Friday, January 21, 2000

Snow job

When I was growing up in southern California, I dreamed of what it might be like to live where it snowed. Sledding every day. Armies of snowmen. Snow forts. Snowshoes. Snowball fights. And, on days when the snow blocked the door and cars couldn't make it on the road and the world was all in white, that most wonderful of childhood events--a snow day. You don't miss a lot of days of school for snow in southern California. How magical, I thought, to be given a day to revel in frozen bliss.

Ha! As fate would have it, I did eventually come to live where it snowed, in a place where snow days are not uncommon. But I'm no longer able to enjoy them. I'm a mom now. And I say: As long as the planet still has atmosphere and gravity, I want those kids in school.

It doesn't help that where I've settled, in New Jersey, they'll call a snow day on the rumor of snow. Actual flakes cause a virtual panic. Store shelves are stripped. People refuse to venture outdoors. School buses cannot be expected to navigate streets with even so much as a dusting. Insurance, I hear. Now, isn't that magical?

There was a time in my life when I would have loved to frolic in the snow all day long. This is not it. Yet my kids can't wait to get good and cold and wet. They'll attempt to make snowmen out of the light coating of white that passes for a crippling blizzard hereabouts. On days when snow actually accumulates, they'll delight in playing with the snow shovel--making big mountains in the driveway, packing the snow down on the sidewalk, dumping shovelfuls of icy crystals on each other's heads.

This is the job of children on snowy days. The job of moms is to sit inside and watch them through the window while sipping hot chocolate and reading magazines. And yet, perhaps to fill some need from my own childhood, I find myself out in the snow with them, receiving snowballs to the head, adjusting little gloves and tying little bootlaces and wiping snotty little noses, screaming for them not to eat the salty snow in the street, whining to go inside. Oh, to be a kid again. Then, I might actually enjoy this.

And maybe I'd enjoy a snow day, too. Now, it means calling strangers on the snow chain at 5 a.m. to break the bad no-school news. It means an endless succession of putting on dry layers of clothing, taking off wet layers of clothing, putting on dry layers. It means arguing with children who are blue but swear that they are n-n-n-not c-c-c-cold and can't they just play for five more minutes? It means a disruption in routine, and I don't handle that any better than my neurologically impaired children do. I'd rather hike across frozen tundra pulling them on a sled to get them to school than let them stay home.

Because once they're safely in class, I can indulge in my own version of a perfect snow day: sitting inside a warm house and watching the flakes pile up prettily. Not playing in it, driving in it, walking in it, sliding in it, shoveling it, brushing it from cars or clothing. Just watching it. Preferably with hot chocolate and a magazine close at hand.

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