Badass Babysitter vs. Mama Bear

This month Park City (and beyond) was rocked by the news of the  suicide of Jeret “Speedy” Peterson. My family didn’t know Speedy, but enough of our friends/favorite babysitters have been his teammate, friend and surrogate family that we felt the loss, too. One of my friends, Candice, who referred to Speedy as a “second brother,” told me his death made her realize that she must tell those close to her what they mean to her at every opportunity. If that is just one of Speedy’s legacies, I hope it brings some comfort to those who loved him. And it’s why I’m dedicating today’s post to Candice’s friend—and mine—Ani Haas.

Speedy’s sudden death is still pretty raw—so when I heard KPCW News Director Leslie Thatcher report this morning that another member of the US Freestyle Ski Team made national news, I began to shake. It got a little more intense when, in the same breath, she said Ani’s name—and explained that she had FENDED OFF A BLACK BEAR THAT ATTACKED HER. Before long, I realized it was national news—and that our Ani had been on the Today Show, sharing her story.

And, so,  the world learned something that some of us are lucky enough to know. In fact, as I type this, Ani’s Facebook page is brimming with “attagirls,” and declarations of her courageous, “badass” nature. But the poised, thoughtful and charming young woman chatting with Ann Curry is all that and more.

And how lucky am I to be able to share my family’s “Ani story,” when she can read it? How lucky are we all? I felt pretty blessed to be able to leave her a message this morning, in which I joshed her, “I don’t exactly know the etiquette for calling a friend to say congratulations on fighting off the bear…” The Jews have a prayer for this kind of moment. It’s called Shehecheyanu, and it allows us to thank G-d for allowing us to arrive at this moment. Sometimes you say it when you see a sunrise. I said it because I was truly grateful she’d survived to tell the tale. But, I must say, if anyone could fend off the bear, it’s our girl.

We met Ani because we lucked into a kind of childcare nirvana—as we tapped into a network of kid-loving  competitive athletes as babysitters. It’s a lucky thing to live in a place where this is a resource in our childcare quiver. Here’s why:

1. Athletes are responsible. They are, by definition, used to things like responsibility and punctuality. Most have been competing in some form from a young age, so they really don’t know how to be any other way. Yes, there are party kids, and yes, there are those who squeak by, but in our experience, we have met young women whose sense of responsibility and determination keeps the other stuff in check.

2. They are team players. They know what it means to be part of a team, they know that a family works like that, and they, instinctively cover their own shift if they can’t work. That’s how we first met Ani—but more on that in a minute.

3. They are awesome (and, yes, BADASS) role models for our kids. Mel, our babysitter/nanny and great friend of many years, was instrumental in teaching our kids to ski. Especially the little guy—she logged hours and hours, holding the straps of the “racer chaser” ski harness behind him. And her love of the sport is both inspiring and contagious. (Her love of my kids, even more so). Each of the women who fall into this category show my kids the real-life value of identifying and working toward a goal. In Ani’s case, she has had two major comebacks from injury in the years we’ve known her—once from a broken back and another from serious knee injury.  My kids have seen her do her homework at our kitchen table in the middle of summer (she attended the Winter Sports School in Park City) and bumped into her between intense training runs at Deer Valley Resort. My kids have watched these big-sister surrogates compete in US National Freestyle Competitions on our home mountain, too.

4. They are kindhearted, kid-loving souls. And here’s where I can tell you about meeting Ani. First, I hired Harlie, an ex-competitive snowboarder, as a nanny for Big Guy, when he was around 18 months old. Within her first week, she apologized for having to tell me that her mom had booked a last-minute mother-daughter vacation for her and she wouldn’t be able to work the following week.  I didn’t have a chance to react before she presented the solution: “I already called Candice (who had recently babysat for us, and turned out to be a friend of Harlie’s from boarding school–yes, for competitive winter athletes–) and she can work next week, no problem.” I grinned. Ear to ear. Cut to the following week—I’m driving down the canyon to Salt Lake City for a meeting, and have pulled off one of those days that has the childcare machine in full-tilt. Big Guy is at morning day camp. Ski Dad will pick him up at midday, and meet Candice at the house, where she’ll take over for the afternoon. Candice, however, is calling me to say she can’t work today—”But don’t worry, I called my friend Ani, and she’s planning to be at your house in 15 minutes. I know it’s a little weird, but she loves kids and you guys will adore her. She’s the most responsible person I know.” Which is saying a lot, considering Candice already held that title from the minute we met her.

I quickly called Ski Dad, explained the situation, and asked him to call me after he met Ani. “I trust this will be fine,” I told him. “But would you mind working from the home office today, just in case?” Of course, there was no need. Moments later, I got a call from Ski Dad. “They hit it off immediately! She has the biggest smile. I think he’s in love,” he said. Ani, it should be noted, immediately became a part of our pack of beloved babysitters. And one day when she couldn’t watch our son, she sent her friend…Mel. As our family expanded, and Harlie moved away to finish college, Candice (and another “friend-of-Candice” Natalia, and her sister Brooke) and Ani and Mel stepped in in various ways. Ani and Candice and Mel were all on our speed dial list as the birth of Little Guy approached. Ani brought Big Guy to the hospital to meet his new brother, and took him for a trip to the zoo to make the day even more special. I have an image of her walking into the hospital room that day, bearing flowers for me (!) and, after letting the Big Brother have his honors, scooping up Baby Little Guy for a snuggle. Somewhere, there is a photo of her beaming as she hold him.

Ani, for as infrequently as we see her, is a permanent part of our village. But I don’t think she can possibly know how much we respect and admire her—for her courage, her intelligence, her kindness, the pure joy she takes in her life, the honor she affords her talent, and the goodness in her soul that cannot be manufactured. It’s that courage that the Mama Bear didn’t count on, but one that this Mama Bear has always known–along with it’s all the other stuff that carried her through the moment of truth with grace.

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