Anatomy of a Snow Day

It’s cold—6 degrees F, not counting the wind chill. Snow is churning. The winds are howling. Highways are closed due to low visibility and slick roads.

At supper tonight, Ace begrudged this waste of a storm, coming as it did on a Saturday. “On a regular day, this would have been a snow day.”

Sonny agreed. “I could use a day off from school.”

(No, today did not count as a day off from school. I know because I asked.)

I understand the appeal of snow days, but my kids are not deprived, having enjoyed one only last week. A good, typical snow day, it progressed like this:

The day before:

4:20 p.m.: A storm is brewing. The weather forecast suggests that it will not subside until 6:00 tomorrow morning. Will tomorrow be a snow day? Maybe it will.

8:13: Ponder whether to pack lunches. They might not be needed. But packing them unnecessarily beats throwing them together in a rush tomorrow morning if school is not canceled. Besides, Sonny and Ace can eat them at home. I assemble sandwiches and peel carrots.

9:07: The school Facebook parent page begins to light up with speculation on the possibility of a snow day.

10:46: Go to bed.

The day itself:

5:20: Wake up. Strain my ears to listen for snow. How silly. Forgive me, but it’s early.

5:30: The school-closing e-mail arrives. I turn off the alarm.

5:31: Numerous parents visit the school Facebook parent page, noting that school is closed.

5:38: I congratulate myself on having laid in a melty bead craft for such a day as this. Oh, and also for having lunch ready.

5:42: I can’t fall back to sleep. Oh well. I console myself with how nice it will be not having to drag groggy, protesting Sonny and Ace out of bed at 6:30 today. They can sleep in! How grateful they will be.

6:07: Ace gets up.

6:11: Sonny gets up.

6:12: I wallow in the uncanniness of it all. How do they do this? Every time, they do this.

7:00: J goes outside to snow blow the driveway. Sonny and Ace follow him with shovels.

7:46: J decides to brave the roads rather than work at home. He suspects it will be quieter at the office. Chances are he is right.

9:07: Sonny and Ace eat breakfast.

9:16: I head upstairs for a shower.

10:00: Sonny and Ace negotiate which game to play. Connect Four.

10:06: Unabashed ovations from the winner of Connect Four.

10:07: Dark accusations of cheating and other treachery from the loser of Connect Four.

10:29: Sonny and Ace decide to talk like Yoda for the rest of the day.

10:31: Sonny asks Ace if playing outside he would like. Ace replies that sledding fun to him sounds.

10:36: Sonny and Ace head out the door, bearing much resemblance to Ralphie of The Christmas Story.

10:49: The kids come back inside, announcing that cold they are, and inquiring whether hot chocolate may they have.

10:50: I assent and go to prepare hot chocolate. Alas, though: we seem to be out of cocoa. Oops. I surreptitiously scrape elderly chocolate fondue from a container in the fridge and plop some into each mug, stirring vigorously, hoping it will dissolve. It does, kind of. Well, sort of. I conceal the still-pale milk with marshmallows.

10:58: Both kids notice a chocolately lump on the bottom of their mugs and wonder what it is. I cast it as a surprise treat. Yum! They eat it with spoons.

12:00: Ace announces that hungry he is. Lunchtime! Lunch is already made; how convenient. I open the lunch boxes. Empty. It seems that Sonny and Ace ate their contents for a second breakfast while I was in the shower. I make more lunch.

12:12: Sonny and Ace ask if screen time they may have. I remind them to clean their room and practice their instruments first.

12:13: Sonny practices his guitar. (“There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o . . .”)

12:28: Ace practices his violin. (“Lightly row, lightly row, O’er the glassy waves we go . . .”)

12:43: Sonny and Ace clean their room, deliberating over each toy, book, and clothing item. Who is picking up more? Who is not doing his share? Who picked up whose sock—a stinky sock, no less? I eavesdrop and note that either by forgetfulness or design, my kids have ceased to talk like Yoda. Bless.

12:59: Sonny and Ace run to the basement, eager for an hour of Netflix.

1:59: Laughter and the sounds of air hockey float up the stairs.

2:48: I find Ace in the kitchen, inhaling pepper, hoping to sneeze out his loose tooth.

3:14: Sonny and Ace liberally dip into the cologne set that Ace bought J for Christmas from the school Holiday Shop.

3:16: Sonny and Ace ask to read together. We settle on the couch.

3:16: Wow. That cologne is strong. Cough-inducing strong. I have flashbacks to the high school bus.

3:17: Ace takes a bath in the elephant bathroom.

3:17: Sonny takes a shower in the master bathroom.

3:28: We settle back on the couch, breathing fresh air, and read a couple chapters of Journey from Peppermint Street.

4:12: Sonny and Ace declare boredom.

4:15: I start making supper while Sonny and Ace plan for the snow day that they are sure will come tomorrow. They fervently hope so, anyway, their boredom notwithstanding.

5:35 Sonny and Ace dance wildly in the hall to the strains of ABBA. They invite me to join them. Sure, why not? Only one of the three of us is a good dancer, but who cares?

5:36: J comes home and notes that he’s never before seen anyone do-si-do to ABBA.

5:45: We turn off ABBA and sit down for supper.

5:47: J asks what we did on our show day. Sonny says we didn’t do anything. Ace reports that we watched Netflix all day.

8:00: Sonny and Ace go to bed. In his prayer, Sonny gives thanks for the snow day.

