Mending Fences

sled1We’re still buried under a foot of snow here in the Hudson Valley and I’m trying my best to make the best of it. So, on Saturday morning, instead of complaining about another 22°(F) day or fretting about a forecast for yet a(nother) impending storm, Noah and I got dressed in our thermals and boots and scarves and hats and set out up the street to the sledding hill.

Yep, our bucolic little village does, indeed, have a sledding hill situated right in the middle of town. The hill overlooks the river and the mountains and front porches with swings and the roofs of a dozen antique boutiques. Standing on it feels like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting. The hill gets packed with bundled up kids dragging around gum-drop colored sleds the minute after snow stops falling–long before roads are plowed or the restaurants and shop stoops are shoveled out.

The gradient of the incline of the sledding hill in town is actually quite steep and the trail isn’t really all that long, so toboggans and their passengers are often tossed out onto the sidewalk that borders the hill and Main Street. Kids quickly learn to bail before they slide past the sidewalk and onto the road.

Often parents of younger children stand sentry at the bottom of the hill, blocking rogue sledders from bouncing over the curb and yelling out, “Bail!…Bail!……BAIL!” as sledders whiz by. In short time, for the older kids anyway, ‘bailing’ late becomes a badge of honor, a competition, a contest of who will wait the longest before jumping out.

Noah is eleven and seasoned in the ways of sledding and bailing. At his previous school he used to sled every day at recess and he’s a pretty good skier; his comfort level (and confidence) while sliding around on snow is high. He’s also VERY cautious so, on Saturday morning, while alone alone on the hill (because other kids, who have far kinder mothers, were all still in their pajamas watching TV) I was busying myself with the dog and with my phone as Noah played on the snow covered knoll.

Let me preface the rest of this story by saying that, though we still have a foot of snow on the ground here, it’s not the nice, soft, fluffy play-stuff it once was. We’ve had veritable days of sun and above freezing temperatures (if barely) that plunge into sub-zero nights with flurries, so the once-congenial snow has morphed into a hard, cold amalgamation of ice, debris and, well, more ice. AND it’s really slippery.

It was on Noah’s second run of the morning when, out of the corner of my Twitter-checking eye, I caught sight of his red and grey hat careening towards–no, not the traffic of Main Street–but the impeccably painted, new-as-of-October fence of the house next door to the hill.

Me: “Bail!…Bail?……BAIL!”



The fence. Lower left.

The hill is a rather large expanse of space next to a church that was built in 1868. I like to imagine the scores of kids who have trudged there in the snow, the generations of children who have sledded and laughed beneath its trees, who have fallen and gotten up, who have….put a hole right through that very neighbor’s fence. When Noah got up off his sled, his eyes were dilated in horror and tears had already leaked down his cheeks.

Miraculously, I was able to control my first reaction to the scene (which was to SPANK him), and calmly ask if he was okay. Oftentimes, my initial response to situations like this sucks. Instead of safeguarding my kid, or staying calm, I worry about getting in trouble myself. I think that his mistake will betray my second-rate parenting. And then I snap (and yell)(and yell) because I simply don’t want to deal. [Noah’s first reaction to things like this sucks, too. (The apple doesn’t fall far.) He doesn’t want to get into trouble. He doesn’t want to be a bad kid. He doesn’t want to deal.]

But it was a freezing cold winter morning and we were sledding in the sunshine and my good and kind and responsible 11 year old was crying his eyes out because he just put a hole in the neighbor’s fence and this wasn’t about me or my parenting but was, as I have learned from educators through the years, a teachable moment. For both of us.

Instead of screaming or crying or running away, I told Noah that we (he) were going to march right over to to that house and confess our (his) culpability. And offer to fix that fence. And/or pay to have it fixed. And we were going to smile.

I’ve spent so much time on the ramp-up to this story that I hardly have time to tell the tale, but to make a long story short, the folks weren’t home. Noah and I stood at the broken-fence-neighbors’ door, panting & sweating out our various neuroses for a good ten minutes before we had to come up with Plan B. We ended up walking to the hardware store just down the block and confessing our sins to the lady there (who we know because we buy mouse traps from her and she loves our dog and gives him treats). We asked to use some paper and a pen so that Noah could leave the broken-fence-neighbors a note explaining what happened, asking them to get in touch with us so we (he) could help set things right.

This wasn’t easy for my kid. Or for me. It sounds silly, but an accident like this can sometimes feel like a failure of the highest degree. Later that morning, after we got home and after we left the note, Noah was sad for a good long while. And he was a little bit scared (he thought the broken-fence-neighbors might yell at him when they called). But mostly he was quiet. And thoughtful. He sprawled himself out on the snow in our backyard for a bit. Thinking. (Learning.) He sat in his room with the dog. Thinking. (Learning.) And when he was ready, he came into the kitchen for some tea and said: “Mom, I bailed a little bit too late on that run and I broke the fence because I was trying to bail really late and show off. And there wasn’t even anyone around to see me! I was mad at myself, but now I’m not anymore. I can fix that fence.”

Despite the fact that we have yet to hear from the broken-fence-neighbors and that Noah can’t even look at the hill when we drive past it (which is approximately seven times a day) Gina’s right. Learning can come at any time, in any form. (Motorcycles, ski lifts, sledding hills, broken fences.) You’ve just got to be on the lookout for the right moments. And remember to get out of the way.

Bail! Bail! BAIL!


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