Alison Berkley: Mom is in a hurry to head downhill |

Alison Berkley: Mom is in a hurry to head downhill

My mom turned 60 yesterday, and her whole life is literally going downhill.

She won’t stop talking about it. Going downhill has become the focus of her entire existence, be it on a mountain bike, road bike or snowboard. The woman shows no fear in mountain descents of any kind. She has to rub it in that, at 60 years old, she’s left me, “her one and only 33-year-old daughter,” in the dust.

“I just looove going downhill,” she’ll say, gushing like a teenager.

There’s nothing like snowboarding through the trees and having my mom fly past, blond ponytail sticking out of her helmet, ageless beneath her cute little red snowboard jacket and cargo style pants (They’re actually my pants. I’ve “outgrown” them since moving to Aspen). She cruises effortlessly through all kinds of terrain with relaxed grace and style, a true exhibition of the freedom she’s found in the mountains.

There have been many instances when I’ve had to rub my eyes, not only to get the dust out, but to make sure that I’m believing what I’m seeing. Things certainly have changed since she and dad closed what I like to call the “Psycho Farm,” their clinical private shrink’s practice in Connecticut. They ditched the loonies and moved to Colorado in July of 2000.

But over those 33 years, she worked at least 40 hours a week. She listened to wealthy West Hartford divorcees ramble on about their miserable sex lives and learned way more than she wanted to know about the local priesthood and all the other wackos who she could not legally identify.

Her and my father would talk about various patients at dinner, referring to them as “Post Traumatic Stress Mary” and “Bipolar David” and the one she simply referred to as “My cutter,” some woman who liked to cut herself all the time, which is where I drew the line. She always told me that, on her deathbed she would tell me about all the patients she had who were in my life every day.

I pretty much knew who they were already, just because I would tell her about this new friend or that new teacher and she would always say, “Oh my god!” Then she’d have to back-paddle and pretend like it’s nothing.

I’d watch her cringe or make up excuses every time I wanted to hang out with this person or that person or so-and-so was picking us up at soccer practice. One of her favorite sayings was, “Honey, you just never know what goes on behind closed doors.”

Needless to say, dealing with all those lunatics all day made her a tad stressed. She drank too much coffee, drove too fast and had trouble sleeping. She wore silk blouses and tailored slacks and skirts with blazers and dress shoes that clomped loudly on the hardwood floors when she rushed around the house in the morning.

She organized her whole life in a small, black appointment book that she always misplaced, and more often than not, was the reason for all that running around the house.

No matter if she enjoyed a good night’s sleep or spent half of it reading in the bathtub so as not to disturb my father, the garage door would rattle open by 8 a.m. and she’d go speeding out of it, screeching down our windy driveway to her office in West Hartford, 30 minutes away.

They finally closed shop and moved two years ago, not to the tropics or the desert or to some hideous golf resort/country club in South Florida, like the one mom’s parents belonged to, but to Steamboat.

No, it’s not Aspen, but don’t be such snobs! So what if it’s overrun with Texans and wannabe cowboys and condo sprawl? It’s a very down to earth, friendly community and it snows all the time and it’s affordable. So there.

My parents now own more toys than can fit into their garage, including snowboards, mountain bikes, road bikes, cross-country skis, hiking boots, running shoes, and boxes full of energy bars.

Mom ditched her fancy wardrobe for jeans and clogs and Lycra and fleece and waterproof/breathable coats. Almost everything she and my father do involves a helmet. The only club she’s interested in these days is the health club.

That’s not to say mom didn’t always take a vested interest in fitness, squeezing in aerobics classes and weekend bike rides and even learning to snowboard at 55 with my dad during weekends at our second home in Stratton, Vt.

He dragged her on 60-mile bike rides and got her into mountain biking and hiking, and their idea of a vacation was to go somewhere beautiful and push themselves as hard as they did in their professional lives.

In Colorado, that balance shifted from pushing to playing: She acts like a teenager, and embarrasses me constantly by using words like “rad” and “stoked” in casual conversation. Sometimes I can’t believe she followed us here, falling in love with Colorado the way my brother and I did 10 years ago.

Sometimes I can’t believe that cute little blond in the red snowboard outfit is my mom, cutting turns up and down the banked edge of Steamboat’s trails like a natural born surfer or hauling ass down Spring Creek trail on her mountain bike, taut and muscular in tight little bike shorts. (How many 60-year-old women do you know who can still wear spandex?) Sometimes I think she can’t believe it herself.

Her agenda these days requires a waxed snowboard or a freshly lubed chain, but no appointment book. There’s no longer that need to rush, running around the house or speeding in her car. She’s learned to let gravity take care of that. The only place she’s in a hurry to go these days is downhill.

[The Princess is hoping she’ll be that cool at 60 and is a little freaked that she’s more than halfway there. Send your sympathetic e-mail to her at]

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