Monday, January 18, 2010

None of That Either

"I don't want any more hitting," I lectured the children the other day, "and no more fighting!"

Bub agreed. "No body-checking either."

It was a surprising observation, not only because Bub is perhaps the only boy in this hockey town who refuses to learn to skate, but also because he has been past master in the art of body-checking ever since a few time outs three years ago taught him that a hand raised against his baby sister meant immediate loss of privileges.

"Do you know what body-checking is, Bub?" I asked him.

"Yeah," he replied. "It's when you check a look to see what your body looks like."

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.