- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 14, 2006

The bedroom door creeks as Katie opens it. My eyes glance quickly at the clock and then to her silhouette in the door frame. It’s 6:15 and I know what she is about to say.

She is about to utter the two words that will change the nature of my existence for the next 24 hours, mangling my plans for quiet productivity and transforming them into a TV-blaring, snowball-throwing, hot-chocolate-on-the-carpet fiasco.

“Snow day.”

Softly, she closes the door and heads back to bed for another six hours of teenage slumber.

But now, I’m wide awake.

I get out of bed to survey the situation (as though my assessment of impassable roads might change my reality). There’s no denying it’s really snowy out there, though there is not the “8 to 10 inches” threatened on last night’s newscast.

My only opportunity for solitude is now, during the hours between sunrise and the sound of the first telephone call, which I expect will be Jimmy’s friend Jonathan at around 9 a.m.

I amble to the kitchen wrapped in my fuzzy, pink bathrobe to make a pot of coffee. I figure if I stoke up the computer I can get some work done, leaving me free to zip and unzip winter jackets for the better part of the day.

We hardly ever got snow days when I was a child. Instead, we trudged those nine miles to school (uphill both ways), unless the accumulation reached our navels and we simply couldn’t open the front door. Or something like that.

These days, they call a snow day for a measly 1 to 3 inches. Everyone’s afraid of black ice, and besides, there’s hardly a municipality north of the Mason-Dixon line that budgets adequately for plowing. Someone must have done the math and decided it was better for the economy to call more frequent snow days than to pay people to clear the stuff out of the way.

This theory leads to another issue, one I find perplexing: If it’s too snowy to drive to school, why do people keep asking me to take them to the mall and the sledding hill and the Cineplex and Liz’s house?

I thought the whole point of snow days is to stay off the roads unless travel is an absolute necessity, but my gang seems to think a snow day is just another excuse to enlist “Mom’s Unlimited Taxi Service.”

No go. I declare right away my unwillingness to attempt something even hardened school bus drivers are unwilling to do.

On this particular snow day, Amy is in full winter regalia before 10 a.m., attempting to sled down the hill that is our back yard (a landscape design my children curse for three seasons of the year when there’s no flat ground to play sports, but which is the envy of the neighborhood on days such as this).

I stand at the window in the laundry room watching her negotiate the drifts of white powder. She can’t get the sled to move. It’s too cold and the snow won’t pack down. Her attempts to achieve forward motion are adorable, but I know she’ll give up in a matter of moments and all that time invested in dressing for the weather will have been pointless.

Right after the phone rang, Jimmy headed down the street to his buddy Jonathan’s house. It’s too cold to make the trip back and forth from house to house they way they usually do, so they’ll make camp and settle in for a few hours of PlayStation, card games and movies. When they get restless, which I expect will occur simultaneously with hunger, he’ll come back. Sure enough, he reappears in time for lunch.

Meanwhile, my teenage daughters are using the snow day to its best advantage. They sleep late, and then linger in bed reading (since they fear coming to the kitchen will get them a list of snow day chores). When I’m not looking, they snag cookies and popcorn — a meal fit for high school — and retreat to the basement to watch a chick flick (something with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, no doubt).

By about 3 in the afternoon, all four of my children start to have the glazed, pasty appearance that comes with overexposure to various forms of media. I declare everything in the house that plugs in or runs on batteries has to be turned off. This is just the impetus they need to bundle up in snowsuits and boots and head outside.

This is my favorite part of a snow day (and not because the house is briefly, blessedly quiet).

This is the part when I wander from window to window, watching their antics out in the street, marveling as the eight-year age span between my high school junior and my third-grader disappears in the fluffy, frozen landscape.

They’re all out there together. They’re throwing snowballs, building a snow fort, making snow angels and snow people. They’re playing.

The winter sky gradually grows darker. The streetlights come on around 5, and one by one, they wander back inside, stuffing wet coats and hats and mittens into the clothes dryer. Then it’s hot chocolate and comfort food and an evening like any other.

Tomorrow, praise the Lord, there will be school.

But at the end of this day, I’ll have to thank Him for sending so much snow.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 18 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth. hicks@comcast.net.

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