Spartan Headwall

Jennifer Savage essays

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The other day I doubted my daughter. I didn’t just doubt her. I flat out didn’t believe her and I told her so. It was not my best mothering moment. I had my reasons, but still, in the end I learned a big, bad lesson about my own judgment, my own stubbornness.

The day before I’d followed my girl all around our local ski hill. She waited on me as I slowly made my way down steep hills. I used to know how to ski. I learned as a 19-year-old college student on the same local-to-Missoula ski area. I spent that winter skiing around the west before heading back to my southern university where no one really skied because we were too busy hanging out on the rocks by the river in the sun.

That time of actually knowing what I was doing with skis strapped to my feet feels like a time long ago and far away. Eliza is clearly the better skier and as we made our way down the mountain she’d stop to tell me if things got icy, if I there was bump or which way to head at the bottom of the run. It seems she knows her way around our local ski hill and she was happy to show me the way.

We took the last chair up on one lift expecting to catch the last ride up on another but we didn’t make it time so we came down an easy run much to my pleasure and her disappointment. As we did we passed a black diamond run that I simply do not have the skills to ski. Knowing this, Eliza passed it up but pointed to it and holler over her shoulder.

“Next time we can do that one mama!” 

I could barely hear her over the sound of my own snowplow but I took a look over the edge and thought to myself can she really ski that? I knew immediately that she could but was glad she had spared me because, with our thin snow year, there were what looked to be trees saplings sticking up from the snow. It also looked to have been heavily skied that day which made me a little nervous.

As we headed down the final part of our run, Eliza motioned for me to come with her down a steep, yet groomed hill that headed straight for the lodge. I followed her watching from behind as she turned back and forth with what seemed like little effort. She moves her body in amazing ways and always has. I was so proud of her.

The next day she went skiing with her class.

“What did you ski today?” I asked.

“We skied some blue ones then we came down Spartan Headwall,” she said.

“Really,” I said. “That one we passed with all the tree saplings sticking up?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Did you really ski that one?” I asked not one bit unsure of her ability to ski it just unsure as to whether anyone could ski it based on how it had looked the day before.

“Yeah, we really did,” she said.

“Really?” I pushed. Eliza has, at times, been the creator of tall tales and I was pretty sure this was one of them. I just simply didn’t believe her.

“Yes, mom. We came down Spartan Headwall,” she said. I still thought she was creating a narrative in her head.

“Babe, it’s okay if you didn’t go down a black diamond run. It’s okay. Just tell me the truth,” I said.

“I am telling you the truth!” she said. She was starting to get upset.   

“It just seemed like it would have been hard to get down yesterday. Seriously, just tell me the truth,” I said. By this point she was crying and pissed.

In my defense I have to say that her tall tales have taken this turn before. She has been super insistent that she got up in the middle of the night to eat an apple, that she rode a horse bareback at a dead run, that she went down the tall slide at the pool without a grown up. All of things are innocent in my mind. She is toying with story, with truth, with fitting in and the reactions we all get when our stories have an impact. We’ve kept a close watch on it to make sure it stays in this realm and so far it has. I thought Spartan Headwall was landing squarely there and was trying to get her to admit it.

I asked Eliza how she’d feel if I contacted one of the dad’s that went skiing with her that day to see if they’d really skied that run. Normally, I would not have gone this far but I was trying to prove a point that I was proud of her no matter what she skied.

I texted the dad: Hey, Savagemama here. I think I’m getting a tall tale here…did you guys go down Spartan Headwall today?

Him: Your daughter speaks the truth. Quite incredible.

Me: I’m eating crow over here. Holy cow!

Him: Eat it!

And I did. I apologized over and over and over again to Eliza. She crossed her eyes, dried her tears and said, “I told you!”

You did. You really did. The message I’d hoped to convey, the I’m-proud-of-you-no-matter-what got flipped into I-don’t-believe-you and, even worse, I-don’t-believe-in-you. Holy hell did that suck.

I’ve spent the last week trying to undo the damage I did. It was never that I didn’t believe she had the ability to ski that run it was that I thought she was playing with the truth. But I’m not sure that’s what she heard.

I have said it every way I can think of and many, many different times but I think time may be the only thing that will heal this. At least for me.

Eliza seems to have moved on, forgiven me for serious lack of good parenting. She was happy to be proven right and that’s really all that mattered to her. But she hasn’t forgotten. When I questioned her yesterday about something very small she turned to look me, crossed her arms, furrowed her brow and with a little smirk pointed her finger at me.

“Spartan Headwall,” she said, code for you-better-believe-me-this-time. And I did.

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About the Author

Jennifer Savage

Jennifer Savage is a writer and mama of Eliza and Lucille. Lately, she's learning to be a farm girl, again. She writes from her home at the base of the Mission Mountains in Arlee, Montana. She is also one of Mamalode's favorite writers and you can fall in love with her too at .

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