It’s one of the perennial joys of the season: watching kids sled.
I was lucky enough to have this opportunity yesterday. We woke up to a light steady snowfall, and although with the kids home and the snow falling persistently it felt like a snow day from school, it was actually a Monday holiday, so we had the added privilege of bypassing the change-in-schedule scramble that usually results from school cancellations.
Not long after a relatively late breakfast, Holly telephoned our next door neighbor, Ella. It turned out Ella was having an even later breakfast – pancakes that she made by herself for the whole family, as she proudly reported to us later -- but the girls agreed to meet a half-hour hence to try out the sledding.
Watching them stride up the hill and glide down it, stride up and glide down, gave me such a sense of bliss, just as it does every year when they do this. I think watching children sled is one of the happiest moments a parent can experience, as utterly simple as it is. We’re lucky enough to have a beautiful slope in the pasture just past our yard. Not steep, it rolls gradually for a long enough distance that sledders have a good long ride, and at the base of the slope is more pasture, so there are no trees to worry about. Watching Holly and Ella, I felt keen appreciation for their strong, healthy bodies, so able to negotiate the challenge of climbing the hill and so receptive to the thrill of sliding back down. I felt gratitude anew for the presence of our next door neighbors, friendly and easy-going people with a daughter whom Holly loves to play with even though Ella is nearly twice Holly’s height. I felt appreciative of the pastures and fields surrounding our house: what an ideal place to live, especially on a winter day. I felt happy that despite a childhood that includes Wii games, theme park excursions and American Idol, our kids can still savor one of childhood’s most rudimentary pleasures: sledding on a winter day.
There’s a lot these days that we tell our kids we can’t afford right now, but these lightweight plastic sleds we can manage. I mentally projected thanks to my friend Jane, who generously gave Holly her daughter’s outgrown orange parka after barely a season of use, and I remembered too that it was my mother who knit the rainbow-hued scarf that Holly was wearing as she sailed down the hill. I felt grateful that I was able to be at home watching the girls rather than fighting snowstorm traffic on my way to an office – or, as I know from past experience, feeling guilty for having to phone the office and say I’d be working from home due to the conditions.
When the girls came in, they were laughing, breathing hard and wreathed in smiles. “Perfect sledding conditions!” Holly proclaimed. “Now can we have hot chocolate?”
I had already started mixing a batch. My hot chocolate recipe comes from Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, a novelist and food writer who died in her 40’s and didn’t get to see her own daughter grow beyond the age Holly is now. Meanwhile on the kitchen radio I could hear reports of rescue attempts in Haiti, where thousands of children are buried in rubble, maimed, orphaned. But Ella and Holly are not thinking about how tragic life can be or how fortunate they are right now; they’re just happy to be home together on a winter day when the conditions are perfect for sledding. And as I doled out mugs of steaming cocoa, I was overwhelmed with gratitude myself to be bearing witness to their fun.