Snow Day

January 24, 2005 | 19 comments
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I just found out that my children will be home from school again tomorrow. Turns out that there’s no place to put the 3 feet of snow that fell on Saturday and Sunday. After my initial, wicked disappointment that I won’t be able to get to my kitchen-cabinet-painting project for another week (Sam only goes to school Mondays and Tuesdays, so this week is shot), I immediately began planning. “Well, maybe another day of sun and balmy 25-degree weather will render the snow dense enough for a real snowman. OK.

9:00-9:45–Snowman
9:45-10:00–remove, hang up snow gear
10:00-10:20–hot cocoa
10:20-11:15–art project
…”

All this planning, of course, intersects with my children’s inclinations at very few points. Left to their own devices, their mornings all start differently: Peter wakes, having dreamt of fabulous engineering feats, ready to build–he will happily spend his first couple of waking hours hammering, duct-taping, cutting, sawing, gluing, and tying some phantasmagorical structure (or just a really nifty toilet-paper holder) together. Louisa will want to eat something, preferably chocolate (her mother’s daughter in this way at least!) right away. Sam, in the glorious throes of 4-year-old Oedipal rapture, will snuggle under the covers with me, bestowing nasty mouth-breathing morning-breathed kisses for as long as I can stand it. And then, along about 9:00, one of them will want to go outside, another will decide it’s time to go out just as the first one comes in, then #1 and #3 will go out together. They will play happily all day, and they may even do some of the things on my list, but it won’t look tidy, the way I’d like it to. I will end the day thinking that we “got nothing done.” My Mormon goal-setting training undoes me, even as I do that most Mormon activity–mothering.

I can live with my own frustration; in fact, I think that’s my job. I’m convinced that my children’s ability to truly “take no thought for the morrow” is one of the delicious things about childhood that I should mess with as little as possible–it’s what makes them able to forgive so quickly and so willing to throw themselves into something without procrastinating or holding back. Louisa regularly begins sentences with things like “Yesterday…I mean, when I was little…” I’m convinced that they have a fuller sense of what matters, of what is because they don’t think in chronological terms yet. It seems to me that this is a godlike skill: “The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.”

What I’m not sure about is this–when (not to mention how) do I teach my children to plan their days? To set goals and make “to do” lists? Their lives will be impossibly difficult if they don’t learn to do this, and I suspect there’s a point at which it becomes massively more difficult to learn, but I don’t know where that point is, and I’m not sure when to interrupt them in their practice of the valuable skill of loving the moment to teach them to be neurotic like me. I still suffer from insomnia many Sunday nights, because when I was a kid, Sunday evening was the time set aside to make goals and plans for the week, and my body is perfectly trained to release stress chemicals at that time, so that I can lie awake in agonies of performance anxiety. As much as I want my kids to be able to work toward their dreams, I want them to be able to sleep toward them, too.

I suspect that this is a piece of a bigger problem–we are commanded and taught to be anxiously engaged, and yet always ready to set aside our business, like Mary, to attend to “that good part.” How do we do it? How do we make plans and not hold them too dear? How do we accomplish enough without getting tied up in the rush of achievement? How do we “improve the shining moment” of our mortal lives while remembering that we are creatures of eternity, with “world[s] enough and time” to do all that we dream of and plenty we can’t yet conceive?

And do people who never get snowed in think about this stuff? No wonder Californians are so mellow…

UPDATE: We may not be getting anything done, but at least there’s been some poetry: Louisa came in after playing outside for a while this morning and said “ooooh. I’m all aquiver with frozenness!”

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19 Responses to Snow Day

  1. Kristine on January 24, 2005 at 8:17 pm

    Ryan Bell has opined eloquently on related topics, here and here.

  2. Julie in Austin on January 24, 2005 at 8:55 pm

    Under no circumstances should children on a snow day be given a schedule or goals. I’m pretty sure that’s in the D & C somewhere ;).

