It's snowing right now in New York City, where I live, and I am thankful my children are already at school and that today won't be a snow day. Because snow days are sledding days and I still haven't recovered from the last one. We arrived at our local sledding hill a couple days ago to find a blond grade-schooler already splayed out at the base of the ramp, eyes closed, as strangers tried to elicit the child's name so they could run up the hill to find his mother. He'd flown down the slope, over the small concrete wall at the base, smacking a park bench on the other side. Fortunately, he landed on his back not his head; after 10 terrifying minutes, he walked away from the scene unaided.
But my heart skipped more than a few beats. And I found myself, as I do every time, positioning myself at the bottom of the hill and, like Lucy in the chocolate factory, racing to catch toddlers, grade-schoolers, even the odd grownup as they flew toward the wall. These days it isn't my own kids I'm worried about. My youngest is 10, and for his entire life he's worn a helmet while sledding. He's always the only one in a helmet on our hill. He also knows not to sled head first (you'd be amazed how many children do this).
My heart pounds as I work the hill. Preschoolers, I can simply catch if necessary. But a bigger kid barreling toward my kneecaps is frightening sight. To those kids I yell, "Roll off!" or "Dig in your heels!" or, my particular favorite, "Brake with your feet, not your face!" I'm friendly about it, but it's no laughing matter. In one 2011 study, 30 percent of children hospitalized after a sledding injury suffered significant head injuries, most often because their sled hit a tree. And my area has already seen one heartbreaking sledding-related death this season after a teenager on a snow tube struck a light pole. Over the decade between 1997 and 2007 there were more than 229,000 sledding injuries that required treatment by an emergency department according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. That's an average of 20,000 per year.
The city government places bales of hay at the bottom of our hill, although never enough to cover the entire wall. At best, you have something to steer toward if you're a)old enough to understand that concept, and b)in possession of a sled that can actually be steered. I'm glad the city has taken this approach instead of the strategy employed by the city council in Dubuque, Iowa: a sledding ban at all but a couple local hills. I'm not out to ruin all the fun. But no amount of hay can replace the attention of a responsible grownup. So join me on the hill, won't you? And repeat after me: Brake with your feet, not your face.
Dana Points is a mom of two and the editor in chief of Parents and American Baby. She is also a member of the board of Safe Kids Worldwide.
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