Snow days were a big deal in my household. With four school-going people in the house between my sisters, my mother (a seventh-grade teacher) and I, the prospect of an unplanned day off was positively magical and treated with the utmost importance.
My mom is even part of an exclusive Facebook page that tracks the weather and where members provide educated and scientific predictions of school cancellations. The ring of the house phone any time there was questionable weather was met by leaping hearts. Whoever got to it first would hit the answer button and then immediately put it on speakerphone so that anyone within earshot could hear the news.
“Hello, this is Dr. Warren Mata-
At this point, everyone knew whether it was my and my sisters’ school district that would have off, or that of my mother.
“Superintendent of the (Schuylkill Valley/Wilson School District). Due to (forecasted/current) weather conditions-”
Now we mentally screamed at the recorded voice to hurry up, but didn’t dare speak for fear of missing the next words.
“The district will be (closed/operating on a two-hour-delay schedule) on (day, date).”
This would be followed by cheers and either mom or kids saying “Now I/we wait for my/our call.”
Of course, sometimes we had a better idea of what would be said, especially if there had been an earlier call. In these cases, the ringing is met immediately, from all corners of the house, with the cry “No school!”
It was a ritual, so common and understood that to this day, whenever the house phone rings, whether in January or July, someone in the house is sure to say “No school!”
These little gems of magic snow days served a variety of purposes for me throughout school. Of course, when I was very young it was a chance to play outside in the snow for hours, but even in elementary school I started to consider their larger potential. A whole day where nobody could go anywhere.
Oftentimes, snow days were an excuse to drink hot chocolate and read in bed. This usually sounded far better than it was, as I hadn’t yet learned the wonders of instant hot cocoa made with milk rather than water, so I usually got sick of it a quarter of the way through. It also often got too hot, cuddled up in my winter pj’s under the covers. And I tended to fall asleep before I got very far in my book.
Later, these days became a blessed gift as they provided a second chance to finish homework on days I would have otherwise never been able to. They were a full extra day where I say myself knocking out the rest of that evening’s homework and then finishing two or three long-term projects as well.
Even on those days, I saw the snow day as a potential spirit nourisher. After I finished all the homework, I could surely find time to read and paint and do all the other lovely hobbies that my busy schedule cut out. The day seemed to brim with potential and couldn’t possibly abide by normal rules of time.
When I started getting panicky about exercise, these days became a chance to make up for the busy days when I didn’t manage to get up early for a workout. I told myself I could get up, exercise vigorously for a couple of hours, and then have plenty of time to enjoy the day off, or complete a combination of those other options.
At times, the snow days temporarily removed a weight from my chest, as they granted me another eighteen hours free from a manipulative friendship, before I’d have to face awkward and strained conversation and avoid eye contact. It provided a built-in excuse for not inviting anyone over, too, since there’s no way my mother would drive in the snow.
The binding thread among all these snow days is the way I always ended up looking back on them. Time after time, it would become 6 or 7 pm and I would suddenly see the day for the missed opportunity it was. Even if I’d completed a decent amount of work or made a dent in a book, there was so clearly more to do. I could have learned the entire French language and perfected the concert band songs on my clarinet. All I’d done instead was study for my trig test.
There’s something familiar about this pattern. It is not, by any means, specific to snow days. In fact, snow days are somewhat of a microcosm for the many expanses of time we proactively delineate and then regret; weekends, vacations, summers, lifetimes.
On Friday evening we come home from work and see a blissful reprieve ahead of us. On our way to a much anticipated trip, we pin our hopes of relaxation and fun onto a week or so of time. In early June students and adults alike scan the horizons of a seemingly endless summer, imagining countless adventures with plenty of time to save some money and work out every day. And young adults, ready to start their independent lives, look on at the rest of their existence, ready to fill it with the physical manifestations of their hopes and dreams.
We look ahead of us at this gem, this gift of the single most valuable resource and in it we see a lifetime of possibilities. It is from this vantage point that we as humans have perhaps the best and worst vision we’ll have in all our lives. For it’s true-anything is possible in this parcel of time, just not everything.
So how do we deal with this snow day phenomenon? Lower our expectations? Simplify our goals? Stop looking forward to things? I don’t think so. If this feeling of possibility is evident from childhood on up at the beginning of any stretch of time, I think it should be embraced rather than eliminated. Because who could fault a child for their excitement when school is cancelled and they are suspended in a separate, snowy world?
Instead, I think we need to give ourselves more opportunities for suspension of reality, because they do ultimately feed the soul. This could come in the form of a weekly sabbath, an enjoyable morning routine, a cutoff time for evening work, or a designated place visited for this purpose. By incorporating these into our lives, we remove the need to place so much pressure on one of them to fix us, and we provide ourselves with constant soul-feeding.
I’m not simply saying, however, that we need time to relax. That’s true, of course, but that is a different aspect of personhood and self-care that I’m not addressing at the moment. I’m saying that we need reality reprieves to reset us and make us excited to engage with our lives. We need snow days in January and in July.