So we goofed things up.
The Boy and me.
We weren’t thinking long term, or really even short term. We were just sorta winging it in the moment.
Winter had been unusually mild. Normally we’d have seen a bunch of snow.
By February should’ve had several sessions of sledding under our belt.
So on a crisp Sunday afternoon, with a fresh four inch layer of fluffy white stuff covering our favorite hill in a perfectly clean blanket, we jumped at the chance.
The Boy grabbed the old wood runner sled from the garage wall, and I bundled up against the cold.
Wearing his usual winter garb of light coat and stocking cap, the Boy raced me to the nearby slope, nicknamed the Hill of Doom.
It was colder than I thought, but I was determined to get at least one afternoon of sledding in with my son. At 13, afternoons with Dad seem endangered, and if the warming trend continued, the Hill wouldn’t host us again any time soon.
The Boy took the first run slow and easy, the runners of his sled slicing a smooth arc through the white.
I met him halfway up the hill. “Want to take a run?” he asked.
“You go ahead,” I said, fumbling for my phone. “I want to get a video of the event.”
The second run was even more graceful than the first, but I missed most of it because I couldn’t get the camera app to work with my thick ski gloves.
“One more time,” I shouted. “Make it good. Don’t wipe out.”
“How could I wipe out?” joked the Boy. “It’s only the Hill of Doom.”
You know what happened next, right?
Still fumbling with the phone, I missed the starting run, the launch, the precise moment things went wrong.
When I looked up, the Boy was on his knees in the snow, holding his face with one hand, the sled tumbling over and over down the hill without him.
“Are you okay? Hey!” Starting down the hill a little too fast, I almost lost my balance.
Careful. We don’t need two accidents.
Which should’ve been easy considering the weather, but seeing my son hurt, holding the side of his face like it was about to fall off…well, rising adrenalin warms a guy up.
“Are you okay?” I said again.
“No,” he said through tears I could hear, “No, I’m not.”
My stomach lurched and a slideshow of possible injuries started playing in my head, each image more horrific than the last.
Skull fracture? Broken jaw?
Apparently he’d pitched off the sled, face first into the frozen earth.
What if he lost an eye?
When I got to him, he was already on his feet, already embarrassed to be crying.
“Like a baby,” he said, sucking back a sob.
“Lemme see how you’re doing.”
I pushed back his stocking cap, brushed away his bangs, and breathed a sigh of relief.
A couple scrapes, no blood. His eyes were clear and focusing. “But you might have a little bit of a shiner for a while.”
“A black eye,” I said. “Not a bad one though. I’ve seen tons worse. You’re okay.”
But the tears started again, and with fists clenched, he shook his head.
“Oh no,” he said. “No! I’m not okay at all. I. Am. Not. Okay.”
I didn’t understand.
“Tomorrow is picture day for the Ice Show.”
And so it was.
And see, that’s where we goofed up.
I forgot about the annual Ice Skating Show. Forgot that my son, as one of the solo performers, had his own publicity photo shoot.
And now, on a whim, for a few lousy kicks, we’d gone and ruined his face.
Ruined his photo.
“Mom is going to kill me,” he said, snuffing hard.
Leaving the sled at the bottom of the rightly named Hill, we slogged back home.
Men without a future.
And then my phone pinged with a text from my wife.
During the previous six weeks, we had been following the medical progress of another homeschool family we know. Their daughter was sick. Life and death sick.
The text shared more news. The daughter’s prognosis didn’t look good.
I pushed aside my own self-pity, and put myself in their shoes.
I looked pretty silly, working up an ulcer over a barely black eye.
Remembering all the things that could’ve happened that day, but didn’t, I breathed deep with gratitude.
I texted back, “We had a little accident. We’re okay.”
We were okay.
“Were you goofing around?” came the text back.
Once more, I pushed away the self pity and really thought about it.
“No,” I thumbed back. “We weren’t.”
“We weren’t goofing around, were we?” I asked the Boy.
“Nah,” he said, already feeling better, already pulling out of it. “We were just living life.”
We were just living life.
I put my arm around his shoulders. “How about a hot chocolate when we get in?” I said.
“How about a cup of coffee?” he said, growing up fast.
Before it gets away.