Joy Riding with Nana

By Linda O’Connell

On a snowy, January day, my four-year-old grandson Nicholas, who was bundled up like an arctic dweller, bounded out of his dad’s car and ran through our door. “Where are you guys going?” I asked my son, whose little boy looked exactly like him when Jason was the same age.

“Don’t ask. Just put on your boots, hat and gloves, and come with us. It’s a surprise. And Nicholas really wants you to join us.”

“Please, Nana?”

How could I refuse? In the car I noticed the plastic sleds. I said, “I’ll sit in the car and watch you, but I don’t intend to sled down the hill and then hoof it back to the top. I’m too old for sledding. Those days are done.”

“Okay, Mom. We just want you to come have some fun with us.”

“Yeah, Nana, let’s go have some fun. I picked the blue sled for you, ‘cause blue’s your favorite color.”

When Jason drove into the

snowy city park, memories avalanched. There was the same extremely steep hill all the teenagers used to zoom down – the one my little daredevil son swore he could take on, decades ago, but I would never let him try.

Beyond the curve, there was a bank of trees and a ledge where he and I had taken our new American Flyer sled on its maiden voyage so many years ago. Reverie overtook me. I envisioned Jason then, his navy blue parka hood zipped around his four year old face. His chapped cheeks and ocean blue eyes peeking out, and his breath making cloud formations, as he told me how fast he could go downhill all by himself.

“Not by yourself, yet. First time you get to ride with Mama,” I’d told him as I’d plopped down on the sled and positioned him. I remembered wrapping my legs around him and holding tight to the guide rope. His dad shoved us off and down we zipped, gaining more speed than a locomotive. Then unexpectedly, we were airborne, flying towards a concrete ledge – my heart pounding with fear, my son’s racing with excitement, thinking his mama was in control. I was completely out of control as the metal connected with concrete and grinded to a halt at the bottom of a snowy ravine. Jason was flung one way, and I the other. The metal runners on our brand new sled were bent, and we were banged up, but not badly injured. First time out and our sledding adventure was almost over before it began.

I envisioned us then. Seven year old daughter, Tracey, anxiously waiting at the top of the hill for her turn to ride the new sled with her daddy. Her disappointment at not being able to have a turn on the sled finally eased when we headed to White Castle for burgers and hot chocolate – always our family routine after an evening of sledding. I could almost smell those small, oniony burgers.

As my grown son pulled the car into a parking spot, I gasped. “Do you know this is the same exact hill where our family used to go sledding twenty-five years ago? Son, I don’t want to disappoint you, but remember our disaster the last time you and I went sledding together? This time I’ll just watch you both.”

He laughed and said, “Oh I remember. We’ll leave a sled on the hill for you anyway, just in case you change your mind.”

I exited the car and watched them gleefully tromp through the snow. “Watch this, Nana!” They positioned their sleds on top of the hill and begged me to join them.

Nicholas had inherited the thrill-seeking gene from his dad. I knew I was witnessing the first of many times Nick would race away with confidence and excitement.

They sat side by side on individual sleds baiting one another. My son shouted, “I’ll beat you to the bottom!”

My grandson cheered, and jeered, “Huh-uh, no you won’t!”

And then they were off, squealing, and shouting, and having the time of their lives.

I giggled as they trudged back up hill dragging their sleds behind. Effortlessly, they climbed the incline and begged me to join them.

I imagined myself young, when daily family life and parenting often seemed an uphill struggle. I listened with contentment as my big and little boy returned again and zipped off, their hearts racing. I gazed into the past, and then with a jolt, I saw the future. There I was, ankle deep in powdery snow, ageing gracefully, but none the less, sliding down the slippery slope, zooming past middle age, three years from senior discounts. I stood on top of that hill, gazing at my guys, my energy waning, my waist thickening, and my daring “done.”

As I stood there reflecting, I concluded that aging didn’t necessarily mean having to slow down just because time seemed to be speeding up. I watched two generations making memories right before my eyes as they both swerved down slick paths over and over, so close, yet out of my reach.

On their next trip, I positioned the blue plastic sled between them, sat down and took the joy ride of my life. The three of us squealed joyfully all the way down hill.

The ride was over before I knew it. As they helped me off the sled and up the hill, I thought, “My balance might be off, but I’m more centered than I’ve ever been.”

As I look back on that snowy day, I realize the hardest thing I’ve had to accept is that my way is not going to be their way, and all of our darlings will eventually zoom away. Though, if I’m lucky they will continue to return to Nana’s loving arms where their earliest memories reside.

Meteorologists are predicting a bad winter. I’ve bought new boots, mittens, and scarf. The first snowy day, I’m inviting all the kids to join me for a joy ride.

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    13 Responses to “Joy Riding with Nana”

    1. Linda–You brought back so many memories of my childhood, along with memories of my kids and I going sledding. What a sweet story. (And since I’m still teaching, I hope we DO have a bad winter, because I’d like an occasional snow day here and there…

    2. Dare I say this is absolutely brilliant. Not just the thoughts, the concept, the view on aging and time, but the way you wrote it. I put this one in the top tier of fine work from you, Linda. And I’m so glad it had a happy ending: you on the sled at full speed down the hill. Way to go!

    3. Pat Wahler says:

      Fun story, Linda. It certainly speaks to the daring of a “can do” spirit, even on days when the body may prefer to decline.

    4. Kathy Elias says:

      Love this story. Funny, I don’t feel as old as I look in the mirror and I love flying down a snowy slope!

    5. Connie says:

      Linda, this is such a sweet story. It brought back memories of sledding in my childhood too. I don’t think I’d be brave enough to do it now, though. Sounds like you had fun and made new memories too.

    6. Val says:

      You had MY heart pounding at the point you went airborne! Well done.

    7. Erika Hoffman says:

      Great imagery. Story that resonates with most everyone. Good message.

    8. Love this essay. What a wonderful memory filled with wisdom and grace.

    9. Linda O'Connell says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words and inspirational comments, which encourages me to keep writing.

    10. You’ve done it again, Linda. You braved the thrill on the hill and gained insight, too. How awesome is that?

    11. Rose Ann says:

      Love, memories and self realization all wrapped up into a story we can all relate to. Love your essay! Keep sliding along :)

    12. Alice Muschany says:

      Linda, what a wonderful story! Fear, joy, nostalgia—you covered it all like usual. When I walk into my chiropractor’s office, he can’t wait to hear my latest. Last time I threw my hip out scrimmaging basketball with a teenage grandson. The time before, I hurt my shoulder hitting pop-ups. We Granny’s are living proof age is just a number.

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