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Must Love Children This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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T he human resources department at the ski school at Maple Valley is run by a young woman named Sarah. She is a graduate of Ohio State University. It says so on her nametag. On the spot where it says your hometown, Sarah had it specially made to say “Buckeye Country.” I have grand illusions of mine saying “Local and Loving It” or somewhere exotic like Barbados. It would be a great conversation starter. But no, Barbados is out of the question. Instead, mine will say “Marlboro, VT” in plain black lettering.

I'm sure many young men would find Sarah ­attractive. She has long blonde hair and a nice smile complete with straight white teeth. The thing is, she doesn't smile, at least not at me. The second day of our employee training, I forget my two forms of photo identification for a W-something tax form. I approach Sarah's office as you would the den of a sleeping bear. I explain my situation and ask, could I come back early tomorrow?

The sleeping bear has not been fully awakened – she is really, really annoyed. Her eyes roll. She sighs, exasperated. Her teeth grind in irritation. This is her bureaucracy and I'm ruining the process – a monkey-wrench in the gears of the machine. She locks eyes with me. I'm going to wet myself and then cry. “Yeah, I guess so,” she says. “It's just that everyone else got it right the first time.”

I decide to avoid Sarah as much as possible.

I shadow a full-time employee for three ski lessons. Then I take out my first group: seven girls between the ages of seven and nine. All of them are wearing pink pastel snowsuits and all of them speak fluent Russian. One acts as interpreter between her grandmother and me.

“Tell Grandma that we'll have lunch at 11:30,” I say to Natasha, who relays the message in perfect Russian.

“Have lots funny times,” the ancient woman says to Natasha before disappearing into the crowd. At the end of the day, the grandmother approaches me. Her frail body, wrapped in a huge fur coat, reaches only to my shoulders. Tiny black fur boots poke out beneath. From her pocket, Grandma retrieves a wad of $20 bills wrapped in a thick rubber band. She peels off one and delicately places it in my hand. She holds my hand and makes eye contact. “You teach my Natasha good,” she says quietly and earnestly.

Next, I'm standing with my group waiting for the go-ahead from a supervisor when a middle-aged man followed by his eight-year-old daughter strides toward me. His trendy yellow and black North Face jacket makes him resemble a six-foot bumblebee with a crewcut. As far as this guy is concerned, my sole purpose is to show his daughter the wonderful sport of skiing. He extends a paw-like hand and flashes me a confident grin. I'm astonished at the force of his handshake; when I take my hand away, it's numb and there's $40 in it. “I want my daughter to have a great day. You got that?” I vigorously nod my head yes. Tips are odd and unpredictable. I wonder if my parents ever did this for me.

Within the ski school, there are different branches for all ages of skiers. My assigned department is with the seven to 14-year-olds. However, due to over-staffing, I am often sent to work with the three-year-olds. The large, colorful room Cub Camp uses is specially designed for these hobbit-like folks. The chairs and tables are pint-sized, the door handles are in the upper corners to prevent anyone under four feet from wandering away, the cupboards are shut with rubber bands, and the components in the bathrooms are about a foot and a half lower than normal.

Three-year-olds are peculiar creatures. At times, they can be cherubic, smiling sweetly with big eyes, wanting to hold your hand, falling asleep facedown on the rug while watching “Dora the Explorer” and making you guess how many Cheerios they stuffed down their pants. Other times, they are tiny demons sent by Satan himself. They steal your lunch, slap you in the face, throw any object they can lift, and eat finger paints.

What's most interesting about these little people is the three-year-old dialect. To simulate it, hold your bottom lip between your thumb and forefinger, put on a high-pitched and worried voice, and do your best impression of Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone.” The syllables should be slurred, disjointed, and utterly garbled. For an even greater challenge, throw a lisp or a stutter in and then you really have a problem trying to decide if they're saying they have to catch a bus, or have an itchy butt.

Falling is part of learning to ski. I have witnessed some of the most spectacular falls and crashes imaginable. For the newer skiers, we use the rope tow, a cable that is pulled up the hill by a motorized pulley. All they have to do is point their skis up the hill and hold onto the rope that jerks them up the slope. Inevitably, someone doesn't hold on tight enough and their ascent comes to a halt. The rope starts to run through their mittens and other kids crash into them, leading to a pile-up. Skis poke out in every direction and instructors must untangle them. When they are ­finally standing, they must point their skis across the hill and dig their edges into the side of the slope to keep from sliding down. However, when one considers the age and ability of these kids, it becomes apparent that this may be impossible.

Someone starts to slip; this time it's Rachel, age 12, from Trenton, New Jersey. Rachel's tips begin to wobble and slide toward a downhill position. We are all about to learn a very important lesson in physics. Instead of leaning into the hill with the edges of her skis, Rachel panics and does what comes so naturally to children learning to ski: she sits down on the back of her skis. This renders her totally out of control and puts her in a helpless, even dangerous, position. Her eyes grow large with fear and excitement. Rachel starts to accelerate, gaining velocity down the hill until she is a projectile, screaming toward the bottom.

The call goes out: MAYDAY! MAYDAY! People scramble as Rachel hurtles toward them. I want to look away, bury my eyes in my hands and wait for it to be over, but it's like a train wreck; my eyes are fixated on the spectacle in twisted fascination. The only objects to stop poor Rachel are the orange mesh fences that divide the groups. Rachel takes out one … two … three … four … five fences, going right through them and dragging them along with her. At the bottom, she finally comes to rest in a tangled mass of netting. People rush to make sure she's unharmed. Freed from her ensnarement, she hops to her feet and exclaims, “Ohmygoshthatwassoooooocool! Can I do that again?”

I have to wear a uniform. It's made by L.L. Bean and is wind and waterproof. There are lots of pockets for stuff like trail maps, lunch order forms, golf pencils, a walkie-talkie, and the other items I must carry with me. This year, when I received my jacket, it still contained an empty cigarette box, a few napkins, and two packets of long-expired sweet and sour sauce. I don't mind smelling like Kung Pao chicken, but I find the color scheme poorly designed. Most of the jacket is white with blue and green edging. In a job where I work with many staining substances – ketchup, Kool-Aid, and hot cocoa – on a daily basis, does it really make sense to have a pristine white jacket? I wouldn't be surprised if this uniform were Sarah's idea.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

AmnyR said...
Mar. 3, 2010 at 8:18 am
i liked eacht paragraph (especially the description of the three year olds!) but it was disorganized and didnt really make sense together. it was interesting though!
 
rockefeller This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 8, 2010 at 3:28 pm
thanks AmnyR, I'm glad you liked it.
I realize the piece doesn't read as coherently as it could. That's mostly because I wrote it over a longer period of time and kept forgetting and then coming back to it. Also, the editors at TeenInk removed pieces.
Peace,
--
 
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