8:03: Ace proposes that tomorrow, on their snow day, they talk like Yoda all day. Sonny agrees.

8:22: Sonny and Ace are asleep.

8:23: I remember the melty bead craft.

8:56: I pack lunches, quite sure that they will be needed tomorrow. I am both glad and regretful for this.

10:48: I go to bed and set the alarm, quite sure that it will be needed tomorrow. Still glad and still regretful.

10:49: In my prayer, I give thanks for the snow day.

10:59: With ABBA in my head, I wait to fall asleep.

Stay warm. May your snow days be good ones.


Snow Days

It’s winter. It’s cold. The snowfalls are tying records set in 1936. What has this meant? Snow days. Lots of them.

Early-morning announcements thereof arrive almost simultaneously via text message, robocall, e-mail, school Facebook page, news station Web page, and, if anyone cares to take the time to watch, TV. Such was the case again a few days ago as another snow day dawned—the seventh this winter, if anyone’s counting (which, judging by Facebook comments, many people are).

The previous week was a two-day school week. On Wednesday, the third consecutive snow day, the wind chill was (still) -20° F so it was (still) too cold to play outside. Sonny and Ace had abandoned their massive blanket fort in the living room. They had painted all the pictures they cared to paint. They had practically worn out their Legos. We had already completed the Facebook-recommended snow-day activities of making snow ice cream and tossing boiling water into the frigid air to form an instant cloud.

They just wanted to go somewhere.

In a last-ditch attempt to resist the siren song of Netflix for a few more hours, I filled a large plastic bin with snow and dragged it into the basement. Look, boys! You can drive your little cars in it, you can use your little bulldozers to make snow piles, you can craft tiny snowmen! All in the house! Thank you, Pinterest! I crept upstairs in search of solitude. When I checked a few minutes later, Sonny and Ace were having a snowball fight. In the house. Why had I not seen that coming?

(On went Netflix.)

Back in ye olde days, before text messages or WiFi (or Netflix), we learned of snow days the old-fashioned way: by peering at the list of school closings inching across the bottom of our 13-inch TV. Often we’d have one eye on the TV and one eye out the window to make sure the bus wasn’t coming. Alas, sometimes the bus was in fact coming, but sometimes the TV gave up the goods, ushering in a day of freedom.

My mom would make play dough in three colors, one for each of us. My sisters and I played Monopoly—one game lasted at least three days—and assembled jigsaw puzzles. We sewed muumuus for our Barbie dolls. (What? They’re easy to sew.) We shoveled snow and made snowmen families with my dad, who would pelt snow balls at us as soon as our backs were turned.

We poured maple syrup over snow to make candy à la Mary and Laura Ingalls’ Christmas preparations. (It totally did not work.)

We cross-country skied to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Sometimes they’d join us to ski in the woods. Or play Boggle with us. Or consume tea and cookies.

When I was in second grade my older sister and I were snowed in at our aunt and uncle’s house. We spent the next day or two roller-skating with our cousins in the basement with our new Christmas metal clamp-on skates, visiting the sickly newborn calf that my uncle had bedded down in a corner for warmth and to keep a closer eye on. We were sad when it died during the night.

Did my parents get fed up when we had an overabundance of snow days? Probably. Do I remember them grumbling? No way. Maybe they were remembering their own snow days.

My dad’s family fortuitously shared a party line with one of his schoolteachers, who lived on a nearby farm.  When the teacher’s  distinctive ring rang on snowy mornings Dad always just knew it was the principal calling her to declare a snow day. One way to find out for sure, of course: listen in. Once in his excitement he neglected to hang up before cheering. (My grandma was mortified, as listening in on a party line was to be done very discreetly.)

My mom, unblessed by any teachers who shared the party line, relied on the radio for snow-day news.  The announcer would plod through the school names, taking too-frequent breaks for commercials. This took forever, but when she heard her school’s name she could never quite believe it and stood there for another round just to make sure. Then: snow-day fun. She would sled near the barn with the neighbor kids and ice skate on old, borrowed skates. She’d play Monopoly and cards with her siblings. She and my grandma would comb through Better Homes and Gardens and McCall’s for cookie recipes and craft ideas.

Did my grandparents get fed up when their kids had too many snow days? Maybe. Did they say so? I am sure they did not.

My grandma recently told of the winter of  ’36, that winter whose records are now being tied, when she was turning 11. The snowbanks reached the telephone wires. Her family was snowbound for 30 days. “Snowbound” meant “not able to get the car to town.” No grocery store runs for them, but that was okay, because they had shelves full of canned meat and vegetables, cows full of milk, and chickens full of chicken and eggs.

So how did she spend her snow days? She didn’t have them. She and her sisters walked—well, waded—across to their country school, as did the other students and the teacher. She didn’t mind. Ever the extrovert, she was glad to go to school. “We wouldn’t have gotten out otherwise,” she said. “Except that one Sunday when my dad hitched up the sleigh and horses and we went to visit our grandparents. They lived about five miles away.” Her voice brightened at the memory. “It was so good to get out and go somewhere!”

And now it’s 78 years later. Wading across the fields and hitching up sleighs seems so quaint. As do party lines and McCall’s magazine. As do clamp-on skates.  I wonder what will seem quaint about the snow days of 2014 a generation or two from now. Netflix, maybe? Facebook announcements? Will there even be snow days, or will we have found a way to overcome them?

Enjoy this memorable winter—snow days and all.