As parents, we are intricately tied to our children’s emotions, riding the waves right along with them. We want everything to work out in their favor. We want them to feel good about themselves. We want their dreams to manifest. But as adults, with much more life experience, we know that’s not how life works. Life sometimes punches us in the gut. And when our children are suffering, we suffer too.
Many years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about twenty-year-olds who were depressed, despite having grown up in seemingly perfect families. At first, the therapist was perplexed, wondering what had gone wrong. After all, they had supportive and loving parents and were financially well-off. If the child didn’t do well in math, they got tutors. If the child needed extra conditioning sessions in sports, they worked with a personal coach. The parents had done their best to fix their children’s mistakes, paving the road to ensure a smooth journey. What the therapist soon discovered was that these helicopter parents, in their attempts to protect their kids from failure and rejection, deprived their offspring of one of the most important ingredients to success: resilience.
Recently, things did not work out in my seventeen-year-old daughter’s favor when she found out that she didn’t make the high school sports team she had been working so hard for. The week-long tryouts were intense and created a lot of stress in our house. I gave many pep talks and tried to encourage her not to waste her time worrying about the outcome. On the dreaded day, moments before she heard the disappointing news, I was pacing around my house, trembling in fear and praying for her. When I finally got the call, her voice on the other end of the phone was hysterical, and my heart fell to the floor. Knowing how important it was for me to be strong for her, I had to do some soul searching myself, so that I could lift her spirits and help her rise above her circumstances.
My daughter had an important decision to make. One, as a junior, she could play on the JV team with the other underclassmen, work her ass off both on and off the field, and ultimately prove to her coach and herself that she could excel and become a dominant player. Two, she could quit and devote her energy to activities that make her feel good. Coaches and teachers play powerful positions in the lives of children. With one word, they can make or break a kid. This coach destroyed my child’s self-esteem, and so, my daughter decided that it was time to move on from playing her favorite sport. I told her that I support whatever decision she makes. Right now, as I write this post, the wound is still fresh and raw, even though I know that time will heal it.
The question remains, will the scar hold her back or propel her forward? How do we teach our children to believe in themselves when external forces are telling them the opposite? This is probably the greatest test of all: learning how to be resilient and bounce back after failure and rejection. Everyone is going to face rejection at some point. It’s part of life. For those young adults written about in the New York Times article, it seems their parents had failed them by not allowing their kids the opportunity to build their resilience muscles. Nothing feels worse than failing, but on the same note, finding success after you’ve been kicked to the ground is the greatest gift of all. If life is a game, we’re all going to lose at some point, but the true winners keep playing. That doesn’t mean you need to continue playing the same game where you previously felt rejection. Find a new game––if that’s what fuels you. Most of all, define yourself by your own set of standards, not the standards set by others. We are the creators of our lives, not the victims of our circumstances. So I will tell my daughter to get back out there on the field of life and be a creator––and work toward becoming the best version of herself. Victory comes to those who love themselves first, those who move through life with compassion, and those who rewrite their stories as many times as it takes to become the person they came here to be. Instead of being angry at the coach who, metaphorically speaking, slapped my daughter across the face, I will thank her (in my mind, of course) for the lesson, the lesson that I am confident she will one day triumph over.
An insider’s perspective on living as an Aspen local.
Want to know what Aspen locals like to brag about? It’s the common denominator that sets us apart from the visitors, and to some extent the part-time residents. It’s our favorite response when a tourist asks where we live. We simply state, “We live here,” with a sense of pride bubbling from our chests.
The reactions are often priceless. “You live here? Like all year long?” they ask, wide-eyed.
“Yep, we sure do. Our kids go to school here.”
In lieu of sounding too obnoxious or boastful, we try to keep the next line to ourselves: That’s right, my friend, your vacation is our life!
Don’t get me wrong. Our lives are far from perfect. We stress about the usual stuff: money, relationships, health, work, our kids, etc. But the best remedy to clear our clogged minds and help us reset to our natural state of peace is to get outside, preferably with some local friends, and let the mountains heal us. It’s the greatest medicine of all time, and it’s in our backyards.
