Gap Year Phase 3

I’ve told you about M’s Gap Year Phase 1, where she worked for the census, and Phase 2, an attempt at farm work followed by a trip to NYC.

And now–for as long as it lasts–it’s Phase 3: working at Breckenridge resort in Colorado.

So… this whole COVID-with-a-graduate thing has been… a journey. M’s college, Grinnell, made the call very early that classes were going to be mostly-online-from-home for the year. At first there was hope of some time on campus, but with infections flaring early in Iowa and a governor who was (until quite recently) staunchly anti-mask, our prospects didn’t look good.

Cute W and I have always encouraged the girls to consider gap years. We think the idea of travel or a job before settling in for more school is a great one. But the kids have always been against it. They are great students who’ve been working toward the goal of attending great colleges, and the idea of going off track just seemed unappealing to them.

But that changed when college became attending classes online. Cute W and I loved-loved-loved college, and we’ve always said it was much more than the classes. College was late-night dorm philosophical discussions and getting invited to a professor’s house and meeting students from all over the world and dance parties and casually stopping by a concert or lecture and getting sucked in because it’s so good. Even the kids who are fortunate enough to attend college on campus this year can’t really have that kind of experience. And right away, M said, “I am not spending any more time sitting in my room doing online classes.” And we absolutely agreed.

There was a mourning period, for sure. But M just started, as we say in our house, working the problem. She wanted to leave town. She wanted to make a little money, or at least not cost us too much money. She wanted to have fun around other young people. She looked into gap year programs, Americorps, the National Parks Service, and tons of potential jobs. A ski resort seemed like a good fit because many of them typically hire international students, so they’ve streamlined hiring from afar and helping with living arrangements. In M’s opinion, Vermont (with its close proximity and excellent COVID numbers) was too familiar and close to home. When she started looking into Colorado, Cute W and I were both Breck boosters–it’s a super-cute town with a good transportation system and walkability so that she could manage without a car.

When she applied for the job, it was pretty hilarious, because she was not interested in stretching herself and trying to convince them that she could be a ski instructor or anything that required substantial experience, so she chose a position that was basically “wipe down tables and do whatever.” Yes, I’m paraphrasing. But then, in the online form, she was supposed to explain why she was uniquely qualified for this perfect-for-her professional position. And I told her to just be honest–along the lines of, I am competent and hard working and I am willing to wipe down tables if it will allow me to be there at your lovely resort. A click on “Submit” and a couple of interviews later, and she was in: a job at one of the resort’s restaurants with housing at a reduced rent in an employee apartment complex.

Now, do I love that she flew on an airplane during a pandemic? That she’s all the way in Colorado, that she’s working at a restaurant, that she takes a bus from her apartment to her job, all during a pandemic? Not really. I find it terrifying. We made her fill out healthcare proxy forms before she left, and I have reminded her to never leave a drink unattended at least 5 to 7 times. I am deeply uncomfortable even sharing about it at all, because part of me imagines it all ending terribly, and then here’s this post, evidence of my bad parenting choice. Usually when I’m not sure if I’m making the right parenting call, I don’t mention it at all until I feel like all’s well that ends well (like our first forays into social media). On the other hand, she’s 18 now, and it’s not like we can lock her in a room. We have family in Colorado, so in an emergency, someone could get to her. She really needed to leave the house and do something on her own. She was more than ready for college, and a stifling spring, summer, and fall of COVID isolation was not good for her mental health or for any of us.

So. She’s successfully flown and taken a shuttle and spent the night at a hotel and found her apartment and moved in and started grocery shopping and cooking for herself and trouble-shot her way through training online when the internet was down and started her job and bought a pair of skis and made friends. And now, as COVID’s on the rise again, her restaurant has gone to takeout-only, and it’s possible that if things get worse, the resort will shut down and it’s unclear if staff will be furloughed and isolating in their apartments or sent home or. . . what. After this news came out, M sent us a brief video of herself about to ski down a mountain. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, but at that moment, at least, it was a beautiful day on the slopes, and she was planning to ski until it was time to meet her friends later.

I am so, so proud of her. She had a plan, and it was a great plan that she was excited about. And then when the pandemic trashed all of her lovely plans, she just readjusted. And readjusted again. She researched, she adapted, and she put herself out there and went way beyond her comfort zone (and way, way, WAY beyond MY comfort zone). Recently she was recounting how she’d gotten herself to the supermarket and what she’d cooked for dinner (spaghetti squash and chicken meatballs), and Cute W and I started laughing about how easy college will feel next year. “What do you mean?” she asked. “Well, for one thing, you just have to show up and the food will appear in front of you.” She’s done so much adulting. I know that she’s already learned and grown so much, and I know that all of these experiences have been building resilience and I cling to that COVID Silver Lining. But, oh my gosh, I really hope that she gets to stay through April, that she gets to have plenty of fun, and that some of these new friends become great friends. She’s worked hard for this and she deserves a wonderful winter.


  1. Claire

    No matter how this turns out (and it will likely turn out fine), it will never be a question of a bad parenting decision. As you said, she’s 18, and at this point she owns the decision. Your support of her decision is completely justified. (And this is coming from someone who takes the pandemic very seriously.)

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