence were great fun.

For my family, this was the first time in 21 years we took a vacation together. That vacation? Well, that vacation was to ski at Big Sky when JD and I were in middle school. It was spring break. My mom, JD and I skied while my grandmother read and worked on cross word puzzles in our rented condo. That was the trip where I fell in love with Montana and made a promise to myself that one day I’d end up living in the mountains of Montana. You know who else was on their spring break ski trip at Big Sky that very same week all those years ago?

The Schneider family.

Who knows, perhaps Cole and I even skied on the same run or were in the lift line at the very same time? Of all the ski resorts, in all the mountains, in all the world, we skied the same one.

Staying slopeside at Squaw, clan Schneido (that’s what we call ourselves, thanks to our dear friend Nat who combined Cole’s and my last names) occupied one room, my mom and grandmother in another next door. Bruce and Jeanne roomed at a hotel nearby and my brother and Marion stayed at their house in Truckee. The first morning, I awoke the sounds of howling winds and a downpour. The weather at Squaw would prove to be quite the menace, and most days forcing the closure of the upper mountain lifts. But, nonetheless, despite the rain and winds, and then eventual dumping of more than two feet of snow, the terrain off of KT-22 offered more than enough to satisfy my cravings.

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My brother, JD and me, riding up KT-22 at Squaw Valley. 

And, I got to ski with my brother, and we quickly fell into our old roles of me following him around the ski hill. When I think of skiing and how much I just love it, having shaped me since I was a toddler, I often forget about the connection shared between my brother and me. I tend to narrow my focus and thinking of myself, roaming around Nubs Nob as a child. And JD was right there with me, the whole time.

JD, a couple inches over six feet tall, charged down the chutes of Squaw. And as I followed him through the fog, I was transported back to our childhood. Our ski styles haven’t changed one bit. He’s so playful on the snow, still darting across the edge of a run to pop off a little jump. As a little kid, he was always launching off jumps, doing tricks like Spread Eagles and Daffy Ducks. I lean on the technical side, ever conscious of form. But we both like to go fast. And we both love to ski.

As siblings, we’ve had our fair share of fights and periods of calm. And as we’ve grown up and moved away from Michigan, each of us working quite hard to scrape together a life in the mountains, we’d lost touch a bit. Perhaps we’d see each other yearly…maybe. However, Charlie’s birth has resulted in a reconnection and my brother drove from Lake Tahoe to spend two weeks with us late last fall. On one of the chairlift rides, JD turned to me and said, “I think this is the longest we’ve gone without fighting.”

I shook my head, and replied, “Yup. That’s because we’re skiing together. Perhaps we should always be skiing.”

On our last day in Tahoe, it snowed and snowed and snowed. 26 inches and counting. JD skied with Cole in the morning while I played with Charlie, often holding him up to the window to watch the fat wet snowflakes fall from the sky, with the avalanche bombs echoing in the distance. JD and I took the afternoon shift, and the two of us were giddy in the deep snow. Finding fresh tracks in chutes, we charged through the powder. Toward the end of the day, the snow was so deep in the Headwall area, we had to push and push to find momentum. I hooted and hollered, and JD would look back at me and grin.

He’s a man of few words, probably because his big sister did so much talking for him, but at one point he turned to me, and said, “I don’t want to sound cocky but few people can keep up with me. But you’re like right behind me, the whole time.”

Did my brother just pay me one of the greatest compliments? He sure did. I wanted to hug and kiss him, but I knew that would just disgust him, so I said thanks and we charged back to the lift for one last run together.