Kathy hands me the sled. We stand at the top of a hill next to the Minneapolis house we are renting for the weekend with seven other friends from high school. The night before, we toasted our collective 50th birthdays with sparkling wine and mango cake. Today we are sledding. That’s how we roll.
I grasp the flimsy sled by a duct-taped handle. It’s a loaner. Although I didn’t bring my own sled, I have come prepared; I’m wearing nearly new fuchsia snow pants I bought two years earlier when I was under the mistaken impression I was taking up snowshoeing. I’m also wearing Canadian-made fake-fur-topped boots, purchased under the correct belief that comfort is more important than fashion when you were born the year the Big Mac was invented.
When was the last time I went sledding? I conjure an image of standing in my backyard at age 5. I am wearing a zip-up-the-front “snowmobile suit.” A steep incline leads from our porch down to the rocky shoreline of the lake.
Mom must have planted our rectangular plastic sled in the snow and coaxed my brother and me to climb in with her. I don’t remember the ride down. I only remember the view from the top. The anticipation of flight. The suspension of before and after.
I sit astride the borrowed sled and prepare to launch my 50-year-old self down the unfamiliar slope, which features jumps designed to enhance the experience. From my perch, I spot some of my bundled-up friends tromping back up the side of the hill. They apparently survived their own runs down. This gives me hope.
I do not have any memories of sledding with my own three kids. It’s one of my parenting regrets. When they were old enough to sled on their own, I sent them into our backyard, which provided enough of an incline to offer excitement, but not so much that I needed to monitor their every move. In the event of excess momentum, the worst that could happen would be a soft, tangled landing in the lilac bushes at the edge of our yard.
I did not own snow pants in those days. Keeping the kids in snow pants that fit, locating matching pairs of mittens and rounding up stray boots sapped my energy for outdoor play. I reveled in the chance to stay inside where it was quiet.
But after I cajoled the kids outside and before I prepared the promised homemade hot chocolate — an improvement upon the Swiss Miss and mini marshmallows of my youth — I’d linger at the back door and watch as Louisa, in her hot-pink parka, Sebastian in royal blue, and Elias in lime green, took turns with the plastic saucers, the Radio Flyer toboggan and the cheap snowboards. Pink-cheeked, joyful, quarrels forgotten, the siblings romped in the frozen wonderland, united by the rush of shared adventure.
The scene of them in our backyard plays in my head like it was yesterday. But it wasn’t. Two of them are in college, and the youngest doesn’t need snow pants for high school. And I am 50, on the downslope toward 100.
I dig my heels into the snow and push off toward a slippery path worn by those who came before me. Within seconds, the sled turns 180 degrees. I am facing backward. The sled is moving too fast for me to turn it around; I am at its mercy. I don’t see the first bump, but I feel the jolt. As it propels me into the air, my stomach drops and I shriek. I land with a thud and barely catch my breath before I hit the next bump. Tears stream from my eyes; I giggle the rest of the way down, trying desperately not to pee my pants.
As I fly, I am not 50, I am not 5, I’m not a mom, a wife, a daughter or a friend. I’m a creature in fuchsia snow pants, kicking up a spray of powder, headed toward a future I can’t predict with a wide smile on my face, trusting I’m headed in the right direction.
Joy Riggs is a freelance writer in Northfield.