    I try to strive for a balance between scheduled and unscheduled time. Homeschooling, our parameters are a little different from yours, and it pains me to say, “Stop playing imaginative games so sweetly together and let’s get to that math worksheet!” but that’s real life. Sometimes. Othertimes, I let them play.

    This is the ultra Type A solution to the problem: try scheduling unscheduled time.

  3. danithew on January 24, 2005 at 9:14 pm

    Snow days are about having fun. That’s it man. No school! YAY! :)

    Geez, I don’t even know if they do snow days here in Utah. I’ve never gotten a day off from work due to snow. Sigh.

    I can remember when I was in New York how I used to vigilantly sit by the radio waiting for that announcement that school was OUT!

  4. Steve Evans on January 24, 2005 at 9:54 pm

    Kristine, this is a beautiful post — it shows me everything we know and love about you and your family.

    Sometimes I can’t wait for the day to pass, as I plan and make more plans to plan for the future. Other days seem to slip right through my grasp as I try to hold tightly to them. Pascal loves to talk about how we are caught between mortality and immortality by our link to the divine. Through your kids you’ve got the chance to view the world through a whole different light, and I would savor it.

    The closest I come: Sumer is super-planner woman of the century, and I drive her nuts by throwing things together at the last second. Together, we come close to a normal human being.

  5. Kristine on January 24, 2005 at 10:06 pm

    “Together, we come close to a normal human being. ”

    Um, Steve, I hate to be the one to tell you, but…

    ;)

  6. Steve Evans on January 24, 2005 at 10:31 pm

    I said “close.” Not really normal. Plus, together we’d make some sort of four-armed dual sexuality super-mormon monster. But I’m thinking of things figuratively, you see…

  7. Bryce I on January 24, 2005 at 10:37 pm

    Like Julie, we homeschool, so our kids have a different rhythm to their lives than many of their peers. Nonetheless, we (meaning Kristen, of course) build a lot of structure into their daily schedule.

    From 1 to 3 every afternoon, Jaymie and Julia have quiet time while Stanley takes his nap. They are free to do whatever they want, quietly, during this time. In the morning, the kids need to be able to count to five: 1) get dressed, 2) make bed, 3) eat breakfast, 4) put away pajamas, 5) get hair done (I count to four, and am much less ambitious: hair gel, deodorant, brush teeth, shave if I need it).

    Of course, this isn’t really what you’re asking for, is it? Jaymie is a bit of a planner when she has something she wants to do: she’ll plan an imaginary (or real) party, draw up lists of things to do: invitations, decorations, refreshments, and then do it. Perhaps if your kids had something fun to plan over a period of time, they would both see the value of planning and goal-setting, and see that good things can result from doing so, that some of the best moments in life come only after careful deliberation and planning.

    However, I agree that snow days should be left completely unplanned.

  8. Bryce I on January 24, 2005 at 10:38 pm

    Some pervert is going to be sorely disappointed when his google search brings up your last comment at the top of his search results, Steve.

  9. Steve Evans on January 24, 2005 at 10:40 pm

    “Some pervert is going to be sorely disappointed”

    I know, I know.

  10. Kevin Barney on January 24, 2005 at 10:53 pm

    I’m with Julie. Snow days are sacred territory, not to be demeaned by mere mortal “plans” and “goals.” Three feet of snow doesn’t come along every day. The sheer joy of that radio announcement early in the morning is one of the most glorious rites of passage of all kid-dom.

  11. Brian G on January 25, 2005 at 1:23 am

    Oh, how I ache for the snow days of my youth growing up in Colorado. I have to get out of the sun-baked agony of Los Angeles and return to the snow.

    I remember the Blizzard of ’82 hit Denver on Christmas Eve and it was the best Christmas ever. Some kids regretted the fact that the snow landed during Christmas break when we were all out of school anyway, but all I knew was my dad didn’t have to go back to work for days–and that was all that mattered. I’m with Kevin, snow days are sacred territory.

  12. CB on January 25, 2005 at 8:28 am

    This reminds me why raising children is so endlessly interesting.

