When we get to the ski lodge on Sunday mornings, it takes my sleepy gang some time to get their equipment – snowboards, helmets, bags – out of the car. Since my daughter and I are renting our snowboards, we go on ahead and sneak into the lodge with the canvas bag and cooler. Usually we are just about the first people to arrive and we can claim our picnic tables by dumping our stuff on them. We like to sit in the same spot every week so that our extra kids can find us.
This week we arrived early as usual, but the parking lot was already crowded. All those cars means some kind of ski competition. We knew what we’d find: the lodge filled with little kids in skintight spandex outfits that look like something Spiderman would wear, bags of clothing piled all around, and parents filling up every picnic table. After scanning the room for an empty table and finding none, I decided to go for the closest thing. At one picnic table, a woman was sitting by herself, reading a book. My daughter and I approached.
"Mind if we put our stuff here?" I asked nicely.
She looked up politely: "Of course not."
I dumped my bright red cooler and blue canvas bag of food on top of the table where my kids would see it, and my daughter and I started down the stairs toward the rentals.
"Well, that woman is in for a surprise," Daughter said.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, she thinks she’s sharing a table with a woman and her daughter. Wait until she looks up and finds herself surrounded by a whole gang of teenagers."
I hadn't even thought of that.
When we returned to the table, teenagers had gathered around it, drawn to the cooler and bag of food the way buzzards are drawn to roadkill. Boy in Black and Older Neghbor Boy were pulling off layers of clothes, deciding that the air temperature was not cold enough to warrant coats. Shaggy Hair was shaking his long curls, complaining loudly that he had too much hair to fit under his helmet. Blonde Niece and Philosophical Boy were already rummaging through the cooler; the car ride makes them hungry. Skater Boy, with his long hair that has clearly never felt the touch of a hair brush, was swinging his helmet, impatient for the first run of the day.
It did make me wonder what strangers see when they look at my gang. Would someone notice how gentle Boy in Black is with his little brother, taking extra time to help With-a-Why lace up his boots? Would they see the bond between Blonde Niece and Shaggy Hair in the way that Blonde Niece sighs and hands her cousin a hair tie before he even asks for it? Would they look at Skater Boy and see the sweetness beneath the attitude? Would they see the affection in the voices of the boys as they tease their mother about whether or not she'll be hitting any jumps?
The woman with the book looked startled but not annoyed. She sat patiently with her book amidst the crowd of teenagers who were jockeying for position at the crowded table -- elbowing each other, teasing each other, and taking turns sitting down to tighten snowboard boots. She gave me a smile and then looked back to her book. When we returned for lunch, she was gone.