Similar to the popular children’s book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, the majestic landscape that surrounds us gifts us with an endless source of entertainment and pleasure. And our mountains want us to be happy, encouraging us to climb up and down them, enjoy their beauty, take photos, gaze meditatively, and just be—in the moment. Since life is about give and take, in return we need to treat our land with respect and reverence by doing our share to protect our environment: lowering our carbon footprint, recycling, buying local food, remembering to bring our reusable bags to the market, saving our electricity, and so much more.
Sometimes life makes us feel like we’re spinning on a hamster wheel, heading nowhere. Many of us are on a perpetual quest of acquisition, sucked in by our consumer culture, always wanting more. If we pay careful attention to the mountains, we’ll learn to grasp their wisdom and understand our own greater purpose. Always still, they absorb mother nature’s flow as snow blankets them and then melts; rain pours down and saturates; droughts stifle and choke; winds blow fast and furious; and the sun shines brilliantly. Through it all, the mountains remain steadfast and quiet, allowing the cycles to pass. Consciously and subconsciously, we locals understand this. Like a magnet, the mountains are ultimately what attracted us here, and when we play on them, we can hear them whispering to our souls.
It doesn’t matter whether you live in a studio apartment or a 20,000-square-foot mansion on Red Mountain, when a local gets outdoors, we’re all one. We’re the same. We’re striving to be enriched by the abundant, natural beauty that surrounds us. When our time on Earth expires, or when it gets close, our material items won’t serve us much good, but our memories, our experiences, our relationships are what will give us true meaning. Here in Aspen, that’s how we roll.
Yesterday, to celebrate a friend’s birthday, a group of us got together and hiked Highland’s Bowl, a boot-packed ridge that leads to an over 12,000-foot peak of stunning panoramic vistas, with our skis strapped to our backs. While trekking up there, we fought through a ferocious windstorm. Upon reaching the summit, we high-fived each other and took selfies, and then we skied down, carving through knee-deep fresh powder to Cloud 9 restaurant, where we made toasts with glasses of champagne and danced on tables surrounded by tourists. We giggled all the way home. In the end, this is what life’s about. So, you bet we have a right to brag. We live here––all year long.
I’ve never been a cat person. It’s not that I dislike them in any way, but since I considered myself a dog lover, cats were never on my radar––until recently—when a cat came into my life.
A few months ago, my husband adopted a cat from a nearby shelter for his business. His job was to kill the mice and other unwanted critters. Each day, my husband, who, like me, was also indifferent toward felines, would come home and tell the kids and me stories about his four-legged worker. He felt a strange connection to the timid, little animal, who most likely had been living on the streets before he was rescued. It took time for the cat to adjust to the other employees and feel comfortable in his new setting. Presumably, he had spent the first four years of his life devoid of human touch. Once he acclimated to his surroundings, he grew less fearful and more affectionate toward people.
Something was tugging at my husband’s heart, and he felt sorry for his animal employee when he left him alone in the office, so he decided to bring him home to meet our family. At the time, our dog Otis was alive, and of course, our friendly canine welcomed this foreign creature onto his turf. The cat, on the other hand, was not a fan of Otis. He would hiss at him whenever he got close and then run off and hide.
It took the cat well over a month to get used to the kids and me. With every passing day, he would come out of hiding and inch his way toward us, allowing us to pet him on his terms—only. He watched us with a wary eye, studying our moves and making sure we weren’t going to harm him. He also studied how we interacted with Otis, as we cuddled and showered him with love and affection. Then, one day, the cat made his way toward our big, fluffy dog to get a closer look. Realizing that the dog was a kind animal and had no intention of mauling him, he eventually befriended Otis.
I now understand where the term copycat comes from, because the cat liked to copy some of the dog’s mannerisms, mimicking how he would lie down, sprawling his hind legs or front paws. Slowly but surely, the cat started to sleep next to Otis. Jealous that Otis went outside, the cat wanted to follow suit. So we let him. Living in the mountains, we were concerned that he would get eaten by a wild animal. Thankfully, the guy has nine lives, and he always shows up at our front door, asking to come back inside when he’s ready. There were days when he would accompany Otis and me on our walks around the block. A few months living in our home, and we officially had a cat.
