Recently, my sons and I were invited to a friend’s house for an afternoon of sledding.
Wanting to tear my boys away from virtual zombie killing (aka thumb pushups, aka video games), I ordered the troops to lay down their arms and dress for the cold.
Within a scant 10 minutes, they were at the door, dressed and ready to go.
Normally, this would thrill me but something wasn’t right. Did my youngest have his boots on the right feet? Check. Was my oldest actually in a winter coat, despite the embarrassment he is sure will rain down on him by dressing for the freezing temps? Check.
When we arrived, the kids headed to the local school to the sledding “hill.” And that’s when it hit me.
We’re teaching our children what my father called sledding for sissies.
My father helped raise six daughters. But he was not about to raise sissy girls. No sirree. (Ok—I was pretty prissy, but I was the youngest. You can give him a pass on that one. He was just plain tuckered out by the time I came along.)
When we dressed for sledding, we padded up to avoid the possible bone-crushing injuries one can get when one sits on a small wooden platform atop razor-sharp runners on a steep hill riddled with trees. It took us at least half an hour to apply layer after layer, from long underwear on up, to not only protect against the cold but said bone-crushing injuries. Want a visual? Here.
When we arrived at the appointed meeting place my son and his friends had chosen, this sledding hill was a gentle, wide slope that emptied into an extremely large field. The only obstacles on it were the other children, all dressed in neon colors so they would not run into each other. It was like watching a sea of traffic cones converge.
The kids glided down this gentle slope in puffy air-filled tubes meant to cushion their ride and, I’m sure, minimize injury.
As a mother, I love these newfangled precautions.
As my father’s daughter, I thumb my nose.
Sledding in my house was as close as we got to blood sport. We took it seriously.
When my father convened a sledding cabal, you put your game face on.
We went to the valley near our home—and he made it his goal to find the steepest, most challenging slope he could find. And then keep the location a secret so we could have it all to ourselves.
If there weren’t at least 50 trees to steer around, it was a sissy hill. If plenty of people were sledding down it, it meant it was below our family’s superior navigation skills (my father had trained as a navigator during WWII—in bombers, no less—and he somehow felt that gene had been passed on to all of us, whether we were driving, flying or sledding). He felt if you weren’t huffing and puffing by the time you dragged your sled all the way up the hill, it just wasn’t steep enough.
Flexible Flyers were our snow chariots of choice. The kind with red runners and wooden seats about as cushioned as a Catholic church pew. Sitting on either felt like penance.
You either sat up, using your feet to steer the sled via the runners, or you went down headfirst on your stomach, using your hands to steer. I tended to the former, figuring if I slammed into a tree, there were at least a couple of feet between my face and the trunk, giving me a couple of extra seconds to roll sideways before requiring nose surgery.
When you got to the bottom of the hill, if the tree trunks, roots, stones and patches of ice had not gotten the better of you, you had to roll off your sled as quickly as possible, grabbing the rope you used to hang on while riding it. Yes, a tiny little piece of rope was what was supposed to keep you on this deathtrap as you hurtled down a hill at breakneck speed. Anyway, you grabbed the rope and got the heck out of the way of before one of your family members ran over your hand with a sled runner. That was painful and bloody—and a true sign of a sledding newb. Rapid exits were an art, especially since you were dressed with enough padding to qualify as an Oompa Loompa, with the red/orange face to match. You try to stop, drop and roll with an extra 12 inches around your middle—it takes skill, people.
Despite the padding, we usually returned home with a few bruises, cuts and scrapes, unable to feel our toes, fingers and noses. After thawing out, we’d enjoy hot chocolate together, reveling in our near misses and comparing bumps to see whose was the biggest.
Back in the present, as my boys dragged themselves upstairs to shower before bed, complaining of how very tired they were, I smiled. My father’s sledding boot camp would have made this day look like child’s play.
Oh, I forgot. That’s what sledding is–child’s play.
I’ll keep my blood sport memories to myself, reveling in the fact that my boys’ skulls, arms and legs are all in the appropriate spots and crack-free. But I did find myself in my garage the other day, dusting off the old Flexible Flyer. Oh yes, I’ve kept it all these years.
“What is that, Mom?” my son asked. “Is that an old-fashioned sled? Maybe I can try it out.”
“Yes, my dear, it is. But I’m afraid it wouldn’t seem very exciting to ride.”
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah, it’s probably really slow.”
I kept a prudent motherly silence.
I may be my father’s daughter but I’m also now a mama bear.
I can just hear him harrumphing . . .