We went sledding last weekend. I’ll be honest; I didn’t want to go. It was phenomenally cold, and my back ached. These old bones were begging me to stay inside by the woodstove.
But we have a 5-year-old son who would rot his brain playing video games if we didn’t drag him out of the house, and it looked like major brain-rotting was his plan for the weekend. It had to be done.
So off we went…after I had bundled up the youngster like Randy, Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story, of course. “Mama’s cold, so here, put on another layer.” Well, he kind of could put his arms down. Most of the way, anyway.
We chose a place at a park near where I grew up, and the hill set off a few, but not all, of my mommy alarms: too steep, too icy, too crowded.
However, it was evident that it was a “good” sledding hill…not from the quantity of children launching themselves down it, but from the sheer number of brightly colored shards of ex-toboggans littering the slope. My mommy-sense was squashed flat by the kid inside me. This hill ate sleds. Coooool.
While daddy took the young’un down the slope for the first time, I maintained a lookout at the top of the hill, surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam not only of the shattered sleds, but also of single gloves and mittens, scarves, and hats. I pictured weary mothers in nearby houses, rifling through wicker baskets and drawers, sighing, “Where is your hat? That’s the third one that’s disappeared this winter…” (I should know; our count for this season is one (1) vanished hat and one (1) mitten that disappeared but somehow reappeared (-1) in the Bermuda Triangle of his kindergarten cubby. Someday I expect a World War II bomber to emerge from that thing, complete with befuddled crew wandering about and scratching their Brylcreemed heads.)
As I stood there in the overcast afternoon, I realized it was really cold. Fashion statements notwithstanding, I envied the dude in the tan Carhartt jumpsuit…but not his practice of chain smoking while blowing up his kid’s inflatable tube. I wondered if, when they deflated it later, to get it back in the car, the escaping air would smell like an ashtray. I was pretty sure it would.
Anyway, as I watched the menfolk of the family on their first run down the slick, icy hill, narrowly missing and narrowly being missed by other sledders, I wondered if our boy would be skittish about the activity. After all, he’s always a bit jumpy about new activities, and he barely remembered his sledding outings from last winter, way back when he was 4.
Should I have been so concerned? Of course not. All it took was one run. After that, the only thing slowing the kid down was the trudge back up the hill. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with the serious decisions of whether to use the newer (but already broken—one hand grip had come loose) foam two-person sled, or our trusty old Saucer of Death that survived my childhood; whether to go down with Mama or Dada or by himself; and whether to go straight down the middle of the hill or take the subtler slope to the west that would launch him down the hill and up another on the other side, into the trees, from which he’d emerge with twigs stuck in his hat, as if the trees were playing too.
And that got me thinking. The sledding hill was surrounded by the usual tangle of scrabbly trees and brush, but at the top of the main slope stood four or five very old lindens—at least 70 or 80 years old, judging by their girth. They’ve presided over the activities, as well as stood watch over the shards of sleds and lost hats and gloves, for decades.
I wondered what they thought of all this silliness: bundled-up kids flopping on neon-colored plastic chunks and flinging themselves down the snow-covered hillside, screaming at the tops of their lungs, colliding, sailing off the sleds and skidding for yards on their Gore-Tex covered buns until they stopped at a level spot, still screaming just for the heck of it.
And it occurred to me that the lindens were laughing. I mean, look what they had for entertainment, right at their feet—I mean roots. Some of the teens might have been obnoxious, whapping each other with their inflatable tubes as they teetered between wanting to enjoy themselves sledding or reject the childish activity outright, and some of the 8-year-old boys kept bellowing in that insistent, strident tone exclusive to 8-year-old boys, where they make everything, even “Hi, how are you?” sound like a crisis of epic proportions, but even so, it was a pretty entertaining crowd.
Meanwhile, the elms on the other side of the park road, at the edge of a broad field, were lulled to sleep watching the old ladies seriously attend to their form as they glided around the field on their cross-country skis. Bo-ring!
Nope, the lindens had the best view. From the kid trying to balance on what amounted to a bike with three skis (which gave him serious issues) to the little spudlet splayed like a pink starfish in a plastic seat, her mother dragging her around by the attached rope while she sat there grinning (no issues there), this was where all the action was.
So I just couldn’t resist—bad back or not, I had to give the sledding hill a try. Or two. Or three (even if I couldn’t resist dragging my heels through the snow to slow down just a little). We glided into the slush, we coasted over ice-covered piles of leaves, we got tangled in the brush, we got in the path of other sledders barreling toward us, and we barreled toward other sledders who didn’t get out of the way fast enough. A darned good time? Absolutely. Freezing cold or not. Coooool.