Despite our 8 am departure time from Prague, I pulled into the parking lot at the Lipno ski resort 20 minutes late. (I’m blaming 1 bathroom break, 1 wrong turn, and 3 chattering kids in the backseat.) The first day of “lyžařská škola” (ski school) had started, and my 4-year old daughter and her similarly-aged half-Czech friend were more than impatient to get into their gear. While I ran to pay for their ski passes, my friend helped them get into ski clothes and helmets.
I had to admit, I was also antsy. Even though I’ve lived in the Czech Republic for over 3 years, this would be my first week-long vacation with both children and no husband. Apart from visiting babička and a few overnight trips to Vysoké Mýto, I’d traveled exclusively with Radek. Although I’ve made several cross-continental trips to the States without Radek, traveling solo in the Czech Republic seemed more daunting.
Even after he assured me that I had nothing to worry about, my mind was still racing with “what ifs.” What if the children misbehaved all week? What if the sled flew off the car’s roof rack while I was driving? What if there was a mix-up with our reservation and the hotel clerk didn’t understand my Czech? My worry list then quadrupled when I thought about the actual skiing. What if Anna didn’t like skiing? What if she refused to ski, or if my younger son refused to sit still long enough to watch?
Despite my worries, I knew that taking the kids for a trip to the mountains was a unique opportunity. We’d planned the trip with my friend Sara and her son Matej, so I had some support. I pushed my idle worries aside as Anna grabbed my hand, and we headed for Lipno’s Fox Park children’s ski area.
Since the class had already started, we’d been instructed to “přidat” (add) our kids to the beginner’s group. It sounded easy enough, and I relaxed now that we had all 3 children out of the car and walking in the direction of the kid’s park. The Fox Park certainly looked inviting, with its brightly-colored inflatable entrance arch, two moving carpets and front-row spectator seating (a row of benches just outside the fenced in area). Near the park’s entrance was a giant bouncy castle, and I hoped the children wouldn’t spot it before they started skiing.
As we entered the ski park, I looked around for some indication of a beginner’s group, or someone in charge, but I just saw clusters of reflective vest-clad children led by a few orange or yellow-jacketed adults. I approached one of the instructors and showed her our passes while pointing at Anna and her friend Matej. I tried to explain that our kids wanted to start today in mid-lesson, but the instructor looked confused.
Then I remembered the word začátečník (beginner), and the instructor pointed out the beginner group. I approached the two adults who seemed to be in charge of these fledgling skiers and explained our situation again. They agreed to add Anna and Matej, and asked if they understood Czech. Since the Lipno recreational area is popular with Dutch and other non-Czech tourists, it was a reasonable question. Anna introduced herself in Czech as “Anička,” and we gave a last kiss and stepped back to watch.
As they rode up the moving carpet of a ski lift, Matej turned around, waving and smiling, but Anna was solemn with her “game face” on. When they reached the mid-way point, the lift operator helped Anna off while Matej continued up to the top. Sara and I shrugged our shoulders in mild confusion. At first impression, the ski school system was a mystery, but we were cautiously optimistic that there was a method to the confusion.
A minute later, a lift operator greeted us with a “Guten Tag” and motioned for us to leave the ski area. He pointed emphatically at our shoes, and once outside the fenced area I saw a sign prohibiting regular shoes, strollers, dogs, and sleds. I set Oliver on the ground and scanned the area for Anna. I saw her on the ground near the bottom of the slope, but I couldn’t tell if she’d fallen or just sat down. The rest of her class was getting onto the carpet, and I anxiously watched to see if someone would help Anna up.
At the same moment, Sara let out a cry, “Oh no! She’s going to let him go down by himself.” I looked up to see Matej at the top of the hill. My friend screamed, “Don’t go!” as Matej pointed his skis straight down and took off. Sara slipped under a fence and started running up the hill, and seconds after hearing the commotion, the instructor who’d let Matej start out began skiing frantically after him. Although the incline wasn’t steep, there were a few obstacles he could hit. Luckily, Matej crashed unhurt into the snow just as his mother and the instructor reached him. He’d made it well over half-way down the slope and seemed proud, although a bit shaken.
When Sara asked the instructor why she’d let him start at the top, she answered, “He told me he’d skied before.” Sara replied, “He’s 3. He thinks he can do everything. You’re the teacher.” Still she waved Matej on and returned to stand beside me.
With that near-disaster averted, I turned my eyes back to Anna who was still struggling to get up and catch up with her group. Anxious from Matej’s near accident, I shouted to her, “Get help from your teacher!” Although I heard her yell “Pomoc” a few times, none of the teachers seemed to notice her. Finally, just as I’d decided to go in the park to help her myself, one of the teachers made his way over and pulled her up. He pushed her toward the carpet, and she fell again as she got on.
The first few days continued in the same pattern. Matej flew down the slopes and Anna fell nearly every time she went down. When the instructors passed out small circles to help the children learn to turn, Matej immediately took his and “drove” down the slope, turning from side to side. Meanwhile, Anna put her circle on her arm like a bracelet and cautiously snowed plowed her way to the bottom of the hill. She took frequent breaks, sitting on a foam duck in the middle of the slope, and didn’t seem to enjoy herself that much. However, she loved skiing near Matej, and when they got a chance to ride the moving carpet together, she grinned and waved.
Although I was a little discouraged that Anna hadn’t caught on as quickly as her friend had, I reminded myself that I should be proud of her, regardless. Some of the children didn’t even make it through the lessons without crying. As it turned out, Anna had a hand in trying to cheer up her sad fellow classmates. One day in particular, I watched Anna help a crying girl in her class. First Anna positioned the foam duck next to the foam horse. Then she carried the girls’ skis over for her, and motioned for her to sit on the duck. They sat together for several minutes until Anna eventually got up to ski again. At the time, I was impatient for Anna to get her skis on and get back on the slopes. But when Anna told me that she’d told the little girl a story about Krteček, a popular Czech cartoon character, to cheer her up, I felt ashamed of my negative thoughts and very proud of my daughter.
On the fourth day, the last day before Radek would join us for the weekend, something clicked for Anna. During the lesson, she managed to turn her skis side-to-side to go through the slalom course, and she even let herself go “whizzing fast” a couple of times. She skied almost as fast as her friend Matej, and most importantly, she seemed to finally be enjoying herself. She continued to improve on the last day of the lessons, and when Radek offered to take her on the lift up to the real slopes, she jumped with excitement. She skied successfully, with frequent stops, down the nearly 1 km long run several times. On our last day, she did one long run, went too fast and fell and decided to take a break for the rest of the day. She and Oliver bounced in the bouncy castle and walked through the resort with Radek while I got a chance to ski by myself.
Overall, the week had been a great success. However, watching Anna’s progress in ski school from the sidelines was more difficult than I had anticipated. The competitive part of me wanted to constantly shout instructions and the supportive part wanted to give encouragement. In the end, the most important lesson that I learned from the week was that ski school was only the first in a lifetime of experiences where I’d need to learn to stand back and watch Anna carve her own path.
Every Friday Half-n-half highlights personal stories of bilingual families living in the Czech Republic. The main contributor is Emily Prucha, an American living in Prague with her Czech husband and two children. The Prague Daily Monitor and Emily welcome your feedback on Half-n-half; please comment below or write to [email protected].