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A Family Ski Trip I Thought Might Ruin My Life

Right before my body slammed on to the formerly frozen ground, I heard a scraping sound. I hadn't skied in 12 years and, when I did, it had always been in the freezing temperatures of the Northeast. So I wasn't prepared for the twigs and tree roots jutting through the snow in the 50-degree weather of the Eastern Sierras. Hence, the scraping noise and crash. It's not like I was going 40 miles an hour, or even 20. The problem wasn't so much impact as the fact that I never let go of the pole.

"Skiier's thumb" is what the perky paramedic called it the next morning, when I clunked up the stairs in my skiboots to their office to find out why my thumb had swollen to the size of a chicken leg.

"Happened to me last year. Took a long time to heal," the young woman said, smiling. I was fighting the urge to cry, because how much crying can a woman on vacation with her husband and two healthy children get away with? But the thought of being in pain, or having to wear any kind of splint that would immobilize my thumb for months, was making me choke on my breath.

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How would I hit the space bar? Visions of faulty dictation software danced through my head. And what about endless trips to specialists, then mounting medical bills, bankruptcy and, finally, paralyzing depression? A more seasoned medic walked up, interrupting my catastrophic daydream. He was a rugged, ruddy-faced man with twinkly blue eyes. He seemed happy in the specific way of people who have figured out how to do what they love and get paid for it. I instantly wanted to be him. He took my finger in his hand.

"Sometimes you need surgery for that, so keep an eye on it," he said, also smiling. "Okay," I said, blinking quickly. Sensing my panic he added, "But who knows? You could feel better by tomorrow." They sent me off with a metal splint and a heartfelt, "Good luck!"

I did not feel better the next day.

I hadn't really thought through the "what if something happens to me," possibility. It frankly never even entered my mind.

I did, however, figure out that I could take a couple of Advil and ski without poles and not make it any worse. Since very few people were interested in paying for the thrill of warm weather skiing with not much snow, we had the mountain to ourselves at sunset on the last day. The four of us skiing down the hill, two of whom I birthed, is a striking memory that, along with my thumb brace, I will have forever.

The question remains, of course, was it a mistake to hit the slopes after a 12-year break on a week-long ski trip just to create some very cool memories with my family? I know accidents can happen getting out of the bathtub or unintentionally lighting a potholder on fire in the kitchen. But to willingly put your body under unnecessary stress, as a parent of small children, is this the responsible thing to do? Certainly one of my friends would say no. She told me point blank that she gave up skiing after children for fear of exactly this kind of thing happening — or worse.

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I thought about this when I met with the hand surgeon after we returned to Los Angeles. He ran some tests and was blatantly disappointed that I wouldn't be needing his services.

"But even without surgery, it's going to take months to heal, you know, because we're not 7," he joked and turned on his heels and walked out of the room.

I hadn't really thought through the "what if something happens to me," possibility. It frankly never even entered my mind. Despite hitting mid-life, I seem to still function from an adolescent perspective of invincibility. Plus, I don't really believe in accidents. I prefer to torture myself with the belief that somewhere I must have wanted a wrecked thumb. To confirm this suspicion, I checked in with Louise Hay, the original "There are no accidents" guru, who calls herself a "medical intuitive" and is the bestselling author of "You Can Heal Your Life." I Googled her at 2 a.m. after the mishap, when I couldn't sleep obsessing about my future without the use of a key digit. According to Hay, accidents that affect the thumb have to do with intellect and worry. If she's right, I'm surprised I've had functioning thumbs at all since I became pregnant with my oldest. Seeing the experience from Hays' perspective, I should be dancing a jig that I've been able to keep my thumbs in tact as long as I have.

So, I say: go ahead and do your "thing."

Maybe it wasn't an accident, (although I'm pretty sure it was). Maybe going on a ski trip wasn't the safest choice at an age when my body takes a lot longer to heal than it did a few decades ago. But what is the alternative? To become the Mom who packs the lunches and sits on the sidelines as the kids and my husband do all the fun stuff? And, not to get all feminist on everyone, but if you do make that choice as a mother, what are you modeling to your children about what women do?

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So, I say: go ahead and do your "thing." Go skating, surfing, biking, mountain climbing, if that's your pleasure. Think it through a little bit, sure Don't be reckless. Check in with your body and be humble enough to accept your limitations if you get in to trouble.

And if you do go skiing? Lose the poles, you don't need them. Just ask my 7-year-old.

Image by Dani Klein Modisett

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