Driving home on the first snowy evening after my last child graduated from high school, I realized something was missing.
For the first time in 24 winters, I would not be spending this blustery weekday night waiting for the school superintendent to stand before the masses with the two-word pronouncement: “Snow day!”
For some parents, especially working moms and dads with immovable schedules, a snow day is a panic day, amounting to little more than a child-care crisis. I think of all the parents who couldn’t skip work at New York police stations, Washington hospitals and Baltimore newspaper offices recently just because Winter Storm Jonas chose to dump 30 inches of snow up and down the East Coast.
For parents who work at home, a snow day can be a four-Tylenol day, as adult plans are suddenly reduced to a bunch of uber-excited kids clinging to their ankles, begging to know if they can play video games/where the snow pants are/can you drive me to Caitlin’s house even though the very reason the schools are closed is because the roads are too dangerous to travel.
As for me, maybe it’s because I was born in the South and didn’t get enough snow as a child. Maybe it’s because my husband and I mostly had flexible work schedules that could accommodate the occasional snow day. Maybe it’s because I always got to go back to bed, too.
For me, the snow day constituted magic, like an extra visit from Santa.
As special as the day was itself, so was also the routine and ritual surrounding it, beginning with a wintry mix the afternoon before, followed by the forecast of heavy snow into the night.
The school district would pronounce all evening events canceled, news that would send 3,5000 children home in manic mode, convinced they didn’t need to do their homework because the superintendent is “Definitely, Mom!” going to cancel school the next day. On into the evening, my husband would install a spotlight in the front yard so we could watch the falling snow build into inches on the ground, maybe even feet. The kids would stand by the window shouting “Go home!” at any snow plow that dared to show up on the street. Like a small army of air traffic controllers, we would also begin manning the various stations for incoming alerts from the school district. In the early years we crossed our fingers as we sat by the radio, listening to the announcer broadcast the name of each school in excruciating alphabetical order. In later years, we turned text sounds on high and obsessively refreshed local-school-closings dot.coms as announcements came in through the night. As bedtime approached, the kids would run through the house, gathering ice cubes to flush down the toilet, placing white crayons in the freezer and donning PJs inside-out _ superstitions they hoped would send a message to the snow gods.
Of course, despite their greatest intentions, not to mention all the snow, sometimes “that dumb superintendent” was not complicit. The only alert going off was the jarring clatter of the alarm clocks.
But then once or twice a winter – and more if El Nino was on our side – the stars and snowflakes aligned. Just before it was time for the big orange school buses to start their engines, the superintendent would make the call. The alerts would sound. On especially lucky days I would be the only one awake, which meant I got to be the harbinger of the glad message.
There was no happier moment as the mother of young children than when I got to stand at the doorway of each bedroom, whispering “Snow day! Go back to sleep!”
I would hover just long enough to hear the shrieks, to see the triumphant smiles, just long enough to watch each soft head burrow back under the covers.
And I would go back to bed myself in the white blanket of dawn, as later there would be fires in the fireplace, Thermoses of hot chocolate and sledding hills, laughing snow angels with neighbor children in the morning snow and long games of Monopoly later in the afternoon with friends who managed to trudge over.