As a child, I was always very cautious of my surroundings. You would never catch me roughing it out on the playground per se, or sleeping in the pitch dark. During soccer games, my mother would yell for me to get the ball, but I was happy just to count the dandelions around my cleats, instantly kicking the ball away if it ever happened to find me. I wasn’t a big fan of being chased, or running to escape things, or just the scary feeling of adrenaline altogether that made my stomach feel like it would collapse in on itself. How was I supposed to know that I wouldn’t fall and scrape my knee and bleed to death? Or maybe, if I had the ball for too long, the other team might tackle me all at once and I’d get squished. Break a bone even. My parents didn’t take my seemingly-irrational fears very seriously. My mom used it as a joke, referring to me to her friends as her “little chicken” until the age of at least fourteen.
Every time a fun activity came up to do as a family, they were all over it. That’s exactly how I got dragged to one of the largest tobogganing hills in the city at the age of only seven. I know you’re thinking that seven is quite old, but when I say one of the largest tobogganing hills, I mean that that day I stood in front of a child’s mount everest. Usually, as a smart kid, I could get out of any unnerving situations by coming up with an excuse to not partake. “My tummy hurts” or “I think my ankle is twisted” usually did the job for most situations. However, when winter came around, I was usually in the clear. Nothing scary ever happens in the winter when you’re eight years old. Soccer was over, recess at school was held indoors, and snow was fun to play in. Things were perfect...until my dad deemed me old enough to go tobogganing with him.
I had no idea what tobogganing actually was but Dad was so excited to bring me for the first time that I knew there was no excuse in the world (other than my own unexpected death) that I could use to get out of it. So, for the first time in my life, I stepped into an unfamiliar situation...voluntarily.
To this day I can remember the look on his face when he pulled the brand new black toboggan out of the garage. It was built slim for speed, he had explained, but to me it just looked like one of those skinny kayak boats with it’s long length and pointed ends. My Dad never explained to me what it was we were actually going to do with the black toboggan, as I had no idea what I was actually looking at in that moment, but I was hoping it didn’t physically involve me.
The air bit my cheeks as soon as I stepped out of our van. In a state of pure boyish excitement, Dad grabbed his new toboggan and lead me, practically skipping to the selection of hills that awaited us. The snow held onto my boots with every step as I was pulled along behind, the end of the black toboggan obnoxiously shoved in my face. Lifting the back end to my own height, I managed to squeeze a glance through to the hills. My throat instantly locked into place, and suddenly, the black boat became like a deadweight on my fragile shoulders. My mind screamed at my conscious to stop walking, but I couldn’t. I watched as kid after kid flew down the hill, sitting in what looked like their own versions of our black toboggan.
As I reached the top of the hill, my mind was reeling with possible scenarios of death from this situation. I stood in my winter coat amongst the crowds of teenagers, trying to spot someone my age but came up short. Dad wasn’t phased in the slightest, his excitement radiating off of him like heat waves. I swear I could feel them… or maybe that was just from my own hyperventilation.
“This looks like a good one huh Audge?” my dad had asked, nudging for me to take a closer look. Although, it was more of a rhetorical question because had he actually been paying attention to my emotional state, I guarantee we would have been off to a smaller hill. So, blinded by his own adrenaline, he easily overlooked me and continued to place the black toboggan down at our feet. He positioned it at the peak of the hill before asking another guy to secure it as he first set me down in front, and climbed in behind. Over his shoulder he quickly checked with the stranger asking “this a safe one?”
“Oh yeah, you’re fine as long as you steer clear of the tree at the bottom- comes quicker than ya think” the stranger had replied.
I touched the sides of the narrow toboggan under my woolen mittens, the words “it’s slim for speed” not detaching from my memory. I knew I shouldn’t have gotten in.
Before I could push myself farther up from the toboggan to change my mind, I was knocked back down with its rough forward movement. The wind stung my cheeks and burned under my hot tears. Screaming until my throat was raw, all I could think about as I flew down the hill was how much I hated my dad for putting me in this situation. In my mind I swore I would never talk to him again.
The black toboggan went every direction except for straight, tossing us off and back onto the course like a horse that had lost control. I heard Dad start to swear as the awaited tree entered our line of vision. He threw down his weight to one side, toboggan jolting me in the opposite direction just as my snowpants grazed bark. When I didn’t think I could cry any harder, the toboggan started to yet again pick up speed. Swerving out of control with a sharp hook to the left, we approached a frozen creek. Arms flailing like a baby bird trying to fly, I exerted all of my energy. Finally shutting my eyes I had awaited impact, but it never came. No icy cold water ever touched my pink snowpants.
My dad had thrown himself in front of me. He stood waist deep in the water, camouflaged by the crystallized bullrush. People witness to the scene swarmed to pull him out while I stood and watched, counting the tears rolling down my cheeks as they slowed with my breath.
Pulled out and suppressing his shakes with a blanket wrapped around him, my Dad and I stood side by side. My dad (now in danger of hypothermia, might I add) turned to me with a look I had never seen him wear anytime before. He was so upset with himself that I could see his disappointment killing the light in his eyes that was so prevalent before. In that moment, seeing him all wet, I remember looking back at the half-sunk black toboggan, and I was no longer afraid. I wasn’t hurting, but my dad was. That was the first time in my life, at the age of seven, that I recognized that my father would do anything in his power to keep me safe. Turning to him, my toothy grin emerged from my swollen cheeks. I grabbed ahold of his puffy coat and buried my small red face into his side. With bright eyes I looked up at his worried expression and asked “can we go again”.
Luckily for myself, the new black toboggan went as fast as it had came, but my trust in my Dad has not faltered since that day. My fear of tobogganing hasn’t totally disappeared, just like my fear of the dark, or the fact that getting kicked in the nose by a soccer ball is still my number one concern while playing the game. I’m still a cautious person, but I don’t let my fears restrict me from new experiences anymore. If you constantly live in fear, you deny yourself of the many experiences that shape your life, that make you the interesting person that you are. If I had never got on the black toboggan that day with my Dad then we wouldn’t have bonded the way we did. I can fully put all of my trust in him as a father and even though tobogganing still isn’t my favourite thing to do, I’ll always go when he asks.