I myself am tired of my stories about SVS trips in general and of skiing trips in particular. But I just can’t help it!
The truth probably is that what I see happening on trips happens all the time at school, but it happens so privately that I almost never get to see it. On a trip I am in closer contact with the kids than in school and I get to see things which are delightful to me and which shed light on what the school is all about.
Dr. Seuss said, in The Cat in the Hat, “It is fun to have fun but you have to know how”. The kids at SVS really know how to have fun no matter what situation they find themselves in. Thus, for example, we have had many days of rain and terrible conditions on the Wachusett day trips. In fact one rainy day we were the only skiers left on the mountain. It was so bad that people got vouchers to ski free on another day (we did too) and they all went home. Our kids just kept skiing. It was absolutely exhilarating to be with them. The cold wet rain gave them new ways to enjoy the sport. They were laughing with joy and made the rain their friend. For me it was almost more fun than skiing in perfect conditions. This day all the kids went together, waited for each other and helped each other. Then when I joined them I was included as part of the gang. It made me feel young again, light hearted, and without a care in the world but to get myself down the mountain in one piece. When I was done I realized that skiing in the rain was a case of enjoying what is rather than complaining about what isn’t. I had been tempted to complain, but the kids showed me how to have great fun instead.
Downhill skiing costs an obscene amount of money. It is almost embarrassing to announce what we have to charge for the five day trip to Sunday River. Yet, I think that it is worth every cent it costs. The kids think so too. Sometimes I am in the lounge alone, just resting between runs, and then I get to see person after person coming in. Their faces are flushed from the cold, and they are all beaming and smiling. They tell me what they have done and with whom and time after time they say how wonderful they feel. They always challenge themselves and each other to the limit while at the same time they watch out for their friends, help the ones who need help. I must admit that their patience exceeds my patience. I know that at their age I would be more concerned with having fun myself than with taking care of other kids. Not so on this trip. People chose to ski together and the slowest one set the pace. No one gets ditched, no one is hurried. This made it possible for the adults and me to trust the kids and enjoy the mountain. I often think that it is a shame that the parents aren’t seeing what I am seeing. It is a joyous sight which would make their hearts thankful for all the effort that they put into their children.
It happens occasionally (and unfortunately) that someone gets hurt in a fall. Sometimes it is serious and the student can’t ski for the rest of the trip and has to sit in the lodge while the others are skiing. Then they have to find ways to fill up their time in a place which is designed for skiing and not much else. Yet I find that in every case our kids manage not only to amuse themselves but actually to stay in good spirits. I believe that it is a result of their doing just that at the school. After all they decide what they want to do all day at school without help from others to fill their time and so they are able to do so everywhere. I envy that in them because I find it hard to do myself. I know that I would be bored, uncomfortable and in ill humor if I was stuck in the lodge with an injury and everyone else was having a grand old time skiing.
Don’t think that I am being overly sentimental. I am getting to the difficult part of the trip. On all the SVS overnight trips we cook our own meals. That means that everyone has to help prepare and serve the food, and clean up the dishes and the pots and pans. We make a chore chart in advance and people sign up for the number of chores required before we go. The staff is responsible for making things run well but by and large we don’t need to cajole or force anyone to do their job. However, it occasionally does happen that a kid balks at doing his or her chore. Getting up earlier than the others to make breakfast is no fun, neither is washing fifty slimy dishes or ten greasy pots late in the evening while all the rest are relaxing.
So what can one do when a kid refuses to do their work? Yelling or scolding destroys the good mood for the whole group and anyway it is not really effective. Reasoning usually works but sometimes it doesn’t. This trip I was faced with such a situation when a student who had signed up to wash pots after dinner reneged, saying that it was mindless, disgusting work which he had no use for nor the skill to do. I was too tired to teach anyone lessons and decided that it would take less energy for me to do the pots myself. But before I had a chance, another student who was not on the cleaning crew and who evidently saw my dilemma took things in hand. He told the balking pot washer that he would wash with him and teach him how to do it. In fact he shamed him into doing it. Fifteen minutes later the kitchen was clean. Then the student came over to me and told me that the kid had to learn and that I shouldn’t have to wash dishes when a student is signed up to do it. It was beautiful.
Next morning, who was doing the dishes cheerfully but the kid who had refused to do them the night before! He said to me that he was glad that he learned how to do it and it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. Very nice to hear.
And then we were given the rainbow. It was the second day of the trip. The day before had been warm and rainy and the snow was horrible. The kids had a wonderful time by and large but I skied terribly. On the second day the sun shone among the clouds and it was balmy. After a brief rain we saw the rainbow. It was the first time that I had ever seen one with a bird’s eye view. It was at eye level not painted above my head in the sky. This rainbow was wide and magical. It spanned the sky and the snow clad mountain and it lasted for fifteen minutes or more. Many of the kids saw it too and it became the emblem of this trip. I will always remember it as the “rainbow in the snow” trip!