It's a crisp December afternoon, the sun blazing in all its blinding glory as it sets behind Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado. I put away my boots after a cross-country ski with my mom, and wade through the pile of skis, coats and gloves into the kitchen to see if my dad is back from whatever winter sport he enjoyed that day. I catch him in a rare moment of stillness, his brow furrowed and finger jabbing at his big Christmas gift: the iPad.
“Hey Katie-bug.” He looks up when I enter the room, glad for a distraction.
“How’s the new technology treating you?” He shakes his head and laughs. His eyes are crinkled from years of laughing, mostly at his own jokes.
“Pretty dang well,” he says and laughs again. As athletic and intelligent as my father is, he is also a man who owned an iPhone for a whole year without knowing it had iTunes. And it took another six months before he met Siri. So I doubt the iPad self-education is going any way aside from pretty dang poorly.
I sit down next to him and look over his shoulder. “You need some help?" I ask. "You know Uncle Bert highly recommends my tech services. I believe he said that I should be one of those genius people at the Apple Store when he enlisted my help in learning Facetime last summer.”
My dad moves the iPad so I can see it. “I’m trying to connect to the Internet,” he says.
Everything goes smoothly for the first few minutes. We sail on the gentle seas of Wi-Fi connection; we navigate the easy roads of photo transfer; and we fly through the clear skies of opening an AOL inbox. At this point, I am making a mental note to apply for jobs at the Genius Bar. Then we come to a screeching halt when I suggest adding a second email.
“You can see all of your emails in one inbox!” I tell him.
“I kind of like to keep them separate," he says. "That way I don’t have to check work emails when I am at home.” Is it my imagination or does my dad shift the iPad closer to him?
“I really think you’ll like it!” I insist. It is not my imagination when I take the iPad out of his hands and start typing away. But in forcing my father out of his tech comfort zone and taking over his new present, I have agitated my pupil. We are more than ready for a break, so I step outside for a breath of fresh mountain air.
The mountains rising out of the valley look the same as ever, but coming home is different than it used to be. I have grown accustomed to the fast paced life of a young twentysomething living in L.A., no parents in sight. No matter how slowly the traffic may move at times, my mind and body go about a million miles a minute and I expect everyone to keep up. Life in Colorado is a step or two (or ten) slower and it takes longer than a week over the holidays to readjust.
I look over at the slopes of Aspen Highlands. These are the runs where my dad would crouch on his skis, arms spread wide to catch me should I fall while making my first turns in the powder. The sport is not easy to begin with, then throw on a puffy jacket, heavy boots and goggles that make your face itch and it becomes a recipe for conflict with your instructor, even if you love them unconditionally. But having my dad there to keep my skis in pizza-piece form and dust the snow out of my mittens after a tumble is why I stuck with the sport all these years. Even though temper tantrums were thrown on the mountain (“I hate skiing! You are a terrible coach!”), each day would end with smiles over steaming hot chocolates.
My parents are my role models, my caregivers; they are the people from whom I seek advice because they see and know so much. And as much as I enjoy zipping around enjoying my youth, it is important to take time to slow down and share my experiences with the people who have given me so much. I can never repay them for all the guidance, love and ski lessons they gave me, but I at least owe them a try.
I go back inside and look at my dad. If he has accomplished anything in my absence, it is that he does not jab at the screen with quite as much ferocity.
“Should we give the iPad lessons another go?” I ask.
He smiles as I open the cabinet, grabbing two mugs and some hot cocoa mix. For once, it is my turn to be the (not-so) patient teacher, and my dad can be the frustrated student.