Where I grew up there were no hills for miles around. It was totally flat. If we wanted to toboggan down a hill we didn’t create ourselves or with our friends, we had to drive at least 20 minutes to the only hill in a nearby town and that hill was very steep and very crowded and to be honest, nobody was going to drive us there in the snow.
Back in the day, my dad had built a deck in our backyard that was raised up from the ground by just two or three stairs. When it snowed, which I feel was very rarely back then, we’d get our sled out and turn the stairs into a jump of sorts. We’d pull the wooden toboggan through a circular course and then off the jump. Our speed limits were bound only by the other person’s ability to run in the snow while lugging on the tow rope so needless to say it was slow, exhausting, and ultimately it never lasted long.
I grew up in the generation that still thought it was OK to drive the car down the street and tow whoever wanted to hang on the back end as they tried to ski in the snow. Mostly though, we just built forts and snowmen. One of the best parts of the snow was how quiet it made everything and how we were sometimes allowed to stay out even after the streetlights came on because mom knew we wouldn’t get far. The very best part though was going inside and getting out of the cold and wet clothes and having hot chocolate with marshmallows or a warm bath — or both — to warm up.
My children are growing up with some of the same delights: the hot chocolate, the warm bath, the neighbourhood kids, and forts, and snowmen, the playing after dark… but the one thing they’ve got that I never had is a hill.
We are fortunate to live in a community with a pretty good sledding hill within walking distance of our home.
For the first couple of years we went out, my kids were far too afraid to actually go down the hill and preferred to simply watch, though one did turn a corner last year and tried it out a few times.
This year, however, neither was the least bit hesitant and I think I have Santa to blame. They got crazy carpets in their stockings and desperately wanted to try them out.
From timid little bundled-up beings the last few years to Santa’s stunt people this time around, my children now seem to have left any and all fear behind — or rather, they’ve just transferred it all to me.
There’s something about watching your child hurtling down a hill at who-knows-how-fast speeds that seems to prompt panic in a parent. I suppose the level of panic depends on how many people are on the hill and what’s at the bottom. For us, there’s a line of trees across the bottom of the hill, followed by a big mud puddle and then a chain link fence.
If the kids get going good enough, they can miss the trees, slide over the mud and crash into the fence. (The folks living on the other side of the fence do not like this at all and so the children do know to avoid the fence at all costs.)
Instead, I’ve been trying to teach them to pull up well before the trees. Not even to preserve the fence, but to avoid any traumatic brain injuries the trees may contribute to.
It’s scary out there!
“Please, please bail before the trees,” I urge them. “These are not good days to need to go to the hospital.”
“Bail before you fail!” chirps my youngest with much more enthusiasm than I believe is warranted.
An argument usually ensues whereby my eldest believes bailing is failing and the rest of us try to remind him that avoiding the certain injury or death that would result from smashing into a tree at high speeds should not at all be seen as a failure.
I don’t know what happened to my nervous child. He’s full-on Evel Knievel now.
I can only assume this is probably why my parents opted to live somewhere flat.
I’ve taken to just standing near the bottom of the hill and yelling at them to bail when I think they’re getting too close too quickly. So far this has worked.
One thing’s for sure though. Despite my kids repeatedly launching themselves down the hill and causing me much stress, it feels like everything in the world slows down. Despite the worry, for me anyway, I have no trouble being present, and being able to enjoy their glee and even remember for a time what the joy of being a kid on winter break is all about.