SLEDDERBOARD

today I grant you permission to use a new word

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Janae Breunig

So my son invented the word “sledderboard.” If you’re tempted to use this word in everyday conversation, be my guest. It’s not like my son – who is all of five years old – has bothered to copyright or trademark it. But if you decide to utter “sledderboard” to friends, family, or bewildered strangers, I have a few rules. Guidelines, really. That are mandatory.

But wait. Before I hash out my terms for the usage of “sledderboard,” perhaps you’d like to know what it means. Perhaps you’d like to know its origin story. Mayhaps you’d like to understand its significance. Well, it all begins on a hill.

A few weeks ago, I took my kids sledding on the hill next to the Forest Hill Cemetery in Eau Claire, a.k.a. Dead Man’s Hill, a.k.a. Seven Bumps, a.k.a. Oh My God This Really Hurts My Ass Hill. It was our first trip to the hill this winter, and they’d been begging to go for months – since the first snowflake had hit the front lawn. I figured if I didn’t take them soon, their childhood would be a howling black void of despair. So we went.

I wore my long johns.

This was our first trip sledding where my kids didn’t beg me to ride down the hill with them, ramming my tailbone into every last bump and ball of ice. They didn’t need to be coaxed into trying it by themselves. So all I had to do was stand at the top of the hill and help them get started. It was fabulous.

Anyway, after awhile my son began recapping each run down the hill, providing a play-by-play for poor ol’ dad who was stuck standing on the hill, unable to participate in the fantastic fun unfolding before him. He’d scurry up the hill, his creaky plastic sled trailing behind him on a leash, banging against the guardrail the whole ding-dang way. He’d get to me, breathless and grinning, yammering about how he “went sledderboard that time.”

After hearing it over and over, I realized he was combining the words “sled” and “overboard” into a single, perfect phrase to describe his blissfully catastrophic wipeouts at the end of each trip down the hill. And he said this word as if everyone on earth would know what he was talking about. Because he’s awesome.

After hearing it over and over, I realized he was combining the words “sled” and “overboard” into a single, perfect phrase to describe his blissfully catastrophic wipeouts at the end of each trip down the hill. And he said this word as if everyone on earth would know what he was talking about. Because he’s awesome.

So the next time you’re sledding and you totally wipe out, feel free to declare that you’ve gone “sledderboard.” But like I said, there are some rules. Guidelines, really. That are mandatory. 

Firstly, you must not be cynical. Do not allow even one drop of bitter cynicism to fall upon your sweet, sweet tongue. Instead, fill your mouth with a planetary certainty – you must believe that what you are now doing is the absolute most fun thing in the history of all the things. Irony is physically impossible in this brave, new universe. In your tiny, beautiful heart you must openly trust that this moment is all there is – and that this moment is a soul-shocking fireball of gasping wonder.

Secondly, smile when you say it.

Thirdly, you must be confident, as only a five-year-old who has just invented a ridiculous word can be confident. There are some who will question your words. Do not tolerate their guff. Believe the word is real, for you have made it real simply by saying it. Like the gods of old, you are whispering the world into being. The nattering of naysayers is like a handful of fussy insects – dash them against the windstorm of your voice.

Fourthly, remember that “sledderboard” is more than a bombastic adverb describing what just happened to you. It’s also a command. Imagine (if you will) a whole group of friends, stacked atop a bobsled and sailing downhill. Suddenly, you look ahead to see a massive tree/fence post/confused parent directly in your path. What can one do but avert disaster by yelling “SLEDDERBOARD!” at the last possible moment? Once your friends have untangled themselves from the resulting heap of mittens and snow pants, they’ll thank you.

And there you have it. You are ready. Venture out to the majestic sledding hills of the Chippewa Valley, and use the word wisely.

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