It’s Not Chicken Hill, But It’ll Do

The first thing you should know is that I grew up in the flatest county in Indiana. On snow days, we went sledding on a small patch of grass between the cemetery and the golf course that was called – ironically, I realize now – Chicken Hill. I may have low expectations for sledding hills, but I have wonderful memories of hurtling down that hill with my dad and sister and friends, tumbling off sleds and trudging back up, breathless and warm from the exertion.

The second thing you should know is that I’ve been working a lot lately, and I feel like I’ve hardly spent any time with Harper that didn’t involve hurrying her from one place to another.

The third thing you should know is that Greensboro has, for the second year in a row, hosted an outdoor skating rink for two months in the winter. It’s set up right downtown, and has become quite popular. This is the last weekend for it, and to celebrate – and to preview a coming attraction for next year – the organizers arranged to lay down some man-made snow on a small hill nearby and open it up, tonight only, for sledding. Harper heard about the sledding at school earlier this week, and came home begging to go.

These three things combined to make this sledding opportunity the One Thing I Had To Do To Keep From Ruining My Daughter’s Childhood Forever.

Problem number one: It was 65 degrees today. It was not, in any way, a good day for sledding.

Problem number two: We don’t own a sled.

I figured that problem number one was the ice rink organizers’ problem, and that if I could get Harper downtown by 6:00 with the right equipment, then at least it wouldn’t be my fault if the snow all melted before we could slide down the hill.

I presented problem number two to Harper, half hoping that not having a sled in the first place would convince her this wasn’t something we really needed to do. But she said, “Maybe we could make one out of paper,” and I thought to myself, if you think you can sled down a hill on a piece of paper, perhaps you’d better actually have this experience.

As much as I love my daughter, I did not want to spend my one day off driving around town in search of a sled, nor did I want to shell out the $35 the one place nearby was selling them for, so I put out a plea on Facebook, and got a call from a friend who offered to lend me their sled.  (Aside: Thanks, Facebook. I take back most of the mean things I’ve said about you.)

That wasn’t the end of the obstacles, though: the camera batteries were dead; it took us forever to get out of the house; it was still really warm out and I was sure the snow would be gone by the time we got there; the sled, once I’d picked it up, didn’t fit into the car. I had to shove it in above the seats, between the kids, which I’m sure was not the safest thing to do, but by that point, we were going to get downtown with a sled by six o’clock if it killed us.

But there we were, finally, on our way. Harper, who processes everything out loud, couldn’t stop talking about what it was going to be like: “How will we get to the top of the mountain, Mama? I know we sled down the mountain but how will we get up?” I crossed my fingers that she wouldn’t be disappointed.

The “mountain” consisted of a small patch of slushy ice in the middle of a grassy area in the heart of downtown. It had rained a lot earlier in the week, so the already-wet ground had turned a lovely shade of mud, and the white ice looked bizarrely out of place. It was more of an ice slide then a sledding hill, and was a far cry from any midwestern sledding spot – even Chicken Hill. “It’s kind of sad,” I said to Rob as we were waiting in line, “that we’re all pretending that this is so great.”

But there were dozens and dozens of people there, maybe a couple hundred even, with their sleds and their snow pants – the temperature had dropped a little by then, but was still in the low fifties – and there were kids, like mine, jumping up and down with excitement. The local news station had come, and the weather man was giving his forecast with the sledding hill in the background. We ran into several people we knew, and I realized that we weren’t pretending – it was really great, to be outside on a lovely evening, with a perfect cresent moon in the sky above us, greeting neighbors, laughing with children, making the most out of winter, even in this land of not-very-much ice and snow.

Harper went down twice and didn’t complain once about having to wait in line or leaving afterwards. The first time, she went down by herself, head first, grinning into the wind. The second time, she and I went together. I wrapped my legs around her little body and we hurtled down the hill, giggling as we slid right off the ice onto the grass beyond. Then we trudged up the muddy hill where Rob and Jonathan were waiting for us, and went home to order pizza. Maybe her childhood won’t be ruined after all.




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