    We have a super type A 13 year old, who wanted a daytimer for Christmas, and his 15 year old brother, who could pass for Huck Finn anyday.

    My wife and I look at each other and realize their spirits were pretty well developed before they came to us.

  13. Sheri Lynn on January 25, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    Maybe they need to learn how to just have a day without a schedule. Maybe you need to learn how to just have a day without a schedule.

    I spent most of my non-school time riding my bike miles from home–almost all unstructured time. To my kids and their peers, freedom is time on the computer. I think something crucial has been lost. They are not as resilient as I think they could be, they lack initiative, are not as flexible, not as capable of going with the flow and problem-solving on the fly….

    Hothouse flower kids. I don’t know how much of the latter day trials and tribulations will conform to a pretty schedule or come with warning labels and adequate supervision..

  14. Ryan Bell on January 25, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    Bryce, why would the googler be disappointed? I found Steve’s image oddly titillating.

    Kristine, thanks so much for that post. I love the way your mundane instersects with your metaphysical. You actually said a few things that fill in some of the blanks left open in my posts on time, so thanks for giving me some new ideas to push my own thinking forward.

  15. Kristine on January 25, 2005 at 2:13 pm

    “Maybe you need to learn how to just have a day without a schedule. ”

    Don’t worry–blogging addiction has taken care of that!

  16. Davis Bell on January 25, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    “I have to get out of the sun-baked agony of Los Angeles and return to the snow.”

    That is by far the silliest thing I have ever seen written in the bloggernacle; repent.

  17. Rosalynde on January 25, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    This is lovely, Kristine; I love the way you write about domestic life.

    I have nothing to give of parenting advice, though perhaps it is relevant that my mother, as type-A as they get, raised eleven children of varying dispositions. I am at one end, never *ever* in my life having turned in any school assignment late, and at the other end is my sister, who, to my knowledge, has never turned one in on time. (She, having perhaps the more disorderly mind, is undoubtedly the more creative and brilliant.)

    Your sense of having “accomplished nothing” is typical of those who perform non-industrialized and non-task-oriented work in the cultural context of the industrial capitalism’s time-discipline. “Saving time, “spending time,” “using time wisely”–these are the tropes of a society that works by the hour, by the bell, and that sustains itself by extracting surplus value from labor-hours. You should heaven that your life runs according to different figures. (Although I, like you, struggle daily with the same spurious feeling of unproductivity.)

  18. Shannon Keeley on January 25, 2005 at 5:15 pm

    Speaking of schedules and not sticking to them. . .
    The baby is napping and this is my time to work, I’ve even got a looming deadline hanging over me, and I can’t seem to focus! Now that I’ve just read Kristine’s “Snow Day” post, I feel like I should throw all “to do” lists to the wind. . .

    I spent the morning at the park with my 15 month old daughter. I had lots of other plans to go to the post office, deliver eviction notices, etc. etc. etc. But the weather was so gorgeous, and I had just gotten Keeley a new pail and shovel, so I blew it all off and went to the park.

    There was a group of severely disabled children there with their teachers (this amazing park was designed so that handicapped kids could play one the same equipment with other kids.) One young boy was disabled and blind, and his teacher was helping him feel his way up a ramp. He came to where another little boy was playing, and reached out to touch him. The teacher explained that the boy was “seeing” him with his hands, and to my surprise, the other little boy didn’t seem to mind all that much.

    The little boy’s grandmother explained, “There’s all kinds of ways to get through life.”

    Amen to that. Some of us need dayplanners and notes taped to our foreheads (I need both usually.). And some of us just ramble through, barely knowing our next step. Watching disabled children play at the park definitely wasn’t on my task list for the day, but I’m really glad it happened.

  19. Rosalynde on January 25, 2005 at 7:23 pm

    Shannon, that decides it. I’m packing the kids up tomorrow and coming to LA. Expect me on your doorstep after noon, and have the buckets and pails ready.

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