- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

Headlines during the latest snowstorm announced record numbers of car accidents, a surreal crash involving more than 120 vehicles, slick streets, and traffic jams galore. But the untold story of the snowfall were the hundreds of thousands of parents who, with almost no warning, needed to cope with school closings, early dismissals and delayed openings.
For kids, few two word combinations in the English language have as sweet a sound as "snow" and "day." But for parents, snow days can wreak havoc on our scheduled existence.
What constitutes an excuse to close or delay school in the Washington area is puzzling. In New York, where I grew up, annual snowfall was proportionally higher while the number of snow days were significantly lower. Here, the mere prediction of snow accumulation seems to be just cause for the closing or delay announcement. Superintendents sometimes appear guided by a forecast for the Mid-Arctic region rather than the Mid-Atlantic.
On rare instances when a genuine northern-style snow day occurs offices closed and plenty of snow for sledding parents can sit back and enjoy it. But what about the much more common scenario, when offices remain open, roads are clear enough to do errands and the slushy mess won't support the Flexible Flyer?
Once reality hits, that schools are not going to open at regular times, the parental challenge begins. Ability to act under pressure, be creative, be flexible, and remain calm throughout are put to the test. The other day I learned at 9 a.m. that middle school would close around noon and elementary school at 1 p.m. Suddenly I needed to figure out how to get to a meeting downtown, notify my children where I would be and find places for them to stay until I returned.
Even parents who intended to do errands, make phone calls or be home on a day when school is canceled need to readjust schedules and priorities for the day because it's hard to be as efficient with kids in tow as one can be alone. More is not necessarily merrier when trudging around doing family errands and tasks. More in fact, can be crankier and significantly slower.
On the most recent snow day, I mistakenly stuck to my original plan of accomplishing 10 errands, in spite of the school cancellation. By the third or fourth, I should have cut my losses, reassessed my needs, been more flexible and headed home to turn on the TV for the kids while preparing a bubble bath for myself. But instead, I endured the inevitable whining and griping about not making the right purchases and forcing my children to waste their snow day doing errands. How did I end up feeling? Like the Grinch who stole the snow day.
Parents, whether professionals in responsible positions swamped with to-do lists or at home trying to make sure kids have lunches, clean clothes, and completed homework, often don't realize that a snow day can be a blessing in disguise.
Families can relish the magical aspect of playing in the snow or watching a dog frolic in it. On the other hand, snow days can also provide a chance to break the routine, teach a child to be flexible, allow kids to catch up on work or study for a test, or better yet, give a child a taste of an adult day. Or it can be a day to reach out to a neighbor or friend who suddenly has a key ingredient for friendship spare time.
Many children love the idea of spending a part of their day at a parent's office, and will do the same homework that they complain about at home quite willfully when sitting at an office desk or conference table. Performing tasks such as photocopying, rearranging books on a shelf, exploring a supplies closet or using an office computer can be fun for kids. On the home front, an older child can help with paperwork, cook a meal, clean out a closet, or rearrange a room while younger kids can get a taste of parental life by helping with other chores. When tasks are done, kids still have plenty of time to play inside and outside or to get together with friends.
Though children would love if a parent could magically take off from work or rearrange the entire day to meet their snow day desires, that is typically not possible. Even so, snow days can retain their almost mythical specialness. It's a treat for a child merely not to have to eat cafeteria food and to miss a scheduled quiz, or just to be off from school when they are not sick and it's neither a weekend nor a holiday.
Charlie Brown might ask, as he does about Christmas, what is the real meaning of a snow day? For parents, it's a chance to piece together a day which enables them to get done what they must, to put off what they can, and to do their best to make sure their kids are well-cared-for. Sounds simple, but sometimes even that requires working a little magic.


Rebecca R. Kahlenberg is a writer living in Bethesda, Md.

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