Letting It Slide

good reasons to brave the slippery slopes

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

After a recent snow day home from school, my 6-year-old daughter informed me that her sled was “broken.” I said, “That’s too bad. Sometimes, sleds get really cold and the plastic breaks.”

To which she said, “No. I mean it’s too slippery.”

In somewhat baffled silence, I started counting the ways in which this matter-of-fact statement was just ... wrong. Too slippery? Impossible. But how could I explain this incorrectness in a way my sweet, gentle, befuddled child would understand?

You see, it’s a real balancing act, explaining something like this to a child. The mind of a young human has the ability to absorb an infinite amount of information, yet a relatively small capacity to meaningfully connect this information to the concrete touchstones of her simple daily life.

My wife, immediately recognizing the familiar look on my face – a flicker of slight confusion exploding into a massive fireball of over-analysis – interjected and said, “She means it’s hard to sit on.”

Oh ... yes, that makes much more sense.

And thus began this year’s season of snow sledding. We’re not a huge family of sledders, not yet, but we live only blocks away from the famed “Seven Bumps” sledding hill in Eau Claire’s Eastside Hill neighborhood, so we’re pretty much required by local law to go. Once they get older, I assume the kids will end up sledding there all the time, in daylight and starlight, all by themselves. But until then, it’s up to my wife and I to show them the ropes.

And to be honest, I’m no good with ropes. And by “ropes” I mean “sledding.” I’m no good with ropes, either, but I’m a super huge wuss when it comes to flying down a hill on a sheet of cheap plastic.

I actually wrote about this very topic five years ago. At the time, my daughter was only 18 months old, and I had just surprised myself by letting her go shooting down a sledding hill at my parent’s house with only her seven-year-old cousin’s skinny arms to protect her from a great big giant horrible crash into a spike-covered exploding pine tree (or some other completely plausible consequence).

At the time, I knew I needed to let her slide down that hill so she could have an amazing, exhilarating experience, fighting against my own apprehension  and fears to do so. Everything turned out great.

Well, now that she’s older – and has a 3-year-old brother – I find myself in a somewhat similar bind. I’m still just as much of a wuss about sledding as I was five years ago. (Seven “bumps”? More like seven ridges of tailbone-shattering pain). However, now my kids are plenty old enough to look to me for examples of what’s awesome and what’s not. If they see me scared of a relatively small sledding hill, what will they think of it? I don’t want them to harbor my own unfounded fears.

I mean, what if you hit a huge bump and the sled goes airborne? What if my airborne kid flies into a treetop? And what if that treetop is home to a nest of rare spider-squirrels? And what if they’re hungry and their favorite food is people? What then, I ask you, WHAT THEN?

Or what if they slide into some wayward toddler and their heads clunk together? WHAT THEN?

So soon I’ll have to muster my courage and be a good example, possibly dislocating various body parts and receiving a minor concussion in the process. Luckily, like most Catholic-raised Midwesterners, my actions are largely driven by guilt and avoidance. So to avoid the guilt of not showing my kids how fun it is to slide from the very top of the hill, I’ll be up there, squeezing onto a sled and hoping for the best. Wish me luck. Heck, maybe it’ll even be fun.

I’ll just go ahead and assume the chances of disrupting a nest of spider-squirrels is relatively low.

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