Family reflections: Skiing the slopes of motherhood together

By Kathryn Whitaker
Columnist

“Ski with people better than you!” my mom yelled at me from the top of the slopes in Angel Fire, N.M. Of course, I was terrified to find myself staring down a double black diamond with a bunch of teenage boys filled with zero fear. It was then I wondered if I should throw her advice out the window and head for the kiddie slopes. Somehow, I made it over the 8,000 moguls and back to the base of the mountain, huffing and puffing, but feeling mighty victorious.
After 15 years of mothering six children, that advice has stuck. Hitting the ski slopes now would probably involve a break of multiple bones, but in motherhood, skiing with women who are further down the mountain than I am? Just as solid good today, as it was then.
There have been women along my path who have done so many things before me — grieved the loss of a child, potty trained toddlers, suffered miscarriage, filled out college applications, navigated the teen years, dealt with an empty nest, weathered marital troubles, grappled with a loss of faith, prepared children for sacraments and survived a trip to Costco with hungry children. Each of those women prepared me for motherhood, yet each one looked different. Some were moms of many and some single, some older and others younger, some Dominican Sisters and others just coming into the church. It wasn’t our age or vocation that tied us together, but rather our Catholic faith that bound us.
We are thick in the teenage years and it is just as fun as advertised. And, by “fun” I mean the “meet Jesus” kind. Yes, it has its beautiful, funny, poignant moments. But forming little people who depend upon you for all things into big people asserting their independence is no joke. I keep wondering when we got on the double black diamond. And that’s when I remembered my mom’s advice and began looking for my skiing buddies.
A few weeks ago, we ran into some old friends at the end of Mass. When I saw Helen approaching with a warm smile and a hug, I immediately teared up. She has four accomplished, faithful, amazing adult children. In fact, some of them used to babysit our children back in the day. Her “baby” tied the knot a few weeks ago. Helen is a good 20 years further down the road than we are. For me, her advice has always been revered. Before the two of us finished our initial hug, I looked her right in the eye and said, “Please tell me we will survive the teenage years.” And I wish every mom of teenagers had been standing there to hear her beautiful words back to me. 
We stood there two moms in two different stations of life —  me, balancing a toddler on one hip and her, proudly chatting about her grandchildren. She placed her hand on my shoulder and relayed anecdotes from her own parenting years. She gave me hope. She reminded me that all these years of loving our kids — taking them to Mass, praying for them and turning to God in the hard moments — would be poured back into us if only we were patient enough. 
“Teach them the truth and they’ll always seek it,” she lovingly said to me.
The symbolism of that moment was not lost on me. We stood at the base of the baptismal font, where it began for both of us, with the crucifix hanging above, reminding me that no challenge, no fear, no situation and no child was too great for Our Lord’s grace and mercy.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day in a few days, take a look at the women in your life. Who is thick in the trenches with you? Who is helping you navigate searching for a spouse, living up the newlywed years, surviving parenthood or coming to terms with your empty nest? No matter our station in life, we all need our people. I suspect we all know a woman who skis better than we do and whose experience will lead us down the mountain. There’s grace in knowing we all make it to the base, perhaps a little battered and bruised, but with victory and accomplishment, too.
Happy Mother’s Day!