In T-minus 35 hours and counting, I will drive to the airport in Kalispell and fly into Pellston, Michigan for a week spent with my mother, grandmother and stepfamily. I try to visit Michigan once a year–I wish it were more often but flights from my small mountain to my hometown are quite expensive. Tonight I’m listening to Prairie Home Companion and beginning to think about packing for my week at home and I just realized that there’s something very different about this trip than my usual fall trek to Northern Michigan.
I’m bringing a boy home to meet my mother and grandmother.
Yep, it’s the Big Move. I’m happy and in love and for the first time in my adult life, I’m bringing my boyfriend home to meet my family. And Cole is actually agreeing to subject himself to the wrath of my mother, Debbie, and Poison Lips, my grandmother.
What a brave man, indeed; we’ll see if he’ll endure the week and still want to share his life, his home, and his dogs with me.
Cole and I met last winter when I began to train with the United States Telemark Ski Team to race in the US Nationals, hosted at my home hill, Whitefish Mountain Resort. Cole’s been a telemark ski racer for years now and I’m quite new to this whole freed heel sport, but I thought since the race was happening my backyard, I too should give it a try. I was also encouraged by 5 time National Champion, Kelsey Schmidt-Sommer to give it a go. A go, I gave it.
When I first met Cole I was dating someone else. I was still operating in my Old Guys phase. Yep, I have that problem: dating older men. It’s been a nasty habit I’ve been trying to kick since I was 13. My first boyfriend, Josh, was a grade above me in middle school. Then, I dated my next door neighbor, Derek, and he was 16 and I was 14. Post my high school major relationship, I fell in love with several guys who I really shouldn’t have dated: they were all out of high school, could legally drink, and seriously, why would they want to date a senior high school?
At the time, I thought it was cool and mature to date these Boyne Mountain ski bums. They were ex-racers and ski techs, so my heart fell for them on the ski slopes. I was thisclose to graduating high school and I believed I was really grown up and instead of going to high school basketball games, I went night skiing and of course, since a lot of skiing is also about sex, the older boys followed. I could drink beer with them, listen to their stories about summers waiting tables at the Many Glacier Hotel in Montana and I thought I was meant to be older, meant to be 23 and not 17. Yes, my parents protested, but I was quite the jerk in my late teenage years, so I didn’t listen.
My love affair with dating older men didn’t stop in high school but it did manage to take a break during college. I really didn’t date anyone at DePauw, mostly because most of the guys thought I was a nut job with my shaved head and my deficiencies in failing to own or wear a Tiffany’s silver bracelet. On and off I dated the Drifter, the only relationship I’ve turned into a story and probably, thus far in my young writing career, my best story. The story isn’t entirely about him; it’s mostly about the Island. The Drifter was eight years older than me and we dated when I was eighteen, then twenty-one and then I finally broke our relationship off by moving to Montana–a place we’d both planned to move to after graduation. The Drifter didn’t come to Montana–he’s still in Michigan.
Once in Montana, my drug of choice was older men. It wasn’t until a dear girlfriend of mine pointed out that I dated these guys, who were closer to my parent’s ages than mine, that I really wasn’t in the relationship for the guy but for what the guy could teach me. It’s shallow but true. I’ve fallen in love for a whitewater canoeist and a ski patroller, guys who are honestly good men, but my attraction to them was for powder lines and paddling a solo canoe. Perhaps there’s an underlying Daddy Issue in me, but I really believe my attraction was more on the lines of student-teacher.
My love of the mountains is what drives me to people. And I’m an easy sell–teach me how to run the Middle Fork or take me backcountry skiing and I’m gonna fall and ignore the consequences.
But then I met Cole. He’s actually a year younger than me. And at first, I thought we shared a relationship more similar to a sister-brother than anything romantic. Or well, this was the scrip I told myself. Like my highly mature self, I showed up to practice, acting slightly obnoxious and decided to rename Cole Colio–like Polio but with a C. I’m impressive. But Cole saw through my silliness and I saw through his youth and we fell in love.
I spare you all the mushy details, but once you meet someone who is so complete–the person who you thought didn’t exist on this planet and you’d just simply continue to settle–it’s an unbelievably powerful and magical experience. Cole, like me, is an English major. We love books. And he also loves listening to Garrison Keillor each Saturday night on public radio–a rare find in a man of his age. He’s an incredible skier and loves the mountains. His parents had him on top of peaks around the same time my parents strapped skis to my feet. Cole’s kind, brilliant, quirky, loving and generous.
When I would go on first dates with men, I’d always brashly declare that I wouldn’t let a man change me. I am who I am, for better or for worse. I’m wild, loud, and really don’t enjoy being told what to do. When I made these public service announcements, or warnings, depending on your interpretive skills, I never considered if I was also wanting to change the men I was delivering the speech to (my main wish for many years: can you only be younger? and not have graduated high school when I was still in diapers?). It was always about me, and my way of life and how this relationship would need to yield itself to me.
When Cole and I went on our first date, which was more like the Sneaky First Date because I thought we were just eating dinner after a day of skiing–as friends and comrades in tele skiing–it wasn’t until my second glass of wine did I realize that I was sitting across the table from the man I’d fall deeply in love with. My second thought, after blurting out to a nervous Cole: Oh my! I really like you! We’re on a date!?!, was this:
I never ever want him to change.
I want Cole to be who he is now and forever. I want Cole to be with someone who honors his being and doesn’t try to change him in anyway. Instead of my old, well worn mantra of No Men Will Change Me, I actually thought of the other person first.
Oh, I know, I’m so selfless.
So, now we’re in the Big Move stages. We have a house together. We drove around Europe in a rented car on the Autobahn and I managed to snap only twice during our two week vacation. And Cole’s already survived meeting my father, which is honestly, the most excruciating experience any boyfriend of mine can undergo. My Dad’s always been the litmus test for me and Cole passed without any missed scores. In fact, over beef brisket sandwiches, my father instructed me not to screw this one up, instead of his usual lecture on how I always date the Wrong Guy.
On Monday night Cole will go through Test #2 with the women of my family. Poison Lips is my grandmother’s nickname and she’s been known to be brutal and harsh but really, she just says what’s on her mind. There’s no mistaking if my grandmother likes you or if she’s just playing polite. My dear little mother (really, she’s little. She stands only one inch over five feet) is beside herself to finally meet Cole. And my grandmother is also excited and can’t wait to take Cole and I to the island.
My grandmother’s boat, the Whaler, is already out of the water for the year but my grandmother’s got some tricks up her sleeves to con someone (I think this time it’s a younger man for her) to take Cole and me from the mainland to the island. We all can’t wait to introduce him to the island.
So, while I’m thinking about packing, I’m also thinking about how Cole will find my family (I’ve already instructed them to be on their best behavior and limit their rum and Coke intake to a respectable level) but also how Cole will find me, among the waves of Lake Huron and in the homes of my childhood, the parts you don’t always learn about someone until you make the Big Move.