Sunday, January 10, 2010


The town I live in is full of hills. In the winter parents pick up their kids from school with a sled tucked under one arm, and when I'm driving home each day I see a row of toques lined up at the top of the hill. All last winter I felt guilty about the fact that my children have never gone tobogganing, not once in this snowy, hilly town. Over the Christmas holidays this year we were even invited tobogganing with friends and I turned the opportunity down, preferring to nurse my chest cold with a cup of hot chocolate by the fire. I had an iron-clad excuse, but I also knew the real reason for my children's tobogganing virginity: I am a chicken.

I am that hovering parent, the one who can so easily be blamed for her children's physical timidity. Mine are the children who cling to the wall at the skating rink, who look on aghast at the playground as other, braver children slide down the fireman's pole. I blame nature rather than nurture, but certainly if a parent can create a fearful child, it would be a parent like me who does it. While other parents sit chatting on benches, I shadow my children, leaping to pull them out of the way of errant swings and gasping when they step too close to the gap at the top of the jungle gym.

So it was with an acute sense of my own absurdity that I bundled my children and their sled into the car this weekend, not at all convinced that we would all return alive. I had purchased the most cushiony sled I could find, an inflatable tube with plenty of hand-grips. If we hit a tree in such a contraption, the worst that could happen is that we would bounce. Our choice of hill was based not only on proximity to our house but also on an informal risk-assessment: no danger from street traffic, no fence to crash into - only a not-entirely-frozen river at the end of a reassuringly long straightaway. The hill itself was streaked with tracks, all of which ended at the foot of the hill.

You know where this story is going of course, so I will reassure you at once that nobody ends up in the river. That's only because my husband tried the sled first and managed to get his boot into the snow in time to stop our friction-free inflatable tube from zipping lightly and easily right into the water. After that, we posted him at the foot of the hill, where he never failed to catch the sled before it could careen over the riverbank.

No, the danger in this story is not from the river's icy waters but instead from my son's belief that it would be fun to intercept his sister in the sled about halfway down the hill, while hubby and I hollered, "Bub! Get out of the way!" from our positions at the top and bottom. Grinning mischievously and ignoring our cries, Bub moved steadily into the path of the oncoming sled, which cut his feet out from under him and catapulted him into the air, head over heels, feet flying, until he finally made contact with the ground cheek-first.

He jumped up quickly, doing the silent scream, his jaw moving up and down in astonishment - but at least it was evident that he had not broken his neck or back, contrary to all probability. A dad who was with his kids on another part of the hill yelled "Oh God!" and sprinted over there to scoop him up while I stood dazedly rooted to the spot.

"I'm injured!" Bub gasped finally as he struggled back up the hill. He was more frightened than hurt, and the most regrettable thing about the entire incident, really, is that I didn't have a video camera with me. But the whole thing reminds me of that Alanis song everybody liked to dismiss so scathingly a few years ago: "Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly. He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye. He waited all his whole damn life just to take that flight, and as the plane crashed down, he thought, 'Well isn't this nice.' Isn't that ironic? Don't you think?" So yes, maybe technically that situation is more sucky than ironic, but it certainly feels like irony when your most absurd fears turn out to be absurdly prophetic.


KG said...

Aww, we've all done that. We used to build jumps out of piles of snow half way down the hill and everything. We never got hurt. Some of my favorite memories were from sledding. Good story though. I know I'm going to be the same as you one day when i get suckered in to having kids. ;)

Patois said...

Oh, the bile I have had to swallow to enable my kids to do anything.

Thank you for reassuring me at the midpoint that no one ended up in the river. I don't know if I'd have been able to keep reading. I am fearful that way.

Kyla said...

"I'm injured!" made me giggle just a little.

Thanks for the reassuring words partway though. I'd have had to have skimmed to the bottom to check before reading the rest of the post. ;)

Nicole said...

OMG, tobogganing. I often feel like the worst Canadian mother ever, because I hate taking the children tobogganing, skating, skiing, insert any winter activity here. I always feel like I have to, like it is my duty as a Canadian, but sometimes, I just cannot do it.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

We went to a sledding party over the holidays. It was in the forest; we had a 3-sided log cabin as our base (that is, the parents' base) while the kids sled down these tracks through the trees. We had sleds like you describe, the big bouncy ones. And the most fun thing? for every single one of the kids? was standing in front of the sled & getting knocked down. Luckily in our case the hill was short, so while every kid fell and several of them cried, no one was injured.

