On snowy nights as a child I would flick on the backyard light and judge the snow coming down, along with the amount that had accumulated on the deck. I would go to bed hoping with all my might that in the morning the radio would announce that our school was closed. Usually my hopes were dashed and I would trundle off to school, jealous of those who did not share my fate.
The days of children waiting with bated breathe by the radio to hear if their school is closed are gone. Now the phone rings shortly before six in the morning, or even the night before, and the cheery prerecorded voice of the superintendent comes on telling us that schools are closed due to inclement weather or the chance of inclement weather. A friend, and fellow stay-at-home-dad, who lives in Bozeman, Montana, asked recently what constituted a snow day in Vermont. As near as I can tell, I told him, it’s a crap shoot. Of course I am sure it is more than that, some complicated formula. I called the cheery-voiced superintendent to ask but I never heard back from her. In Montana, my friend told me, if the buses start and the roads are passable there is school. They’ve had a few 9am starts because it was twenty below, but other than that no one can seem to remember when the last full snow day was. Some time in the 90’s is the best guess.
From journal entries I know that I’ve met snow days as an adult with dread and anxiety because I had other plans for the day. That is parenthood in a nutshell–make a plan and watch it fall apart for any number of reasons. I always assume I will have more time to write on snow days because the boys will sleep in and there will be no rush to get them off to school, but the boys never seem to sleep in on snow days. It is as if they have a sixth sense and are up and out the door at first light or one of them is up and pacing waiting for the other to wake up so that they can go out and play. On school days I have to drive them out of bed with my bad singing.
Despite my anxiety the snow days always seem to turn out to be great fun–as days usually do when you toss out your preconceived ideas and let the day unfold organically. The backyard and surrounding acreage are a blank canvas and the day follows its own special rhythm–outside at first light,t then back inside to dry out and warm up. Outside again a few hours later, and if it all works out, perhaps a third time when Mom gets home. When you ride the coattails of your children’s joy and wonderment, you’ll be hard pressed to hang onto the dour feelings we conjure up so easily as adults.
This month I was going to write about the lack of civility and manners in our society and how we as parents need to step up our game when it comes to teaching our kids what is proper and what is not. Then, the kids had a snow day, and by the time I sat down to write my article, tackling such a serious topic was just not appealing.
Snowbank snow fort
The boys were outside just after six in the morning and really only came in for short spurts the rest of the day. Their first order of business was to task me with building a fort in the snowbank left by the plow. Now, when it comes to projects like these I tend to go a bit Tim Taylor and they usually end up taking me twice as long as I thought they would. This snow fort was no exception. Why, I thought, should I make a fort that you have to crawl on your belly through when I can use some of that old plywood we have as a roof? I laid the boards on top of the snowbank and began to dig. Unfortunately, I got a bit over zealous and dug too much snow out, causing the plywood to be unstable. Not wanting to let down the boys or admit defeat, I scrounged around for more scrap wood and moved onto plan B, then to plan C, then to plan D. I eventually remembered some long poles I had lying near the scrap pile so I kicked around in the snow until I found them. A little sawing here and there and we had a winner with plan E. The boys then spent the rest of the day playing in what is arguably the best snow fort I’ve ever built.
The “Snow Hut”
Thanks to the internet you can spend a lot of time looking at all the different kinds of forts people build to get ideas for your own. Then you can go out and build one for yourself. That is what the boys and I did. It was a good reason to get outside and get some exercise in what has previously been a nearly snowless winter. It is a nice escape from the stress of life and when it’s done you always have a place to get away to. Building our fort has developed a new type of creativity in the boys. They now notice their surroundings in a different way and are always on the lookout for a good fort locations. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment, even if as the adult, I’m doing a majority of the work.
The whole time I was building the fort in the snow bank I was thinking how lucky I was to get to do this. I would have been perfectly happy sitting by the fire reading or writing my article on civility. Once again it’s a lesson learned from our boys. Slow down and seize the moment. For soon the snow will melt, the boys will move on and I’ll be left with only my memories. But I certainly won’t have the regret of the time I didn’t build them a snow fort after the biggest snow storm in two years.