Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow Balls

When it comes to snow, I'm conflicted.

If you grew up in Cleveland like I did, snow means something to you. Like "snow days" -- days when inclement winter weather would force the schools to close. The smart kids would relish in the reality of having another day to study for the big test or put the finishing touches on a class project. To the rest of us, school didn't exist, at least for a day. The test would have to be taken based on what I knew the night before. Having an extra day to study or work on a project would be tantamount to cheating. Deadlines are deadlines, right? Parents never understood the logic of a kid who just won the free day lottery.

As kids, we'd spend our unscheduled mini-vacation building snowmen, going sled riding, constructing snow forts and having snowball fights. In those days, the snow seemed deeper and the drifts higher, and not just because I was shorter back then. Yet, I don't once remember ever being cold, even after eight hours in freezing temperatures, with only a short lunch to break up the day. By the end of the day, we'd start praying hard for another day off, though we mostly be disappointed.

Heading to school the next day, we'd regret the time not spent on schoolwork. Funny thing, I remember the snowball fights in high definition detail, yet I have no idea what grades I ever received on the tests or assignments.

I guess my priorities were all in the right place back then.

As one ages, the thrill of snow diminishes. I've managed to hold out longer than most full grown adults. My wife being a school teacher actually helps. She has the ongoing thrill of seeing her school listed as "closed" on local network television. Even though I haven't had a "snow day" in over twenty-five years, dating back to my senior year in high school, I still check that same list of closings with irrelevant hope. Some day I'm going to see that St. Rita's school in Solon, Ohio is closed, put on my snowsuit, then run outside and pound out three or four picture perfect snow angles in the front yard. I'd then pack a few dozen snow balls and pelt a few of my sad-sack neighbors on their way to work in their cars while hiding behind my hastily-made treelawn snow fort. I haven't done it yet, but someday I will, hopefully before it's too hard too get back up after falling backwards four times.

Despite all of this, snow has become less pleasurable to me, which makes me sad. Before, when I was a child, my father was in charge of all snow-related chores. Now it's my turn. The torch has been passed. So, I'm the one who shovels the drive and the sidewalk and the walk leading to our front door. I'm the nice neighbor who helps the Indian family next door when they get snowed in. I curse at the city for forgetting to plow our dead-end street. And, when the city plows finally get around to it, they pile all the hard icy stuff in a big mound right at the end of my driveway. So, I curse some more.

But here's the worst part. Now I get cold in the wintertime. And that sucks.

When my kids want to go sled riding, lately I've started to cringe. It's gotten to the point that I'm just flat-out uncomfortable in the snow. Last year, my wife bought me a new snowsuit from Walmart. It was an end-of-the-season special and she purchased it without having me there to try it on first. It's well documented that I am proportionally a mess. Five foot eight and half and two hundred and something pounds. That's a lot to admit to, I know, but when trying on snowsuits, the humiliation is taken to an entirely different level. My new Walmart snowsuit fits me perfectly in a grand total of zero of the most important places. The legs are too long. The belly is too tight. And, the inseam -- well, each time I put the damned thing on my voice goes up three octaves -- in other words, it's uber-tight in the groinal region. Normally I'd be happy as hell to have my junk secure during physical activity. I'm less thrilled when that same security requires an ice pack after I'm done.

But who needs balls anyway? Hell, my wife has accused me of not having them for more than a decade. I've tried to envision the person who would fit perfectly into this winter torture suit. My best guess is that he's six foot eight with most of his body being leg, a mid-section the circumference of coaxial cable, and a very small vagina.

So the other day the kids finally got their way. At some point I actually felt like it was a good idea to go sledding. There's a great hill that's part of the Metroparks within a few minutes drive. The older two could fend for themselves, but the five-year-old still needs assistance. Parental assistance on a sledding hill equates to walking up the hill with the sled in one hand and my child's hand in the other. Not such a bad deal, right? How Normal Rockwellesque. Now, think about it thirty-three times, because that's the number of trips up the hill we made, each time more grueling than the last.

There are two jobs that parents have when taking the kids sledding. Hill duty, as noted above, was mine. My wife? Well, as I was trying to self-induce cardiac arrest with my upteen trips up the giant hill, she was...taking pictures. Being the sledding photographer is important. Having a pictoral record of the day of fun so that scrapbooks can be filled is a worthwhile endeavor. My only hope is that years from now the photo album won't be filled with pictures labeled "When Daddy's Heart Gave Out."

The good news is that I survived. But, what truly bothered me about taking my kids sledding had nothing to do with the inequity of the jobs my wife and I had to perform. Instead, it was the lack of etiquette that this new generation of sledders were putting on display. In my day, we found a spot at the top of the hill, waited until nothing was in our way, pushed off, then steered clear of things that would pop into our path on the way down. Back then, when we reached the end of our ride, we carefully walked to the side of the hill, out of the way of the next set of hill riders and walked back up to the top. Safety was always first -- that's the way I remember it anyway.

Apparantly, 2011 is a new day in sledding.

The kids and adults on the hill this day seemed to have only one thing in mind -- mame as many people as possible on their way down. My five-year-old was assaulted on three of her first four trips down. It's like watching a car crash from the sidewalk. You can see it coming, but are helpless to do anything about it. Fortunately, like her father, she survived each of the near-death experiences -- God bless innertube sleds.

The fun didn't stop there for these etiquette-challenged sledders. Once they get to the bottom, they get up, grab their slid and head straight back up the hill. Not out of the way of other sledders. Not over to the side of the hill. They go right back up the way they came. Right into the freaking path of oncoming traffic. The me-first generation is now affecting classic snow sports

Even though we had these inbreds to deal with, we did our sledding thing for almost an hour and a half. Good times and even better memories. I'm hoping that my kids will never stop loving snow. And, I hope that my five-year-old remembers the guy who schlepped her sled up that hill without complaining (at least to her). I know they'll have pictures to look back on this day thanks to the family photographer, their mom.

As for the idiots who chose to not sled the right way, I was going to say something to all of them before we left, but I didn't have the balls.

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