The hardest part about our new family member was accepting that we had become cat people. Giving him a name meant there was no turning back; we were keeping him indefinitely. We also couldn’t agree on a name, so we just called him Cat. (By the way, as I write this post, Cat is curled up on my lap, deliciously snoozing on my belly.) No offense to all the cat lovers out there, but sadly, there are a lot of cat haters in the world. Soon after Cat moved in, I discovered that people were prejudiced toward these adorable pets. Friends mocked us, some even jokingly threatened not to come over anymore. My own mother cringes at the thought of a cat. What’s wrong with these ignorant and closed-minded people? They like dogs, but they despise cats. The only logical explanation I can think of is that they don’t know cats, or they want cats to act like dogs. But they’re nothing like dogs. Otis, the Aspen ambassador, would excitedly greet everyone who came toward him. Not the cat. When he meets a new face, he beelines for a hiding spot, and he has rules that we need to follow. For example, cuddling is only allowed when he’s in the mood, and if you need to get up in the middle of a cuddle session, don’t expect to resume the position when you return. Now that I’ve gotten to know him, I have a better sense of how he communicates, and I respect his rules.
As a spiritual person, I always try to understand the greater meaning as to why we attract certain experiences into our lives. For a while, I questioned why Cat had joined our family. Having recently lost Otis, I am far from ready to get another dog. Desperate for animal love, I looked to the cat to console me while I was in mourning. Much to my dismay, I discovered that wasn’t his style. He comes to me when I least expect it, when I’m not needy. I get it. I, too, can’t stand needy people. I find them irritating. To earn Cat’s love, we were forced to be patient, not to ask, but to be open to receiving. As soon as we did what was expected of us, he sauntered onto our laps—and stole our hearts. To all the cat haters out there: I am no longer ashamed to tell the world that I am now a cat person, and I LOVE MY CAT!
I am well aware of how fortunate I am to raise my children in one of the most majestic mountain towns in the United States, and yet, despite the privilege of living here, we also make sacrifices. When we moved to Aspen from New Jersey, my kids immediately took advantage of the outdoor lifestyle and world-class skiing in our backyard. I get much pleasure from proudly watching my daughter gracefully race down a ski run at top speed, and I’m blown away by my son when he hops through moguls like a bunny rabbit and flips off a cliff, spinning his skis in the air like an acrobat.
Along with skiing, my children also love to play lacrosse. Thankfully, Aspen has a well-organized and incredible club team and high school program that both my kids participate in. The downside of playing lacrosse in Aspen is that we travel long distances for games. Since our winters last longer than those in the Denver area, our lacrosse season is much shorter, and we also don’t have an indoor facility, so our teams are typically not as strong as others in Colorado.
Last season, my son, Judd, asked me if he could try out for an elite lacrosse team in Denver, where the level of play is much more competitive. Reluctantly, I agreed. The tryouts were held over two weekends at the end of the summer. Watching the tryouts, I was impressed with the high level of competition and skill these thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds demonstrated on the field. Judd, who has had exponentially less play time than most of those kids, went out there with an insatiable hunger and determination. Miraculously, he made the team.
As thrilled as I was for him, I was also dreading the commitment. Practices were twice a week for an hour and a half—in Denver, which meant for the next three months, on those days I would have to pick up Judd from school at around 1:30 p.m. and drive three and a half hours each way! That’s a total of seven hours of driving round-trip, fourteen hours a week, through the mountains, navigating dark, windy roads getting back to Aspen.
For inspiration and validation that I wasn’t insane, I spoke to another Aspen family whose son made the team a few years ago and did the same crazy drive. They said exactly what I was thinking: My son has a passion, and the flexibility in my schedule gives me the opportunity to fuel that passion. Time is slipping by fast, and before I know it, Judd will be heading off to college. I can use this opportunity to embrace the memories we make during the car ride and the joy I get from watching him on the field. Back in Aspen, Judd would rather hang with his friends than with me. But on those drives, it’s just us––chatting and listening to music or podcasts, and I get the added comfort of knowing he is safe with me, not making bad decisions with his peers. After every practice, we discuss how he did, how he can improve, and how to stay focused and enthusiastic. On the good days, we fist-pump, and on the bad days, I give pep talks. Another bonus is that we both made new friends who we’ve had the pleasure of traveling with for weekend-long tournaments in California and Nevada.
