McAbee: Vail Valley offers relief for the unconventional during the holidays (column) |

McAbee: Vail Valley offers relief for the unconventional during the holidays (column)

Jeff McAbee
Valley Voices

For me, the holidays exacerbate feelings of interfamilial isolation. I chose the Vail Valley for the prospect of excellent skiing and the high probability of a white Christmas over high stress travel and getting together with the people who, while blood related, do not share my passion for life outside.

Without me, they get together, my extended family, in that far away place I once called home and this makes me homesick even though I know that within 12 hours of arriving I would be ready to trade an eye for a ticket back to the mountains.

Bumper sticker parlance would have us believe that every family has its resident head case. If you are reading this and cannot find a qualifying member of your family, then it’s probably you. As the family eccentric, I was able to convince myself that my choice was a good one. I comforted myself with Mittyesque mountain man dreams. That is, until a giant beach break of a girl came into my life by divine providence and began to knock my sand castles down one by one.

Izzie is a fun loving, hard-charging, 10-year-old ripper, at ease dining with dignitaries or rapping with the homeless. By looking at her, you would never guess she too knows what it’s like to experience a deep and dark isolation this time of year. Nearly 10 years ago, her dad died suddenly and tragically when she was 6 weeks old. He was a dentist and they (Izzie’s mother, brother and sister) had just moved to the valley to open a practice and to raise their family in this beautiful place. I have to hand it to him. It was a good plan. We’ll call him “Plan A.”

It’s hard to consider, while walking through tragedy, that life goes on. You sort of irrationally expect people you do not know to stop for a moment and acknowledge that something has gone horribly wrong. But children do not stop needing their mom during a tragedy. Fortunately, 10 years ago, some very kind locals, friends now, stepped in to help this devastated mother and her small children. Strangers, really acting like family for a time, walked this little hurting and isolated family through tragedy.

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I met Izzie when she was almost 3 years old because I met her mother first on We had a ski date at Vail. Smitten, we eventually got married. A couple of years later I adopted Izzie, her brother and sister officially becoming “the back up plan.” Over the next few years I watched Izzie move around the world with a rare buoyancy and declare her the backyard cartwheel champion of the world. Ten years after she lost her dad, we’ve moved here to finish what Plan A had in mind, that is, to give Izzie, her brothers and sisters a great life among the creeks and the spruces, cradled in the folds of the land.

For her mother and I, Izzie’s big smile, as big as her heart, has come to represent the journey from desperation and isolation to hope. This season, we will celebrate and enjoy all the valley has to offer. After all, we are making up for lost time.

As for me, I’m a bit overwhelmed by the gracious situation that turned the family head case into a dad, not once but now four times. And since I’m around, no one in our family has to wonder if they’re the oddball. More than a few of us will forgo a visit to extended family this Christmas.

Instead, we’re staying home.

Jeff McAbee lives with his wife, three kids and two dogs in Edwards. More of his writing can be found at, @jeffmcabee on Twitter and Instagram, @steepthinking.

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