On Sledding




The venerable flexible flyer, under certain conditions, is clearly the best type of sled. Fast and steerable, it takes a clean, straight line down the hill. You will not find yourself going backward toward a tree on a flexible flyer. On the other hand, the sled needs a packed, preferably icy surface in order to really shine. Lightly packed fresh powder won’t work, the runners will sink in. Also, the elevated riding surface means that if you come off at speed, it will sting.
This is to say, at the superb sledding hill around the corner from our house, there are flexible flyers. Two of them, one an antique with a true seat and a steering wheel. Jealousy! Our sleds, and the vast majority of those bombing down the hill on a perfect sunny day after a major snowfall, are plastic. The kids and I, along with 100 or so neighbors, are taking advantage of the unending school vacation to hike up this hill, load up, and race away.
My oldest son, at eight, has a clear advantage. He can’t truly be hurt, not seriously, and he races in full awareness of that fact. It’s a marvel to watch him run toward the downslope, throw himself face forward onto the sled, and thirty yards into the run take a jump that tosses him three feet into the air. I watch him do it four or five times in a row. I could watch it all day and never grow tired.
There was snow on the ground when we pulled up to meet our kids for the first time. Just the two, four and five, brother and sister. We could see them through the window of their foster mother’s lovely home. They weren’t hiding, of course. In fact they were glued, hands and heads, to the window. We both exclaimed, “Oh! There they are.”
A year and a half later, we adopted their two-year-old half-brother. He’d been in foster care with the same parent the whole time. She was a single woman and as a result, his experience with men was minimal.
It took a week or so for him to happily accept my wife, considerably longer for him to accept me. He would be laughing and burbling, munching a banana, doing the wide toddler gait around the corner and and suddenly–Daddy! Or worse yet, Whiskey! (Daddy’s dog). Daddy and Whiskey together were a guaranteed show stopper, but even Daddy solo was a cause for fear and tears.
Now we all ride the hill together, our speed knows no bounds.
Just before we adopted the first two, my son was bouncing around his bedroom, landed on a bedpost and split open his nose, five states away. It brought me to tears, which does not happen often.
“Does this mean a permanent facial scar?” Addressed not to the ER doc who treated him, that was a done deal by the time I found out.
I called one of our local plastic surgeons. Those plastic surgeons, the ones I know, along with our general surgeons, cardiologists, intensivists and every other type of doctor you could imagine live here, in this wonderful city, and they work with me, an anesthesiologist, at a level three academic medical center.
“Yes,” she said, the plastic surgeon, “but it should be small.” And so it was.
Since our children have moved in with us this type of problem, although frequent, is less troubling.
Smaller events result in a text message, often with a photo: “Do you think this needs to go to the emergency room?” After my son slams his finger in a door. No. “This seems like a pretty bad cut.” After some child hurls a plastic ice cream cone full strength at his face. Yes, that needs to go to the emergency room. I greet him there. He’s angry and silent. Six stitches, no big deal. What kind of little girl has such inner rage that she will throw a plastic toy that hard at another child? Idle musings while the ER doc, a colleague, sews him up.
My daughter, the six year old, is graceful. I think of an old metal sculpture, the dancing girl. Even so, she falls off the play structure at school and breaks her arm.
I stay while they sedate her to reduce the fracture. Normally they would ask parents to leave during procedures, but come on. Yes, the answer is yes, it definitely makes you more tense when your daughter is on the receiving end of an anesthetic.
The medical insurance offered by the hospital where I work is excellent, as might be expected. Even so, the plan only covers around 80 percent of ER visits like this. That means the broken arm costs me about $500, the stitches $250. Another $250 for the time I open up my hand on the razor sharp sheet metal of the chicken coop. The same when my wife gets her hand pinned while moving a piece of furniture. All of this in a couple of years.
These conservative costs, say $1,250, are over two years. Without insurance that figure is more like an easy five grand plus, out of pocket. I’m thinking that there are folks out there who maybe don’t get things like this fixed, for themselves or their kids.
And there are people, in our political commons, who are fine with that. We don’t want the federal government to guarantee healthcare. It’s not unreasonable, and it should be OK to say that. I don’t understand. Are you sure you’re saying exactly what you mean? Let’s have a for instance: someone’s kid splits open their head while sledding. Are you saying that kid doesn’t get sewed up unless his parents can pay for it?
Well, yeah, that’s the gist, but no one wants to admit it. The phrasing is important. Because otherwise you sound like an asshole and assholes who sound like that don’t get laid. And that will not do. No, brave men and women of principle, that’s what we are. It’s really all about ideals, you see. Much more fuckable.
One might think the products of our intellect would be destined to elevate all of us in our common humanity.
Gave myself a little chuckle there.
We were cooking. Having some wine, relaxing. The kids were coloring. One of the coloring books edged into the burner and flared up. They watched it with wonder. “Oh, oh it’s on fire. Look, it’s on fire! What’s it going to to do? Look it’s getting bigger!”
We put it out, then faced one another with the realization–they would have watched that fire with glee until the entire house burned down.
“What! Do creatures of a day now have bright-faced flame?” Prometheus almost apologetic–”Well, they’re going to learn many useful things from it. I mean, some things anyway. Well, OK, no, they will learn nothing. They’re just…sigh…really, really forgetful.”
Sometimes it seems a lot longer than a day.
When the first snow began to fall, it seemed like another false alarm. Then it turned into a blizzard, and by nine that evening I was glued to the window, watching. At midnight, I woke my boy up. We went out to the hill, and I packed down a path through the foot of snow.
He always runs back up, after sledding down. He drags the sled behind him. I don’t know why the urgency, exactly. Childhood exuberance? I think he wants to please me, let me know he’s having fun. We sled.
What does it matter, anyway? Standing on a rise at night, watching your son run up to you out of the darkness.



Axley, Mike_15 (scaled 96X106).jpg Mike Axley is an anesthesiologist who works and lives with his three children and wife in Portland Oregon. He has studied at Cornell Medical College, the Columbia School of Journalism, and Reed College.
Accompanying Art “Ash Street” by Suzanne Elizabeth


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