Embarking together on this lacrosse journey is teaching us both a kind of spiritual wisdom. Judd, of course, is learning to release and rise above negative thinking when he makes mistakes, disappoints his coach, or isn’t playing to his potential. Working at such an extraordinary level of play with other teammates is also humbling, and at the same time, pushes him to be the best he can be on the field. Many of us go through life comparing ourselves to others. Wherever we land, we will always encounter someone who is faster, smarter, stronger, taller, or more athletic. Judd is learning to access his inner strength, which lies within each of us, and use that silent power to grow as a player and as a human.
I, on the other hand, am learning to live in the moment. When my children were babies I breastfed them for almost a year. The first few months were not easy—but knowing they were getting so many amazing health benefits, I had no intention of giving up. I remember someone once told me to savor the experience, especially the dreaded late-night feedings, when I rocked my babies in the quiet stillness, bonding with them in one of motherhood’s most beautiful and miraculous gifts. This wise person warned me that it goes quickly, and after I stop breastfeeding all I would have left were the memories of holding them in my arms, feeling their soft flesh against mine, deeply connected. As strange as this may sound, I am doing my best to treasure this time with Judd in a similar way to the breastfeeding experience. He’s now fourteen, and my days of cuddling and holding hands with him are long gone, and sadly, even hugs are less frequent. Instead, I get to enjoy my almost-man as he sits next to me during the long car rides, talking and laughing, and rooting and cheering for him on and off the field. So every time I’m about to complain about my achy, sore back; the occasional traffic; driving in the horrid, snowy conditions; feeling anger over the one speeding ticket I got; wondering why the hell I am doing this; and convincing myself that he better play division-one lacrosse in college and earn a big, fat scholarship, I force myself to stop and remember that all this driving isn’t about that; it’s about living in the moment with my son, who is learning how to spread his wings before he’s ready to take off one day and conquer the world.
I view life as a series of tests. How we handle these tests speaks volumes about who we are and how we grow as human beings. Many of these lessons that the Universe hands us stem from our relationships with people, animals, and our environment. At forty-five years old, I’ve certainly had my share of tests, and although I carry a few scars from my past, all of them have healed and given me an inner strength that has shaped the person I am today.
My most recent test has to do with my Bernese mountain dog, Otis. We bought Otis from a breeder when he was an eight-week-old puppy. I know all puppies are cute, but our little guy was so adorable that I, and everyone who knew him, melted in his presence. He quickly grew into a one hundred and twenty-five-pound giant. Otis was so handsome that every time I looked at him, he took my breath away. If he were a man, I’d relate his striking appearance to George Clooney, his goofy personality to Chris Farley, and his loving soul to Mother Teresa.
I was proud to be Otis’s dog mamma. I took him everywhere. He was, after all, my best accessory. Walking him around Aspen gave me celebrity status. Every few paces, someone would stop me, ask questions about him, and take his picture. If he could write, I’m sure he would have been signing autographs. Living in a dog-friendly town, he was allowed in many retail stores. Even better, I could take him to the lounge inside The Little Nell, one of the most luxurious hotels in Aspen, to meet friends for a cocktail and a snack, and where he was treated like royalty with complimentary treats and fresh water.
Otis was my perfect hiking buddy. I spent a few days a week––rain, snow, or sun––with him by side, exercising together in nature. In the summer months, dogs are allowed on the Silver Queen gondola on Aspen Mountain, so Otis and I would trek up the arduous trail, one of the most grueling workouts in town, and then we’d ride down the gondola, both of us joyfully exhausted.
Then one day, our active life together came to a sudden halt. His back hips had given out on him. I had never had a Bernese mountain dog before. I knew they didn’t have a long life span, but that wasn’t something I spent too much time thinking about. Despite his debilitating condition, he was alert and happy, so putting him down wasn’t something I considered. Since surgery didn’t seem like viable option at his age, I did some research online and decided to buy him a doggy wheelchair. I imagined that it would solve all our problems, picturing in my mind the two of us frolicking around town, walking around the block, maybe even hiking together again.
As soon as the wheelchair arrived, I worked tirelessly helping him get used to it and feeling comfortable. I didn’t realize how challenging this task would be, but I was determined to not give up, even though we had some scary and upsetting incidents. One time, the left wheel went over a large rock and flipped him over. Getting him out wasn’t easy, and although he wasn’t hurt, he was shaking violently afterward. I waited a day or two and tried it again. We slowly made a little more progress. Feeling more confident after he made it up and down the driveway one afternoon, I ran up the steps to our house and left him alone for a moment. When he saw me leave, he tried to follow me. Big mistake. He fell backward. After I frantically unlatched the wheelchair and helped him out, we were both stressed and unnerved.