That description sounds horrible! Are we mean parents? I should add that the kids were all laughing uproariously!

julie green said...

Hilarious, truly.

kittenpie said...

I am a chicken, too - but about myself. Always was. And yet - I smashed my face in when I flew off a toboggan and landed (with it leading the wahy) on a chunk of ice. ON the day before picture day at school. Yay.

JCK said...

It is so very hard. The letting go of fear. And WHY do they always have these accidents JUST out of our reach....

Happy New Year!

Mary G said...

My mother would have wrapped me in bubble wrap, if such a thing had existed in the '40's and '50's. She worried, was timid physically, all that you describe.
I am a medium risk taker - I scuba dive, ski, toboggan on crazy slopes.
I raised an elite gymnast and a white water canoer. Go figure.
Good lesson, to get a little bit hurt and get over it.

Anonymous said...

The irony is that Bub was injured not in a tobogganing accident per se....not in the way that your ever worrying mind imagined - a fall from the sled...but from Bub's natural childish whim. You will never be able to protect him from that.

kgirl said...

I'm so sorry I'm laughing.

I also panic at the thought of my kids doing anything risky, but, thanks to constant encouragement from my husband and a little self-restraint, I have managed to let them have fun doing the very things that I myself found fun before I became a mother.

That and I simply stay home where I don't have to look, and let the huz take them out.

Heather said...

Your post was hilarious! The image of Bub flying head over heels was priceless and your line about not having a camera made me laugh out loud. Poor Bub. He really didn't see the potential consequences of his actions. I wonder if that is an AS trait?? lol!

Bon said...

"i'm injured!" made me giggle too.

i have developed, perhaps handily, a lifelong habit of dismissing my fears outright as a way of rebelling against my poor, beleaguered mother. but that moment just before the tube sled hit Bub, when you couldn't reach him and everything sort of slows, that kind of moment sits at the back of my throat, choking me quietly.

Jaelithe said...

I'm feeling a little guilty for not taking my own kid sledding this year, though really, we only got one decent sledding snow. And our yard is entirely devoid of hills, so sledding would have required a trip to the park or something.

Parents were much less worried about these things when we were kids, weren't they? I remember once, while sledding totally unsupervised at the age of 8 or so, I swerved to avoid a tree and went straight through a chainlink fence-- a chainlink fence atop a retaining wall, demarcating a sheer six foot drop into the next yard. I was so sure I was dead, but, kid that I was, I thought to myself, hey, at least I got to FLY before I died. Heh.

(I landed in a snowbank. I didn't have a scratch on me. I didn't even manage to permanently damage the fence. Or my cheap plastic toboggan. I ran inside and told my parents about this and they LET ME KEEP SLEDDING. Heh.)

Anonymous said...

I never look back thinking, "I miss those sledding days".

In our house Dad took the children (boys) sledding. And the guilt I had? No guilt

May these days end soon; you will not miss the sledding days!


Carrien said...

I do think that kids with (over)protective parents tend to be more accident prone because they've not been allowed to explore their physical boundaries and become aware of their bodies and how they respond to the space around them as much as the kids whose mothers are constantly dragging them off of the climbing equipment because they might get hurt.

The kids who seem more confident and physically capable have just been allowed to practice these skills more often. It's my theory anyway. My kids are super athletic, great balance, trying everything. But they have fallen off of stuff too have fallen off of stuff too and tried things that were too hard for them, and learned their limits well.

This is supposed to read as an encouragement to let them do more stuff. :) I doubt it's going to sound like that though.

Mimi said...

Oh hell, Bea, your town has the CRAZIEST SLEDDING RUNS I've ever been on. In fact, as we went back to see our grandparents, my sister and I in teh back seat as my parents drove us up the main street, we were reminiscing incredulously about all the hills there we'd nearly been killed on.

Poor Bub.

I broke my collarbone in exactly that same accident. Hurt.

Beck said...

Kids use my street for sledding. See, we live right next to this GIANT hill, and kids slide down it. Right into a street. A blind, curving, narrow street.

So far, no one has been killed. HOW, I do not know. But my kids slide at my parents, where I did. I only went through the pond twice, I figure.