I clearly looked trustworthy enough that the slightly fraught ski instructor asked me to mind one of her proteges on the lift up the mountain, which is how i found myself in deep conversation with a very sparky four year old Canadian girl, almost entirely consumed by a giant puffer jacket, a Taylor Swift helmet and goggles a truly terrifyingly gender specific shade of pink. Four years in age, but possibly slightly older in wisdom.
Everything is relative: “Are you a good skier”, i asked. “I’m amazing”, she replied, with neither hesitation nor modesty: “I’m faster than Toby, I’m faster than my mom, I’m faster than even my dad”. “I’m so fast”, she continued, with great seriousness, “i’m like a rocket”.
Silence held us for a moment on the slightly swaying lift as i tried t reconcile the diminutive figure, so padded she could barely be folded into the seat, with the mental image of Olympic level speed.
“Well”, she opined, after careful reflection, “maybe not quite as fast as a rocket, but i’m super fast”.
Clearly impressed with how awestruck i looked, she upped her game: “and i’m a great biker”, she shared. “I’m better than Toby, better than mom, and i’m faster than my dad”. “Wow”, i exclaimed, “well that’s great, it’s really good to be good at something. You should be very proud”.
I wondered briefly what view Toby would have on this claim of performance, assuming, possibly falsely, that he was an older, not a younger brother. I mean, Canadians are amazing, but possibly not even Canadians race skis aged two. Possibly. Although, now i think about it, i wouldn’t bet against it.
I wondered too at the benefit she would reap from that confidence: so often in our societies girls are taught from a young age to be weaker, to be slower, to be second fastest, to be pink. I liked the fact that she gauged her success and took pride in it.
“Some of the lifts are different from ours”, she observed, as we watched an endless line of empty lifts descending in opposition to us, going up the mountain. “No”, i reasoned, “it’s just that the retaining bars are up, whilst ours are down, so you can’t see the headrests”. She squinted (well, i assume she squinted, as i could see nothing beyond the glare of pink), “No, stupid, that one’s different”, and she pointed out a lift that, on careful consideration, had slightly different headrests than all the rest. So, fast and observant.
“And that one’s different too”. As we passed another, some minutes later.
“And that one’s different too”, as we passed yet another.
“And that one’s different too”, as i started to feel distinct empathy with Toby.
“And that one’s…”, “We’re nearly there!” i interrupted, as the lift neared the top, “Do you need help getting out”, i asked, lightly received at the impending end of my responsibility, whilst somewhat intrigued as to how she would bridge the gap between her legs and the snow, some distance beneath.
“No, silly”, were the words ringing in my ear as she launched herself forward, definitely someone with centre of gravity and recklessness on her side.
The rest of her words were lost, as she headed over to the rest of her group, but the words “like a rocket”, seemed to come echoing back to me.
It’s interesting, our perspective: to be faster than Toby counts, to be faster than Dad counts for more (although, slightly charitably, i wondered if Dad gave her a slight head start, and i secretly wished i could tell him about the pride he had given his daughter as a result).
We gauge ourselves against others, even at those times when we are not formally graded against standards and averages. And sometimes that desire to win, the desire to beat Toby, gives us a confidence, an edge, a drive.
Success doesn’t have to be Olympic or formally rewarded, sometimes it’s enough to know that we won, to know that we did our best, to know that we tried hardest.
Later that day, i passed the instructor again, with her group of little skiers. The pink girl waved as me and i waved back.
She was pretty good, but, just for the record, i was faster.