Mary Beth Writes

Last Saturday, while Racine endured one of The Blizzards of the Century, my family managed to miss nearly the whole thing. (We did get to experience that enterprise called shoveling the driveway.)

We were lollygagging our time away with friends Dave, Mary, Colin and Michael at their cabin near Chippewa Falls. I see humor in how we "escaped" bad weather by going 300 miles further north than here. As a Chicago friend once commented to me, "You're kidding! There is something further north than Racine, Wisconsin?"

Thirteen of us jammed their compact, one family cabin. Six were kids under age 14 and the rest weren't all that mature either. By Saturday it was time to find something to do that didn't require a lawyer or a referee. (Have you ever witnessed three boys try to arrange their own ping-pong tournament?) Dave and his folks remembered Perkinstown, a place in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest, where there is a tubing hill.

The day was snowy, winds were blowing, the radio mentioned slippery driving conditions. Then one kid bopped another on the head with breakfast toast. We clambered into cars and chugged out.

An hour later we pulled into the parking lot of the Perkinstown Winter Sports Area. My son, who'd been riding with his buddies, ran over to me. His eyes were shining. "Whoa, Mom! Did you see the size of that hill? This is awesome. Thanks so much for bringing us here, this is gonna be so cool."

Outbursts of unsolicited manners always make me nervous. I glanced up at the hill. Big. Real big. Too big for a middle-aged person who really, really hates twisted ankles and sprained wrists. I have faint and distant memories of skiing when I was a youth. It was always fun until I fell.

Tubing is an oddly homey and Midwestern pastime. It's basically skiing while laying down. All you need is a high hill; inner tubes for sliding down the hill; some old car stuff - a motor, a tire, some spokes and a strong rope for making the tow rope to haul you back up, and a bunch of restless kids with parents who don't want to play any more rummy, thank you very much.

Before you can say "weather related heart attack" I was climbing the hundred or so steps to the top of the hill. There was that tow rope, of course, but I've never been a big fan of jumping onto moving things. A teenage employee, stationed half way up the hill to make sure folks on the rope didn't act stupid or get tangled, smiled at me.

I huffed cheerily at him, "Do all the mothers walk up?"

He laughed politely, "Usually just once."

The view from the top of the hill was, well, high. I contemplated all those tiny people way down at the bottom. I listened to the wind blowing through pine trees around me. I contemplated how my body felt good, whole, strong. I wondered if I could hold on to this feeling in the months of recuperation that could lie ahead. I pondered, as I often do, why childbirth isn't enough. Why, if you are a fairly good parent, you so frequently have to dive into other weird and treacherous stuff you don't want to do.

I had no answers so I sighed and slowly, deliberately pushed myself over the brink of my own mortality. There was a mighty whoosh. Clouds of snow flew up. I heard maniacal shrieks. I recognized them as my own.

An eternity later I was very far out in the field at the bottom of the hill. There was snow down my pants and up my nose. There was snow packed between my glasses and my eyes. My heart was racing, I was laughing so hard that my hat, also jammed with snow, fell off.

My husband came over to pull me up. "Are you all right?"

I slapped the snow off my eyebrows. "Perfect. Want to go again?"

I took the tow rope the second time. By the end of the afternoon the rope guy and I were best friends.

My kids got cold and went in to the warming lodge. I did, too, but I was back out on the hill before they were. The second time they got cold, I didn't. I just kept flopping on the tow, scooting to the top, joy riding back down. Sometimes I'd hang on to others in our party, we'd spin and swirl down the hill.

The kids loved to go down the hill with adults. "You guys are nice and heavy so we bounce higher and go further."

It was a good day to be ballast.

******************

A friend asked me if I had a relaxing time with my family over the holidays. I laughed a little too hard.

"Relaxing? Not really. Fun? Let me tell you about tubing!"

******************

One of the nice things about being an adult is that after awhile, we know who we are. We know what we care about and what bores us. We know what we like to wear, eat, and drive. We know what's easy for us, what's scary. It's a relief to have these kinds of decisions about our individual styles and personalities settled. It frees us up to live our lives.

But there is that odd little phrase we all use from time to time. "I surprised myself."

It's a delight to discover there are still new surprises, odd joys, funny adventures into which we may fall. I guess it's worth risking our dignity and our ankles to fall off a hill into wonder.

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