I held my breath and ran towards Charlie as he slid toward the cliff. Or at least I tried to run. It was like a dream, where your legs are stuck in mud and the more desperately you try to go faster, the slower you end up moving.
We were tobogganing and, despite choosing a smaller hill for my 4-year-old, he had drifted on the icy run and was sweeping directly to a nearly four foot drop off a retaining wall from the schoolyard to the parking lot.
Usually the boys wear helmets when we sled, but today they weren’t, and so I sprinted. Stumbling, and falling across the ice that caused Charlie to go faster and me to go slower.
I yelled for him to put out his feet to slow down, for him to roll off his magic carpet, but he did none of it and I didn’t reach him in time.
Charlie sailed head first off the drop smacking on to the pavement below.
Our fun afternoon of tobogganing had taken a sudden turn, but if we were in many cities across North America, it’s an afternoon activity that would have broken the law.
News of the ban on tobogganing is big a headline this winter as cities are moving to join a trend started by Hamilton, Ontario. The Toronto suburb has banned sledding in municipal parks since 2001. Try to flout the rule and you’ll be faced with a fine of up to $5,000.
The toboggan bans happen to stem civic liability in the face of accidents. In the past decade, Omaha, Nebraska paid $2 million after a girl was paralyzed when she was sledding and hit a tree, and Sioux City, Iowa paid $2.75 million after a man was sledding, hit a sign, and injured his spinal cord. About 20,000 kids go to emergency rooms every year for sledding injuries.
But let’s contrast this growing ban with what happens in my community: Our city’s best spot to go tobogganing has a sign encouraging people to “have fun and play safe.” It discourages ramp building, chaining of sleds, and bans alcohol. It encourages people to clear the sliding area, wear a helmet, and be respectful to other sliders.
In other words, in an era where we default to bubble wrap, my community is trying to preach common sense.
Do we need laws banning activities, when all we need to do is make the decision to put a helmet on our kids? Is it so hard to teach them to walk up a hill away from where people are going down? And then, if something unfortunate happens, is too much to ask people to take ownership of their own role in the accident and not to sue/blame someone else for a spontaneous misadventure?
Unfortunately, in a society where people sue over spilled coffee, that last item apparently is too much to ask. Thus, the lowest common denominator rules the day and we end up with lawmakers taking evasive action to make something as simple and fun as tobogganing illegal.
I was lucky, Charlie’s fall just knocked the wind out of him. He wailed, more scared than anything, took a breather and then asked to climb back up the hill. It was a close call. It easily could have been worse, but it won’t stop us from heading out to the toboggan hills again. Instead it showed me that I need to be more aware of where we slide. It showed me that I need to make sure my kids have the proper safety gear. It showed me that I need to make sure my kids are aware of their surroundings and in control of their own safety. The rest of the afternoon showed me that winter is not meant for hibernation, and that tobogganing is a great workout of repeated hill climbing.
Tobogganing is a wonderful way to get outside and experience winter and banning it under the guise of it being unsafe is disingenuous. Let’s be honest, cities are making this move to stop lawsuits. If the motive is really safety, as it should be, then let’s encourage and remind people to be safe. I got my little reminder when I went riding with my boys, and we won’t hit a hill without helmets again. It’s not hard, let’s all practice some common sense and show the lawmakers that we know how to have fun.