Or Do I Just Suck at Sledding? Or Does Sledding Just Suck?
I should have asked myself if I was too old to go sledding before I went sledding last weekend. My poor, aching neck and rear end are constant reminders of my sledding “fails.” Maybe what my husband says is true: My age isn’t the problem; I just suck at sledding.
Here in Kansas City we have the opportunity to sled at least once, most winters. But I rarely go because I hate being cold and I hate getting snow inside my gloves and boots. I hate when the sled flips over. I worry about crashing into trees. I worry about sledding onto a frozen stream or pond and breaking through the ice like George Bailey’s little brother in It’s a Wonderful Life. I hate when the sled spins around and I end up going down the hill backwards. I know it’s supposed to be fun. I know it was fun when I was a kid.
Last Saturday was a perfect day to go sledding. Seven inches of snow and 37 degrees outside. What could possibly go wrong? I could imagine hundreds of things, but I’d already asked my husband and kids if they wanted to go sledding. Yes! Yes! Yes! Their excitement was contagious. We put on two layers of pants, double socks, hats, gloves, boots and coats. In retrospect, I probably should have worn a helmet, but, jeez, how dorky would that have looked?
We have two inflatable sleds—a polar bear and a penguin—and a blue plastic saucer. There are plenty of good sledding hills close to our house. We decided to try the “valley” in front of my son’s elementary school. Lots of kids had already been sledding there, so the slopes were nice and packed down.
I could tell my son was a little scared to go down the hill first. I figured I’d show him how it’s done—and take his fearless little sister with me. I found the perfect launch spot, not too close to the little tree, aiming away from the boulders. (There were a couple of large boulders close to the bottom of the “valley” on the west side, but as long as we slid down from the south, there wasn’t any danger of hitting them. A kid on a snowboard was trying, unsuccessfully, to use one of the boulders as a ski jump.)
We sat down on the polar bear sled. I wrapped my left arm around my daughter and held onto the sled with my right hand, and pushed off. Whee! I didn’t scream because I didn’t want to freak out my kids or look like a typical wussy mom in front of the cool snowboarding kid and his brothers, but, believe me, I wanted to scream. Where the hell did that bump come from? We were flying! We were landing—upside down!—in slow motion. The back of my head hit the snow. Hard. I saw my daughter’s legs in the air. My arm broke her fall, but the way she cried, you’d think she’d just been impaled by an icicle. (Impalement by icicle is one of the hundreds of things I secretly fear.) I scrambled to my feet, head spinning, to make sure she was okay. There wasn’t a mark on her and, bless her heart, she wanted to go again. With Daddy.
“Way to go!” my husband called from the top of the hill.
My 8-year-old son saw the whole thing. I think I heard him say “Cool!” and the next thing I knew, he was gliding down the hill on the penguin sled, whooshing past me. “Yaaaaaaay!” A flawless run.
We soon figured out that the plastic saucer sled was slower and therefore safer for two riders. But that evil sled loves to spin its passengers around, especially when they relax and start believing they’re safe. “Backwards is better” is its cackling motto. Who likes to see where they’re going? Not me! Not when I’m careening down a steep slope, dodging children and boulders! Another problem: the plastic saucer sled has no padding whatsoever. It should be called the “Butt Bruiser 3000.” (Did I mention that I once injured my tailbone in a freak trampoline accident when I was 12?)
A six-second run on the demonic plastic saucer sled went something like this: Whee! Ow! My butt! Ow! Oh, snow in my face—bleh, bleh! Ow! Oof! Crap, I don’t wanna go backwards! My neck! Ah! Ow! Oh, dear God, make it stop! Uuuuugh. My 5-year-old loved every second. “Yahoo! That was awesome, baby!” she cheered when we finally stopped moving (I have no idea why she talks like Michelle on Full House). I’d just discovered that a cold, numb butt still feels pain, and my tailbone was already plotting its revenge, but, being an agreeable Mommy, I cheered too. “Fun! Let’s go again! Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll get to go backwards every time!”
Our two inflatable sleds are fast and smooth, full of air and treachery. Sledding on one of those is like floating on a cloud…kind of. I had several good solo runs on the back of the mighty polar bear sled, so, obviously, it was my daughter’s fault that we’d capsized that first time. I found another perfect spot, on the other side of the “valley.” It wasn’t as steep on this side. Of course, it wasn’t quite as easy to avoid the boulders from this direction, but I was confident and stupid. I waved to my husband and children, and set off.
Before the polar bear spun around—backwards is better!—I could see that I was headed toward the smaller boulder. I didn’t scream. I didn’t try to jump off the sled. It was exactly like the time when I saw something on the highway in front of my car, but instead of swerving around it, I made the split-second decision to go over it. I plowed into that rock in full-speed-reverse. I have no recollection of what my body was doing when the polar bear and I bounced off the rock and flew into the air. My husband later said it looked like I was karate-kicking the sky. I landed upright with snow in my eyes, still clinging to the sled, which, miraculously, hadn’t been punctured.
I won’t apologize for the four-letter word I then exclaimed within earshot of several children, including my own. I was completely astonished that my head was still attached to my neck. The fact that any word came out of my mouth was a miracle.
My husband ran over to me. “Why didn’t you bail?! If you’re okay, that was actually really cool,” he huffed. (So, just to clarify, if I had been injured, my crash-test-dummy stunt wouldn’t have been nearly as awesome.)
“I’m okay,” I said slowly, re-adjusting my hat. My husband shook his head in disbelief and smiled and said something about my “flailing limbs.” You should’ve seen your flailing limbs.
For the third time, I asked the kids if they were cold or tired or hungry. No, of course not. We’d been sledding for well over an hour. “Can we come sledding here tomorrow?” my son asked.
“No way,” I answered sweetly, holding onto my daughter and gripping the side of the Butt Bruiser 3000 for one final, backwards sledding adventure. Whee!
Note: I originally published this article 7 years ago. I’m even less likely to go sledding now!
Photo credit: By Nowc (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons