It’s a snow day here in Boston. You know what that means: kids that have to be dragged out of beds on school days are up before dawn and weary parents are staring glassy-eyed into their coffee as they negotiate who gets to go to work and who will stay home with the Tasmanian devils who have somehow managed to trash the house before the garbage truck has rumbled by.
I logged onto Facebook this morning and wrote: “They woke up at 6:30 AM and are currently wandering around the house in thin cotton summer dresses. My girls are terrible at snow days. At least it’s beautiful out.”
It was your run of the mill, slightly less than clever, semi-whiny, halfhearted attempt to garner sympathy from my friends and find something positive about the day. A few friends “liked” my picture of the snowy scene from my front door, and in the midst of a few sympathetic comments, my former boss wrote this:
“You need to get in full camp counselor mode! Bake cookies, dance party, art and crafts, story time, sledding, etc… hopefully, by later in the day the roads are a bit more cleared…I am hoping our Y is open to get them out of the house and swimming….good luck!”
I won’t lie. In my exhausted, under-caffeinated state, I sort of did want to reach through the computer and punch her. (Here’s the thing you need to know about this woman–she’s the kind of person you sort of want to despise. She’s tall and beautiful, she’s completed multiple Ironman triathlons, she’s a great mom, she’s got a solid career, and she’s totally earnest in her Pollyanna attitude. Except you can’t despise her, because she’s just so damn great. She was the best boss I’ve ever had, and she’s a good friend. If you met her, you’d love her, too.)
But her comment did get me thinking about differing approaches to snow days. I suspect that the whole camp counselor gig works well in many families, and it’s definitely a necessity when the kids are younger. But my girls are 3 and 5, and there’s a reason I only worked as a camp counselor for one summer before vowing that I would never do it again. However, before you write me off as a lazy mom (which wouldn’t be an entirely unfair characterization, I suppose), you should know that there is actually some thought and logic behind my refusal to spend snow days entertaining my kids.
They need to learn to swim. (I’m speaking in metaphor, of course. The actual swimming, well, that’s been a shitshow, but we’ll get there.)
We’re all familiar with the Talmudic advice to teach our children to swim; it’s probably inscribed on the wall of every JCC pool across the country. And yes, I know the Rabbis were speaking literally, but in my mind, learning to swim is about more than just not drowning. It’s about learning to be independent, to relax in unstructured situations (after all, it is just a big tub of water), to play on your own and with other kids, to trust your body, to know when to exert yourself, when to slow down, and when to ask for help. It’s about parents trusting, and expecting, their kids to be safe on their own, and kids trusting that their parents will be there when they need them. These skills are especially important in water, but they’re also relevant for our entire lives. And I believe snow days are a perfect time to cultivate them.
The bottom line is that I expect my daughters to spend significant chunks of time (at least 45 minutes to an hour) playing by themselves. Not only do I need to get work done and preserve my sanity, but they need to practice swimming on their own. They need to figure out how to keep themselves entertained through periods of unstructured time, how to move their bodies when they’ve been sitting for too long, how to rest when they’ve worn themselves out playing in the snow, and how to just be.
I remember spending long hours just hanging out in pools and lakes as a kid. I have no idea what I did, probably because I wasn’t doing much. And I wasn’t bored or anxious. I was happy and calm. In a culture when we all need to be doing something all the time, I want my girls to learn how to just hang out, to lay on the couch staring out the window at the falling snow, to sit on the floor mindlessly rolling balls back and forth, to build a fort out of blankets and just lay under it, snuggling their dolls and talking about nothing at all.
So, they played this morning while I ate breakfast and sighed into my coffee. I fed them breakfast and we played a rousing Angelina Ballerina memory game (which I won, so I got that going for me, which is nice), and now they’ve been playing together for about an hour. In a few minutes we’ll have a snack and then I’ll bundle them up and they can play in the snow while I shovel. After that, we’ll come inside, dry off, and they’ll be on their own again until lunchtime. We probably won’t head over to our local JCC to swim today, but they’ll be swimming on their own, right here at home.
Editor’s Note: Carla has written a public apology to the aforementioned “camp counselor” friend. Read here.