Nothing, not even recovering from breast cancer, could keep me from going tubing with my son.
As well as being a cancer blogger, Laura Yeager is a religious essayist and a mental health blogger. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, she teaches writing at Kent State University and Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Laura survived cancer twice.
First, I tried to get my husband to go with me. He said, "It's a mother/son event. I can't go with you."
My husband is a stickler for rules.
Then, I begged my brother Bob to go. "I'll give you $100.00 if you go tubing with me and Tommy."
"I'll do it for $200.00."
"Don't you think that's a little steep?"
"I'm a high-paid executive. My time is worth a lot of money."
Needless to say, I didn't take my executive hillbilly brother up on his offer. So, in vain, I asked my other brother, Mike. "I'm working on my lesson plans," he said.
My 82-year-old mother said, "You want me to go inner tubing with you?"
When I realized that I was going alone with my 9-year-old son Tommy, I searched on the Internet for directions on how to get to Polar Blast. I dressed in layers and helped Tommy step into his snow pants. I guessed there was no getting out of it.
I was 51 years old. Most of the moms were in their 30s. The oldest one other than me was 40. People often mistook me for Tommy's grandmother.
And I'd just recovered from breast cancer. The last thing I wanted to do was careen down a huge hill on an inner tube. But hey, if I could handle chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries, I could handle this.
The tubing place was right up Route 8. As we drove, Tommy sang a little song: “I am not afraid. I'm a big boy now. I'm not in kindergarten anymore. I'm in 3rd grade now."
Tommy has anxiety disorder and balks at doing anything new. I was so happy to hear him trying to calm himself down. His psychologist had worked with him on self-talk to get him through hard situations.
We were quite a pair.
His little song helped me relax.
When we got to the Bob Evans at Highland Road, we turned left. The tubing place was on Highland Road.
I guess the only thing to do when you're afraid of something is to plunge right in. Put your head down and plow through it.
We had no trouble finding Polar Blast. The sign had a big, white polar bear on it. We parked and got out of the car into bright sunshine. It was warm that day, above freezing. I knew then that we'd dressed too warmly. We had it all – hats, scarves, gloves, boots, jackets.
I looked up at the tubing slopes. They didn't look too high. Each lane was glowing with stark-white snow. Why me? I asked myself.
Tommy and I went into the lodge, where we met the rest of the group from Tommy's school. I signed the slope's waiver about tubing safety and how we wouldn't sue Polar Blast if some terrible accident happened. Little boys came up to us and said, "Hi, Tommy." And then, mothers did the same thing. “Hello, Laura.”
“Hello,” I said. Acceptance, what a beautiful thing. I guess since we showed up, they knew we meant business – or fun, or whatever this insane activity was.
We went out back and picked our inner tubes. We were scheduled to tube from 11:15 to 2:15.
Thank God the place had a moving sidewalk that took tubers up the hill. In short, I was out of shape. The cancer had left me weak and fat. More importantly, it had taken away my moxie.
We stood our ground on the precarious sidewalk. It took a second to find one's balance. Then, up, up, up we went, holding onto our inner tubes by long belts. Tommy accidentally let go of his tube belt, and the inner tube slid down on top of mine. Holding onto both tubes was difficult. His tube almost knocked me over. "Tommy," I scolded.
"Sorry, Mom," he said.
Finally we reached to top. It was a short walk to the launching area.
We could either go down together or separately. Of course, Tommy wanted to conquer the hill together. That meant that the teenage worker had to tie our tubes together with the tube belts.
Getting my behind in the tube was easier said than done. I had to sit on the tube and then slide down to the bottom. Thunk. I'd landed, my ass in the tube and my legs and arms dangling out of it. Tommy situated himself in his tube with ease. I guessed we were ready to go. All of the other mothers and sons had gone before us.
I really didn't want to do this, but the moment had arrived. "Do you want to spin?" the teen asked.
"Oh, God, no," I said.
"OK, no spin," he said. Then the teenager pushed us down the hill.
I couldn't help but scream. Fast. We were going so fast. Tommy was laughing. A little blitz of snow tickled our faces. We were going down, down, down.
When we got to the bottom, Tommy said, "Mommy, you were really screaming."
"That's it," I said. "I'm not going again." I had absolutely hated the experience.
A kind mother who heard me say that said to me, "I'll watch Tommy for you if you want to go sit in the lodge."
I was touched by her kindness. "Thank you," I said.
The woman was William's Mom. We knew them not only from school, but from church as well. I didn't even know her name, but she truly lived her religious faith.
Something urged me to try it again. I had mastered the hard part – going down the first time. After that, it would be easier, I told myself. Getting out of the tube was interesting. I had to crawl out and pick myself up off the snowy ground. All I can say is that I was hardly graceful.
"That was great!" Tommy shouted. "I did it," he said.
That's what I was thinking. I did it, too!
We went down the hill about six more times. I finally got used to it, but I preferred to go solo, not tied to Tommy. I never got over how fast the tube slid down the hill. The wind stung my squinty eyes. The sun was so bright that tears were dripping from them.
At 12:15, Mrs. Worthington shouted to the group on the hill that we were breaking for lunch.
We headed into the lodge to eat with the other mothers and sons. The only way down was to take the hill. WHEEEEEE.
I realized that it wasn’t so bad. I could do this. I felt young again, not more than 35. When had I stopped living? The cancer had laid me low, and I was just starting to climb out of the trench it had buried me in. Cancer isn't fun, but if you put one foot in front of the other and trudge through it, you may survive. My cancer had been stage 2 breast cancer. My scars were ugly, but all I had left of the experience – that and my wounded spirit. But this tubing was stimulating.
In the lodge, Tommy and I each picked up a hotdog wrapped in tin foil, a bag of chips and a bottle of water.
Then, Tommy accidentally sat down on a metal bench that was covered in water. His snow pants got soaked.
"Mommy, I want to go home," he said. "I'm all wet."
What joy! I thought. That couldn't be any more perfect.
We ate our lunch and said our goodbyes.
"Bye, Tommy," the little boys shouted.
"He got all wet," I told William's mother. It was an excuse, but it was true.
"I'm glad you could make it," said Mrs. Worthington, the organizer of the event.
"I am too," I told her. “Thank you for organizing this."
"Thank you for coming."
We got in the car. Tommy stripped off his snow pants, down to his long johns. "That was fun," he said.
"I'm glad it’s over," I said, looking in the rearview mirror and backing up.
"I love you, Mom. Thank you for taking me.”
"I love you, too. You’re welcome."
That was the mother/son tubing outing. I was there. With bells on.
And hadn't the volunteers made it nice for everyone? They had even set out a hot chocolate bar with hot cocoa, chocolate sprinkles and chocolate syrup. Our children were lucky. They had parents who cared, myself included. I was so glad I had made myself go. I felt close to Tommy. We'd done it together.
I called my hillbilly executive brother. "I did it," I said. "No help from you."
"We did it," shouted Tommy so that Bob could hear him.
Tommy and I weren’t the typical son and mother, but it was important to just be there, with the rest of them, rocking the snow and the sun and the time we had together. Life was short after all.
I can hardly wait until next year’s tubing adventure.