Snow DayPosted: February 2, 2011
With half the country enjoying a snow day (and the other half — the parental half — surviving it), it seemed like a good day to reflect on the pain and pleasure of large amounts of snow. At our house there was great weeping and gnashing of teeth this morning when the boys heard the the Hingham Public Schools were open for business. The fact that all the surrounding towns had closed their schools merely served to rub (rock) salt into the wound.
Below is an essay I wrote a few years ago that appeared in my book “What Size Are God’s Shoes: Kids, Chaos, and the Spiritual Life.” The boys have gotten older but much of the principal still applies. Enjoy.
The dreaded call usually comes at about 5:00 am. It confirms what we suspected when we went to bed: snow day. Even in my sleep-induced stupor I make sure to pick up the phone on the first ring. If the call wakes up the kids, they’ll want to go sledding immediately. Who cares if it’s still dark with sub-Nordic temperatures and blizzard-like conditions?
No single issue in our house so divides kids and parents. The boys are thrilled with a snow day. And from a kid’s perspective, what’s not to like? For one thing, it means the previous night’s “snow dance” worked. Plus they don’t have to “do” anything on a snow day besides pelt me with snowballs, go sledding, build snow forts and snowmen, make snow angels, and end the outing with steaming mugs of whipped cream-topped hot chocolate. This so beats the alternative of sitting in school at circle time and listening to the teacher read Harold and the Purple Crayon. Even though that sounds great to me.
Then there are the adults, whose response is slightly more restrained than the boys’ unbridled joy. After the kids wake up, find out there’s no school, and start jumping on our bed, Bryna and I begin the day by canceling our various meetings. But the major difference between the two responses is that when it comes to snow, the boys play in it and we’re left to shovel it and drive in it. It never used to be this way. One of the clearest signs of aging is that I do the “anti-snow dance” to try and offset the boys’ efforts.
The heightened sense of joy in a snow day stems from the fact that children seem hard-wired to hate school. Even though they love going to school to see their friends, even though they take pleasure in all the activities, and even though they secretly adore their teachers, if you ask them how they like school they respond immediately with “I hate it.” At least that’s the case in our family. This takes tangible form in the daily struggle to get the kids dressed and out to the bus stop. “Why don’t you want to get dressed?” “I hate school.” “What are talking about? You had a great time yesterday.” “I hate school.”
We’re fortunate to have a pretty steep hill on the rectory property that’s perfect for sledding. But before we can even think about sledding, we first must don the cold-weather battle gear. If it’s the first snow of the year, we spend 20 minutes hunting for snow pants in the attic. Finally we find them in the box with the Christmas ornaments. Then we spend the next 15 minutes looking for boots. Oh, they were in the front hall closet where they belong. Who knew? Then comes the layering process which turns the boys into the Michelin brothers. And, finally, without fail, comes the “Dad, I have to go potty.” Of course you do, even though I asked you about this five times before getting you dressed. At least we get to avoid the fight over sunscreen.
Eventually we get outside. Snow has the same effect as a swimming pool – the boys could stay in it for hours, long after any normal adult could stand it anymore. If I stayed outside as long as Ben and Zack, they’d have to amputate several of my digits due to frostbite. But getting outside makes it all worthwhile. The boys have a blast racing down the hill. My job, like a beast of burden, is to haul the sled back up the hill after each run. It’s generally a thankless job but I barter a few runs of my own – it’s still a great adrenaline rush and the boys take an oddly intense pleasure in watching me wipe out.
Once I get beyond my initial annoyance at having my schedule turned upside down, I can appreciate the value of a snow day. It’s a forced Sabbath. And since most of us are lousy at planning days of intentional rest into our lives, it’s good to let God whitewash our calendars sometimes. We’re not as important as we think we are. Amazingly enough, life goes on even if we have to cancel a meeting or two.
Sabbath is a big concept in religious circles. Spiritual writers are forever extolling the virtue of spending a quiet day in reflection and prayer every week. It sounds great, of course, but they obviously don’t have young kids at home. Or a spouse: “Bryna, I’m going off to walk in the woods for the next eight hours. Have fun with the boys.” It’s just not happening. Maybe when the kids are old enough for sleep-away camp I’ll be able to piece together more than an hour or two. But it may have to wait until we’re empty nesters; or at least for that brief interval before they move back in with mom and dad after college. But in this season of life you take what you can get. Besides, the woods get awfully cold in the dead of winter.