In order to observe a clear example of what the opposite of athletic looks like, all one had to do was be standing on the top of a particular sledding hill, in a particular columnists’ home town, on a chilly Sunday in January and overheard the following conversation:
Big burly man in Carhart overalls: “Now … remember to steer.”
Stay Puft Marshmallow Mom in down parka and rain pants, already seated in sled with snow-suited child: “Steer? How do you steer a sled?”
Big burly man in Carhart overalls: “Are you kidding me?”
Stay Puft Marshmallow Mom in down parka and rain pants, holding on to the ground, trying to stop forward motion: “Well. There’s no steering wheel on this thing … there are no pedals I can see … Therefore I would say NO! I am NOT kidding you.”
Big burly man in Carhart overalls: “Really?”
Stay Puft Marshmallow Mom in down parka and rain pants, becoming increasingly panicked: “Really! Now, listen you: I’m sitting here at the top of a very steep hill, ready to hurl myself and my first-born child forward at a rate of speed I’ve never been comfortable with and I’ve just explained to you that I don’t understand the concept of steering a overturned plastic lid. Could you for once stop mocking me and explain how it is I’m supposed to get down there before it’s too late?
Big burly man in Carhart overalls, fully laughing now: “OK, OK. Just use your rudders.”
Stay Puft Marshmallow Mom in down parka and rain pants, now fully prepared to throw down the gloves: “Rudder? Rudder!? This is a sled not a boat … WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?”
Big burly man in Carhart overalls, now gesturing with arms outstretched: “Use your arms.”
This is where I prove that communication, even under the best conditions, is merely an exercise in futility, and push off with both hands dragging behind me as if to slow down the ride. Predictably we skitter off sideways, rudderless.
Big burly man in Carhart overalls, after dropping Stay Puft Marshmallow Mom’s expensive camera in the snow, nevertheless, saves them from an embarrassing collision in the trees: “I meant put your arm down in the direction you want to go. If you want to turn left, put your left arm down. If you want to go right, put your right arm down.”
Stay Puft Marshmallow Mom, now mortified as the snickering from others gathered on the hill becomes audible: “Ok … OK. ..I’ve got it.”
And off we go …
To the left. …
I put my right arm down … and we still go to the left. ..
I lean toward the right. … and still we go left.
WHAT is GOING ON!?! I refuse to panic.
I look down and notice Ittybit’s arms and legs are off the sled and digging in to snow on the left side. She’s trying to help. I figure she’s processed the previous conversation and had decided to take steering into her own hands (and legs).
I bump her legs into the sled with my left leg and dig in with my right hand. Miraculously the sled rights itself and shoots down the hill, straight to the bottom, and slides to a smooth stop in the field.
Soon we’re climbing back up the hill for another turn, and to face the other smirking faces.
“It’s been quite a while since I’ve been sledding,” I say aloud to cheer myself up.
“It’s definitely not like riding a bike.”