This week I found myself in the familiar predicament that thousands of other working parents found themselves in too: School cancelled, again. No backup childcare plan in place. Work commitments up the wazoo. As the parent in my dyad with the more flexible schedule, it’s on me to solve the problem, leaving me furious and incredulous anew.
It’s the Groundhog Day dilemma that repeats with each generation, like an unwanted legacy we can’t shake. It’s the snowball that never melts. After 40 years of fighting for the recognition that workers have families too, it’s still a truth nearly universally unacknowledged that a working parent mother on a snow day is screwed. As Brigid Shulte reminds us in her very good book “Overwhelmed,” the efforts of feminists to secure a smidgeon of the working family supports our sisters have in, say, Sweden, fail time and again. Our country touts “family values,” then leaves working families out in the cold.
Ah, snow days. They really blow days. The continued lack of collective solutions to what is obviously a social problem leaves each working parent like me frantically dialing around until we find a relative, friend, daycare, or paid sitter who can dig us out and save the day.
But this doesn’t have to be.
Having grown up in the 1970s in a Midwestern town just a few miles from where I live now, I can count on one hand the number of snow days we used to have in a year. I grock with all those harking back to the good ole days when we just dressed in layers and waited for the bus in subzero temps. Snow days are for the South.
But I get why snow days exist and I defer, utterly, to the school administrators’ decisions. Many families can’t afford subzero-rated winter coats for their kids. Snow days are meant to keep kids–all kids–safe from frostbite, which is a real danger during this polar vortex global warming apocalypse. I grew up in a well-off suburb, where kids had access to Gortex and fleece. As long as this mini-ice age continues, snow days will continue, until we can figure out a way to make sure every child is properly clothed. Which is something, it goes without saying, we as a society absolutely must do. (For starters, donate coats here, here, and here.)
To be sure, personally, I may wish for fewer closings. And don’t get me wrong–I fantasize about parochial school. “The Jewish schools don’t close,” I overheard a therapist at my son’s OT clinic say yesterday, explaining to another mother that they lose enough school days from the Jewish holidays alone. Chalk one up for Jewish day school. But I am not questioning the necessity or merits of snow day closures. My preschool’s administrators have the kids’ interests at heart, and they are right to do as they do.
We can debate the merits of snow days til we’re blue, but the reality is, snow days are here. So let’s get talking solutions. In the past two days, I’ve thought of more than a few–none of which, I’m sure, are all that new. (See: Groundhog Day.)
Here are the most obvious two:
1. Coworking spaces (like mine!) and traditional workplaces alike should set up Snow Day Nanny Shares, where sitters who are available get together at one family’s home and all the kids needing coverage have one big fat group playdate, drink hot chocolate, and eat chicken soup.
2. Red Cross-certified teenagers seeking cash should create a Snow Day Collective pop-up site or Facebook page in every community, whereby parents seeking coverage for their younger ones can find a vetted group of teen sitters right there in the neighborhood, so no one has to travel far.
While we must still wish and push like crazy for structural solutions, we can also do something fast, right here and now, in our own backyards. Invoking the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Snow Day Collective, people. Who’s in?