Thursday, November 19, 2015


Chase, age 16
Chase loves the snow. He learned to snowboard as a teenager on a trip to Lake Tahoe with his brother, Jim, and cousins, Kyle, and Kevin. Dave’s sister, Vickie, and her family rented a cabin with us in the snowy village of Homewood. Vickie and I rented skis and snowboards and signed up for lessons with our sons at the mountain resort nearby. David didn’t need instruction, and Kirk chose not to ski, but he drove us to and from the resort in his minivan. That was scary enough! Especially, the one night when we ran into black ice on the way back to our cabin. 

I should admit my skills at the end of my lesson were not much better than when I began. A few sweeps down the bunny slopes and I discovered I had another skill, falling without breaking bones! Vickie fared much better. She had some prior experience, but our skills are not what this post is about. The point of this post is that we found out Chase was fearless with a snowboard, more so than his cousins. Very more so! And this was worrisome to us because we knew Chase, an autistic fellow, wasn’t always alert to his surroundings. David and I had tried, for the most part, to keep him out of danger, but we wanted him to have fun too.  

After Chase’s lesson we checked in with his instructor and he told us that Chase had done well. He had demonstrated two basic skills necessary for boarding, steering, and slowing down to a stop. Our boy was ready to fly, but I wondered how fast he could use those skills when speeding down a mountain. Being the oldest of his three cousins, he wanted to lead the pack. I recall one long discussion about staying off slopes designed for the pros with black diamond markers, but Chase seemed to think he was an expert. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the knowledge of an expert.

I will admit all of the boys possessed an amazing agility for snowboarding, but the grown-ups decided that to be safe they should stick together, and, if necessary, Kyle and Jim should act as bodyguards to rein Chase in. “Stay away from black diamonds,” we called to them as they marched off to the trails. That left Dave, Kirk, Vickie, and me with some freedom to relax in the lodge, and stay warm while we prayed.

As we sipped hot drinks on the sidelines, six-year-old Kevin, a quick study from his own beginners class, kept us entertained with his new moves. Outside the giant windows our boys blended in with the crowd, a blur of bright parkas and knit caps. Their antics reminded me of a pack of penguins dressed in fancy costumes instead of their usual tuxedos.  

I recall it was a week of bliss surrounded by stunning views of snow covered mountains studded with glistening pines, glowing fires, and lopsided snowmen. And sledding, my new thrill. Easier than skiing!  I'll never forget the boys’ ruddy faces when they came in from the cold, their eyes shining with excitement as they described their adventures. They told tales of Chase as though he was their hero, the way he flew the fastest and arrived at the bottom of the mountain first.

Although the controls we, as parents, placed on Chase were crucial for him to live in society, snowboarding allowed him some freedom to be himself, to be in control of his own body on the board. There were many tumbles for Chase on that trip, but after each one he emerged smiling and fearless, ready to fly again.

It’s an entire family, uncles, aunts, and cousins that help raise an autistic child.  

Uncle Kirk and Chase shoveling snow.