Pursuing Happiness

January 28, 2011

The other day, I was watching a program on how to become happier. Two of the main points made were that the more connections that you have with people, the happier you will be, and that experiences rather than acquiring “things” will lead to more happiness. I was struck by how often the life limitations of caring for an individual with developmental disabilities prevents those two things from happening for both the individual with disabilities and for their family members.

After Lauren was born we lost many friends to whom we could no longer maintain the activities and interests that bonded us. We didn’t make new friends like many new parents do when their children join the soccer team or take dance classes. We seemed to become more and more isolated over the years. I remember going to a church picnic and sitting, ignored, like three lumps on a log, while people were running off to participate in games and other activities.

We didn’t sit home and do nothing, though. We bought a motorhome and traveled to forty some-odd states with Lauren. But, then Lauren just got too big to handle in the confines of the motor home, and I was ending up bruised and exhausted at the end of each trip. We took Lauren skiing at an adaptive program in New York State. She absolutely loved it. I would stand at the bottom of the hill, freezing to death, waiting to check her after each run. She didn’t care how cold it got; she just wanted more and more. Unfortunately, Lauren developed ealry onset osteoporosis as a side effect of seizure medication and could no longer risk skiing.

So, now we are coming to a turning point in our lives. Lauren is about to embark on the next phase of her life and so are George and I. As we continue to explore ways to expand Lauren’s horizons and opportunities, we realize that we must do the same for ourselves. We hope to travel to some places we have been unable to visit due to Lauren’s limitations. We hope to be able to accept some of the invitations that friends have proffered over the years, but we have been unable to accept. And, we want to try some new things, together. George likes to fish, and golf, and ski, all of which, up until now, I’ve sent him off to pursue while I hold down the fort at home. He would prefer that I do those things with him, at least some of the time.

So, as a leap of faith, an attempt to add an “experience” to my life, I told George I’d join him on his latest ski trip….and take a lesson. One of the reasons I didn’t even consider trying sking before was the fear of injury. If I was injured, how would I take care of Lauren? At least now, we have people who can take care of Lauren if I ski off of a cliff or something.

If you know me well, you know that I don’t like the cold, or heights, or doing anything where I am not in control. So, this was a major leap of faith…far out of my comfort zone. As soon as I told George I would take a lesson, he called and made a reservation for me. No backing out now. My instructor’s name is Frosty…aw jeez.

I called a friend who knows the ski area well and she knows Frosty. She told me that she is a dynamic young woman and I’d do great. So, I psyched myself up and got out my woolies. The big day arrived and George guided me through renting equipment and getting organized. I felt like a mummy wearing Frankenstein’s boots. I clumped myself over to the ski school and waited….and waited. No Frosty. I guilted the clerk off of her phone call with her boyfriend and asked where my instructor was. “Oh, Frosty’s not even on the mountain today.” OK. Now what? Mmmmmm, could this be my out? “Aw, shucks honey, There wasn’t anyone to give me a lesson, so…..” The clerk called a gentleman wearing a ski school jacket over and asked him if he could do a lesson. He agreed. And that is how I had my first ski lesson with eighty-one year-old Alpine Jack.

Jack was a quiet little man who did not endear himself to me by asking me if I had any grandchildren. I actually think Jack is just looking for something to do to get him out of the house because he seemed a bit clueless on how to give a lesson. “Follow me down the hill.” is not what you want to hear while you have two sticks attached to your feet with no idea how to control them. I managed to figure out a few things on my own, like when one ski crosses another, you fall. And, the bunny slope is more slope than you might think. Most importantly, embrace the snow plow, it will save your life. Alpine Jack’s one compliment was that I was good at riding the lift. Enough said.

So, now that I’ve added a new experience to my life, am I happier? Well, I’m proud of myself for not chickening out. I spent a lovely day with my husband, minus the hour with Alpine Jack. And, in those few moments in which I managed to glide smoothly, effortlessly, over pristine, white snow, I caught a glimpse, a fleeting glance of the allure, the promise, that strapping two sticks on your feet and pointing them down a mountain could possibly, just possibly, result in sheer glee.

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