I tried to give him some time off from the wheelchair, but he could barely walk outside to relieve himself. If I held onto his back hips for support, I could get him out. Struggling to get into a pooping position, he sometimes collapsed in it, and the poop would get smeared into his long fur. This meant I would have to wash him, and he wasn’t too fond of me spraying the hose up his butt to clean out the area. But again, I was not going to give up on my boy. I was going to keep trying, determined to get him moving in that wheelchair, hoping to give him some semblance of freedom and happiness in his last few years. I thought of his situation as a test—for me, not for him. And I was going to pass the test no matter what. Soon enough, things started to look better. I was taking him a little farther every day in the wheelchair, until we encountered a new issue: his back paws were dragging so badly on the pavement that he had developed bloody sores. To remedy the situation, I bought him booties, which he didn’t like to wear, but at least they did a good job of protecting his paws. Soon enough, I managed to get him around the block. It felt like a miracle. His life seemed to be improving. At least that’s what I told myself.
He could no longer walk at all, unless he was using the wheelchair. In the house, he was confined to a small corner on the lower level, near an outside door. He couldn’t even move positions when lying down. Lifting him into the wheelchair was giving me tremendous back pain. But I had no choice. I had to help him. Sometimes when I would pull him into the wheelchair in the morning, he would defecate on himself. Yet still, I wasn’t giving up on Otis. Meanwhile, he had a horrific odor coming from his body. At first, I assumed it was because he hadn’t been properly groomed in a long time and he probably still had poop clumped into his fur. I tried cutting his matted hair, and I bathed his backside as best I could. For the next few days, the smell was getting progressively worse. Suddenly, it dawned on me: the vile odor wasn’t from his fur, it was coming from a bad cut on his lower hip. I had to get him to the vet ASAP.
Upon arriving at the vet, the staff helped me carry my massive Berner into the examining room on a stretcher. The doctor shaved the area around his wound, revealing a massive green and puss filled laceration. I was told that I would need to dress it and treat it a few times a day for the next few months to cure the infection. No big deal, I thought. But then, the vet pointed out that putting him into the wheelchair was probably pulling on the wound, which would make it more difficult to heal. She then suggested, in a soft and kind voice, that I might want to consider euthanizing him.
The timing, of course, was my decision, and she in no way wanted to pressure me. Nonetheless, her words felt like a knife slicing my heart in two. I asked if we could put him into the wheelchair to assess whether the back strap was adding further damage to the wound. Thankfully, when we got him in it, he seemed okay. The veterinarian left me alone for a few minutes to call my husband. While I was on the phone with him, I watched Otis moving around the room uncomfortably in his wheelchair, his back legs dragging, the infection oozing. It was in that moment that I realized letting him go would be more humane than stubbornly believing I should never give up. I made the appointment for the following morning.
My husband, kids, and I spent our last night with Otis cuddling, crying, kissing, crying some more, and hugging him as we all fell asleep on the floor by his side. With a heavy heart, we woke up the next day and placed him in his wheelchair for the last time. I watched him walk up and down our lawn, eating snow. From his front side, he looked healthy, alert, and as handsome as ever. His back side told a different story. For the past few months, I had believed I was being tested. I had convinced myself that with perseverance and faith I would pass the test. But maybe the test wasn’t about how strong I needed to be; maybe it was about learning when to let go. Nothing is forever. And letting go is part of the natural cycle of life. I was so blinded by my determination to help Otis that I couldn’t see the truth. He was staying alive, suffering in that wheelchair for me. As much as it pained me to make the decision to euthanize Otis, I knew it was the right thing to do. He had no quality of life left.
The wound in my heart is still fresh and open as I write this post; although, when I close my eyes, I see Otis vividly––walking in front of me, no longer in a wheelchair. He’s running into my arms, filling me with his boundless affection. I hold him. I kiss him. I thank him for giving me what he came here to teach me: unconditional love and the foresight to know that letting go is also a gift.