Before You Meet Prince Charming: The Toboggan Ride

Before You Meet Prince Charming: The Toboggan Ride July 10, 2017

princecharmingby Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows and Kids Collide

All quotes from Sarah Mally’s book ‘Before You Meet Prince Charming’ will be in blue text.

There are many activities in life that I am clueless about.  I don’t know how to play any instruments.  I’ve never ridden – let alone drove – an off-road vehicle.  My understanding of all things equestrian is based on what my best friend who adored horses told me.  

As a born and bred Michigander, though, there is one thing I know: sledding.

Look, I live in a place that becomes a grey and brown slushy-wasteland from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day in a good year.  Throwing yourself down a hill on a sled is God’s way of making up for the fact that Western Michigan has no appreciable sunshine due to cloud cover from October through Easter.  We are a land where our high school mascots should be Seasonal Affective Disorder.  That’s why sledding and other winter sports are beloved here – we need something to look forward to.

I don’t remember the first time I went sledding because I was a toddler.  If your kid is old enough to walk up a hill, they are old enough to sled down the hill – with a parent steering the sled.  Heck, my young infant son would probably be able to handle sledding on a gentle slope with my husband or I this winter.

Needless to say, I have feelings about this scene in the book.

The Great Toboggan Ride

Testimony by My Sister Grace

“Come on, you guys! ” I called to my friends at the top of the sledding hill. “If we get a lot of people on this toboggan it will go really fast!” It was the first big snowfall of the year. The hill was packed. I had arranged for a group from our church to go sledding together, and I was delighted when I saw that one of my friends had bought a toboggan. This is going to be fun, I thought as I took the front seat and four of my friends piled on behind me.

As we were about ready for the push off, my dad approached the scene.

“Wait! You can’t go down on that!” he said. ” That’s really dangerous!” (pg. 141)

Sledding can be dangerous if people aren’t careful.  There are some pretty basic safety precautions that parents teach kids.

  • The most dangerous accidents involve collisions with objects so don’t sled near trees, telephone posts, fences, etc.
  • Be sure that you have plenty of room at the bottom of the hill to stop before roads, parking lots, ponds, etc.
  • Be sure you can reach the bottom of the hill without hitting someone.
  • Climb the hill outside of the main sledding areas.  (Allegedly, people climb near the edges and sled down the middle of busy hills.  That’s not quite how we did it on the hills we used when I was a kid.)
  • Know how to bail from a sled.
  • The only safe position seated with your legs in front.

A toboggan is a large sled with a curled front that can fit multiple riders at once.  A kid’s sled is like driving a sedan; a toboggan is like driving a semi.  A toboggan requires the front person to have much more upper-body strength than a single person sled to steer.  A toboggan also handles much more slowly than a sled does.

Now, with that background, Mr. Mally is facing Grace and four other non-relatives in a situation he believes is dangerous.  Watch how he handles the situation.

Oh great, why does Dad always have to get involved and spoil the fun? I thought. Feeling slightly embarrassed by his cautiousness, I told Dad that we would be fine.

” No, ” he insisted. “Look down there. There are tons of little kids. You could hit any one of them! It could be a very serious accident.” (pg. 141)

This was the point where I started wondering if this story happened to Grace Mally or if it’s being adapted from another one of Uncle Arthur’s bedtime stories because I can’t get this part to make much sense.

I grew up in an area that had fairly broad hills that could have many different groups of sledders at once.  On these hills, sledders sorted themselves by skill level.  The shallowest part of the hill was where the little kids sledded.  The steepest part with a bowl-shaped depression half-way down was where the teenagers sledded.  The remaining section was for the intermediate sledders.  In this type of sledding hill, Mr. Mally would be better off directing his kids away from the bunny slope area filled with little kids and into the area with teenagers.

My husband grew up in an area that had much more narrow hills.  Everyone was using the same area – but that also meant that everyone waited for a turn.  Little kids might well be on the hill right in front of you, but once they were at the bottom they needed to clear out so that the next person – or toboggan group could take off.  In that case, a bit of patience will take care of the kids in the way – plus you can always yell a polite reminder to them if they start messing around.

On a positive note, Mr. Mally is making a clear, basic statement about his views.  With some finesse, he can either re-route the group or convince them to go on individual sleds.

“Oh brother, everyone knows that sledding involves a little risk, but it always turns out fine, I thought.

“This toboggan is like a killer machine going down the mountain!” Dad continued. “Someone could die!”

” Dad, ” I explained, ” This is what sledding is. People know to move out of the way. ”

“That’s false! It will be going too fast. The hill is crowded. I don’t think you should go down!” (pg. 141)

I adore sledding – but it doesn’t always turn out fine.  My family has broken every rule I stated at the beginning – and that’s when the injuries get worse.

  • As an adult who should have known better, I didn’t bail early when I was losing control of a sled on an icy hill. I picked up enough speed that when I lost control that I rolled down the rest of the hill.  That sounds funny, but my clothes twisted and rolled too so that I skinned my torso from my bra line through my upper hips.
  • I sprained two ankles in a single toboggan accident when I was in fourth grade when some cousins went down a heavily wooded hill.
  • My brother knocked one of his front baby teeth out when he hit a fence.
  • My uncle got a severe closed head injury when he was sledding head-first and hit a tree.

