Winter awakening: Sledding in Chicago

My husband, Joe, lives for the winter. Whether he’s taking the kids ice skating or overseeing an epic snowball fight, the bitter cold does nothing to deter his quest for outdoor fun.

I, on the other hand, wrap myself in three layers of Snuggie the moment temperatures dip below 50 degrees. I retire to the couch with hot coffee, good magazines, and absolutely no desire to move until summer.

I’m practically a sloth.

Despite my long-established dislike of the season, Joe still tries to get me outside:

Joe: C’mon! Let’s go skating!

Marianne: I can’t skate. Weak ankles. Genetic anomaly. But you guys have fun!

Joe: Wanna help us build a fort out back? You can supervise.

Marianne: I can see everything from right here (pats couch), thanks. Tell Danny he needs to make his side a little taller.

At the very top of my list of rejected winter activities is sledding. As a kid, my family lived in one of the flattest suburbs of Chicago: Tinley Park. When we first moved there in 1973, the area defined “The Great Plains” – there was nothing but farms and a few small residential developments.

When the blizzard of 1979 hit, my brothers and sister were anxious to break in their new Christmas sleds. Looking around for viable options, we decided to head up to the giant construction mound a few blocks away.

For those who have never lived in a “developing” neighborhood, construction mounds are comprised of dirt, debris, and thorny shrubs. Each time a kid went down on his sled, a concrete rock or chunk of wood would send him sailing directly into bushes laced with bent nails and splintered 2-by-4-inch lumber.

We weren’t very smart children.

We would return home with twigs in our hair, snags in our coats, and bruises on our bloodied faces. Yet every year, we would sled down that same mound and net the same injuries. That pitiful pile of gunk and garbage was all we had.

I couldn’t believe it when my husband first suggested sledding a few years ago. I knew only the misery of the construction mound. Why would a grown adult want to face that?

After years of pleading, I acquiesced and finally accompanied my family on a sledding trip. When we pulled up to the site, I saw only smooth paths of pre-worn snow and ice. There was not a shrub or discarded bit of drywall to be found. How could this be?

I sat down in the red plastic disc and gripped the handles tightly as my husband gave a gentle shove. Before I knew what was happening, I was practically flying across the earth at exhilarating speeds and laughing like an idiot.

This was awesome!

Over and over I took turns riding with my sons and husband as we zipped down that hill for hours. I never once felt cold.

As we loaded up the minivan to leave, my husband commented how happy and childlike I seemed that day. He said it was like watching one of our kids go sledding for the very first time.

In many ways, it was.

But I’m still not going ice skating.

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