I was going up the T-bar at Titcomb Mountain, Farmington’s local very family friendly ski mountain on Thursday. It’s not a big mountain, the run down is just a couple minutes, though the views and layout of the trails is superb. As the sun was setting, and the night ski lights came on, I looked at the snow glistening under my skis as I was pulled up the mountain. I found myself filled with exuberance. The beauty of the moment overwhelmed me – clear skies, clean crisp air, the mountains the snow. An amazing world!
At the top I joined a group of second and third grade skiers, including my son. This is a group of seven youngsters, with ten other groups from grades K-3 taking lessons from university students hired to teach. The sound of kids laughing, various lessons taking place, and the activity up and down the hill had a vibrancy that blended with the natural beauty. Here a new kind of beauty emerged — social beauty.
By social beauty I mean simply that this community organizes itself in ways that inspire the same feelings as when I look out over the ski trails at dusk. These lessons — every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30 to 5:30, draw a large number of families who want their youngsters to learn to ski. It’s cheap — only $40 for six weeks — and there is an atmosphere of family and community. Most parents just drop their kids off, but I volunteered to ski with the group, enjoying honing my skills too. Whether it’s kindergartners just learning, or groups like this one of kids who handle themselves well on skis, it’s a real benefit to the community.
Saturday a five year old friend of my five year old son had a birthday party there, and it was great. There’s nothing like riding the t-bar with a five year old between your legs, and then heading down the mountain as he learns to ski. My seven year old, of course, was off on his own — he’s mastered the slopes and has his own friends to ski with.
Earlier Saturday Ryan (the seven year old) got the winning basket in his game in a league for 2nd and 3rd graders. It is competitive in that they have teams that play a season and then a single elimination tournament. But while they play the director/referee is lax in enforcing rules like traveling or double dribbling, instead usually stopping the child, explaining what they did wrong, and then having them start again. Parents cheer both teams, and the purpose is learning and fun, not winning. Yet having a tournament is important because it shows that even though the purpose may be primarily learning and fun, you still try to win, and that’s a good thing. The teams in soccer and basketball have the names of real teams — Ryan’s this year is the Milwaukee Bucks, though when I first told him that he looked at me surprised, “my team is the walking butts?” Saturday’s score: Milwaukee Bucks 13 Orlando Magic 12.
Of course, in fall there is soccer, organized through the Farmington rec department. Every weekend for two months over 150 kids 1st grade through 5th play in teams, followed by a tournament. Again it is competitive in the fact that the tournament is single elimination and the champions win trophies, but it’s not in the sense that adults and coaches see it more for teaching skills and letting the kids have fun than to win. Families watch their kids on the sidelines, chatting with each other as the kids play. Beautiful.
At the university swim lessons are free for beginners (through level two). For pre-schoolers, that can mean two or three years of free swim lessons, thanks to a donation some time ago. It’s also twice a week, and I get the same feeling looking at the parents bringing their kids and towels to the pool, with sometimes dozens of kids (especially the winter sessions) learning to swim. In Maine with all our lakes swimming is a necessary skill! Our seven year old has mastered it, the five year old is still working on it.
The community also has football for third graders and up, dance is big, especially (though not solely) for girls, there’s a very successful t-ball and baseball league, cross country skiing, summer camps, and a variety of things for kids to do. I really oppose over scheduling kids, and most of these are not time intense at the beginning. We made some conscious choices (e.g., he’ll be tired with skiing and Saturday basketball, so no boy scouts, or cross country skiing), and let the kids dictate a lot (Ryan decided he really didn’t like T-ball, so we didn’t continue).
Being in a community with so many activities for kids is really great, and the coming together of people to interact and share the experience is invaluable. Moreover, the social beauty mixes with the natural. On soccer playoff evenings, at twilight as they play the star spangled banner with the sun setting, kids lined up in little soccer jerseys, green well manicured grass and a series of ad hoc (smaller than regulation) soccer fields, the smell of autumn in the air, well, it’s amazing. Or being at the pool as dozens of pre-schoolers prepare for lessons, parent with towels, chatting as the instructors get ready. Or, of course, Mt. Titcomb and the beauty of winter.
When natural and social beauty intersect I get a sense of content satisfaction. Given the state of the world from Moscow to Cairo to inner cities and war zones, I am profoundly thankful that I live in a place that mixes social and natural beauty in such an exquisite manner. At least in terms of community and childrens activities in Farmington, Maine, the state motto “the way life should be” rings true to me.