Having laid out my family’s horror stories, Mr. Mally is making me want to break all the rules in front of him.  A killer machine that is too fast for people to dodge?  It’s a toboggan, not a runaway freight train, man.

Getting completely unglued is not beneficial to drawing people to your point of view.

On the flip side, I’m not sure why Mr. Mally is arguing with his daughter.  I am very open to negotiation between parents and their kids – but not on issues of immediate safety.  Mr. Mally believes the toboggan is an imminent and severe danger to others on the hill.  He needs to clearly and calmly state that his daughter should not go down on the toboggan.  Right now, he sounds increasing frantic and that’s not helping his case.

“By now the whole church party was listening and wondering what would happen. My friends on the toboggan all thought it would be fine. Sarah thought it was fine. I thought it was fine. Even the other adults didn’t seem very worried, so finally my dad reluctantly backed off, and we started down the hill.

“We’ll just yell really loud so that people will get out of our way, ” we told my dad.” (pg. 141-142)

Every other human being on the hill thinks Mr. Mally is acting crazy.  He can’t even bring the other adults over to his point of view – at least not enough to get them to interfere.

There’s also a minor continuity problem in the story.    Adding “we started down the hill” before telling her dad that they’ll yell really loudly makes it seem like she’s talking with her dad as they ride down the hill.

More importantly, some number of adults and kids/teens have been having a detailed discussion at the top of a hill with a toboggan.  That’s given anyone near them plenty of time to clear out.

Down we went. We got going faster and faster and it was really fun – until – we hit a little 6 year old girl. She went flying and did a complete flip over the top of the toboggan.

We came to a stop, jumped off, and ran back to the girl who was now standing up and in her dad’s arms. ” Is she okay?” my friend asked.

“Well, what do you think? ” her dad snapped back. It was obvious that he was very upset. Why did this have to happen the one time my dad cautioned us not to go? I wondered. (pg. 142)

True confessions time. I’ve hit kids accidently while sledding before. I’ve also hit siblings on purpose before when we were all a little bit older.  There are exactly two reasons why people don’t hit other sledders while sledding.  The obvious reason is that people don’t want to cause other people pain.  The second less obvious reason is that a sledding accident has a good likelihood of hurting the person(s) on the sled along with the person hit.

I’ve never managed to hit someone with enough speed to cause them to do a complete flip over the sled – and I highly doubt Grace Mally and her friends did either.  Presumably, the kid was walking up the hill or standing on the hill.  When the sled hit her, the front of the toboggan would knock her legs out from under her.  Depending on where her center of gravity was, the kid would either fall to either side of the toboggan or fall directly onto Grace Mally.

Notice that Grace Mally’s response to hitting a kid is extremely bizarre.  She was steering the sled, but she’s not the one who asks if the kid is ok.  She doesn’t apologize for hitting the kid.  Grace seems completely oblivious to the fact that getting run over by a sled can lead to broken legs or head injuries.  She shows no sense of relief that the girl is uninjured.  Her main concern is that this happened when her dad warned her not to go down the hill.

“It turned out that the little girl seemed fine, just shook up. Then a disturbing thought came to me: Dad is at the top of the hill and saw all this happened.

Yes, Dad had endured several seconds of sheer horror from the top of the hill as he watched the little girl fly through the air. I returned to him right away, feeling repentant and concerned, and we discussed what to do. We looked for the little girl and her family but they had already left. (pg. 142)”

Let’s discuss Mr. Mally’s aberrant parenting style.  He started by failing to convince anyone to not go down the hill in the toboggan.  Grace implies that he gives into peer pressure since none of the other parents’ present seem concerned about the situation.  To me, that is a damning statement since he was convinced that the toboggan was a “killer machine”.  Parenting is not a popularity contest when health and safety issues arise.  Finally, he watches his daughter nail a kid on the sledding hill and does absolutely freaking nothing.  This is not rocket science or a complicated parenting moment.  When you see a potentially dangerous accident that your kid is involved in, you move to the scene of the accident immediately.  If the 6-year-old was injured, Mr. Mally would be needed there to help control the traffic of sledders on the hill, call for help, provide first aid, and keep an eye on Grace.

What you don’t do: skulk at the top of the sledding hill while your kid interacts with an understandably upset strange adult and his frightened, possibly injured child.

To me, Mr. Mally is a coward, pure and simple.  He doesn’t have the guts to order his daughter off the sled.  He never admits his responsibility for capitulating to peer pressure.  Mr. Mally remains at a safe distance from the accident and all of the messy ramifications of the accident until his daughter comes to him.  He also manages to “discuss” their next step long enough that the other family is gone before he has to interact with them – and that’s not a coincidence.


The rest of the “testimony” is about how Mr. Mally gives them a small toboggan and poem at Christmas about how things that seem fun can be really dangerous.

I hope Grace Mally gave him a copy of Stephen Crane’s “A Red Badge of Courage” for that Christmas.


Mel is a science teacher who works with at-risk teens and lives on a dairy farm with her husband. She blogs at When Cows and Kids Collide She is also an very valuable source of scientific information for us here at NLQ. Mel is also blessed with the ability to look at the issues of Quiverfull with a rational mind and break them down to their most basic of elements.

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