"Mom, can we sled down the driveway today?" asks our 8-year-old daughter.
Like many Vermont homes, our house site is blessed ... and cursed. Our first winter here, I drove a cute little Honda Civic, bought for its thrifty gas mileage, sold for its low-belly aptitude for getting stuck in our driveway. I believe my husband would tell you I tested our vows of "to death ‘til we part" when I forgot to leave the keys in the abandoned vehicle sitting precariously sideways on The Hill. There’s nothing like hiking 10 minutes, through a wicked combination of ice and snow, just to fetch car keys from your forgetful wife. Since then, we’ve only purchased four-wheel drive vehicles. While it might not be good for the planet, it is definitely good for the marriage.
There are positives to The Hill. One of the best is enjoyed only in the winter, after snow storms and their requisite clean ups still conspire to leave the driveway covered in enough snow to allow for blissful sledding conditions. If the day is particularly good (or bad, depending on your viewpoint), you can even start all the way up at the house. The driveway actually claims two hills and one "flat"-which is still slightly downhill. If you get up speed at the first hill, you’ll be carried through the flat, and then you just face the incredibly fast steep descent into The Hill.
Just like the Olympic commentators talk about the right equipment for the right sport, we have family discussions about which sleds should be used each morning. The "bullets," the plastic ones that you buy anywhere, will never fail to go downhill ... but there are no brakes. On icy mornings, we all agree that brakes are necessary. So then we go for the "steering ones," which require you to sit up but offer the advantage of metal teeth which dig in. They do slow you down.
The older boys no longer sled all the time. Middle school and high school lockers weren’t designed for holding the full snow regalia that elementary rooms are prepared for. So more often than not, it is now the youngest that sleds down, fully dressed for her outdoor recess that starts her day anyway.
Of course, I join her.
I, drenched-in-responsibilities adult, pull on my snow pants and suit up with the hat and mittens and boots. I choose my sled with care, and I start as high up as I feel the weather conditions will carry me. I beg one of the non-sledding sons to photograph me as I zip down, careening to the right and banking off a snowbank as the dogs race alongside me, barking all the way down.
And yes, I often even yell a hearty "Yahoooooo!" out of sheer fun -- and sometimes true fear as the snowbank at the bottom looms ever faster and the brakes don’t catch as much as I thought they would. (The slight curve at the bottom keeps us safe from going out into the road itself.)
I’ve even made peace with the fact that often the bus is pulling up just as we get down, and the kids already on the bus, plus Rick the bus driver, all must think I’m nuts.
But last week, I was thinking more about this, as I trudged back up The Hill, hauling a sled and feeling my fingers getting very cold. My kids know winter is not my season. They witness my pathetic attempts to downhill ski through my abject terror (something my husband terms "just not fun to watch"). They have observed (with too much amusement) my incredibly novice ice skating skills, noting my joy because I have finally learned to push off-some -- with my left foot.
What does it teach them when they see me struggling to ice skate?
What do they get out of their mother trying to figure out how to enjoy downhill skiing ... even when I don’t like going fast or being cold? When just riding on the lift makes my hands sweat in fear of the heights all around me?
What does it say to my kids that I am sledding -- on a school morning, down a driveway, laughing and whooping it up?
I’m hoping they remember the larger lesson that I keep reminding myself of: have fun. Life is too short to overlook an entire season ... or to refuse to improve your skills ...to work when everyone else is having fun on the mountain ... or to miss the joy of sledding down driveways on every day mornings.
If you happen to pass our driveway on a snowy morning at school bus pick-up time, feel free to pull over and take a quick run. We have plenty of sleds.
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.