4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I love sledding. I mean, I really love sledding.
When I was first married, my husband and I lived in a haunted mansion in Philadelphia. Seriously. It was so haunted that my sister with the Guiding Eye dog asked me, “If my dog stops for people you can’t see, do you want me to tell you?” But the house had its advantages. Besides being free (actually, I could probably stop there…) it was a bona fide mansion with marble fireplaces in almost every room, two kitchens, an even more haunted basement and a fully furnished nursery that looked like it was plucked directly out of a 1942 Good Housekeeping magazine (haunted).
Everyone said it reminded them of The Shining, especially in the winter. Because this stark white house sat on a hill in the far reaches of Philadelphia and the hill sloped down, down, down to the woods below and the Wissahickon River beyond.
After our first snow there I grabbed the extra heavy duty trash bags and roll of duct tape we found in a utility closet (creepy), and taped my body into a human sled. I stood in about a foot of snow at the top of the hill, ran to the edge and let go. I went flying. And my favorite part was lying down at the bottom of this huge hill in the only silent place in all of Philadelphia as I watched those big fat fluffy snowflakes land on my black-plastic-encrusted legs. Sledding was a revelation. It was like a Josh Groban music video. Or maybe Green Day. Cheap, trashy, lovely, authentic.
When I was growing up we never went sledding. Not once that I remember. We owned a sled, one of those wooden Red Riders with the metal runners on the bottom (because nothing says death like metal runners on a child’s sled), but we never did more than tie a rope to the front and pull each other dog sled style around the neighborhood.
There was a good sledding hill in our town. It was conveniently located right off the highway at the cemetery. One stop shopping there, am I right? Because the rumor was that someone had died sledding that big hill, or at least that’s what my mother said. We were never allowed to go. The last thing my mother needed was a paraplegic, something she would never have said aloud only because it went without saying. In fact, the only time I ever saw my mother outside in the snow, she was shoveling a walk or schlepping a retarded child onto a short bus. I don’t think in all her life she ever went sledding.
When Tim and I moved to Massachusetts our first winter I remember wrapping Jasper, then three, in snow pants and sliding him down the small hill in our backyard. The following winter my sister bought us a huge blow up sled and it snowed, and snowed, and snowed. We had snow plows and backhoes in our driveway almost every day to clear out the snow.
I would wrap all four kids in snowsuits, the baby in fact was positively rigid with layers of fleece, and we would take the sled we had and build slalom runs for them. Some afternoons while the twins and baby were already napping, I’d dress Jasper and head to the big hill at the far edge of our yard. I’d lay him on the three-man blow-up sled, run in a crouch and then belly flop next to him, flying down the hill.
Last week we hiked to the hill at the neighboring school. It has a long slow drop and then a sudden sloped ending that is so shockingly steep and fast it feels like the log flume at Storyland. I literally screamed every time we went down. We all lined up, Cabot between my legs, Mica between Jasper’s legs on a neighboring sled and then Reid on the other side on her own. We grabbed each other’s hands. We laughed and screamed and flew down the hill again and again.
While I don’t remember my mother going out in the snow with us ever, I do remember the carefully prepared cocoa we would get after any stumbling forays into the great white beyond whether to play or shovel the walks. And so, after sledding with my children, I pour the coconut milk and organic cow’s milk into four mugs, microwave, add the Ovaltine and then the requisite marshmallow.
While my mother never took me sledding, she always made hot cocoa when it snowed. Some days my mother’s gifts to me seem so very small, but I believe it’s something to build on. And for that I’m thankful.