If I were writing a heartwarming, Hallmark-esque family movie, I might include a scene where a little girl who used to wish for snow days returns to her hometown as a single mother, watching her young son participate in the same ritual. Snow days prove fleeting, but one magic moment of whispery white powder, a sled and a perfect shared memory lasts forever.
That scene came to life on Tuesday when an unexpected holiday snowfall canceled school in Baltimore and many other districts. I remember being a kid in this very same area, literally begging then-Superintendent Alice G. Pinderhughes through my little clock radio to shut it all down so my sister, friends and I could spend the day sliding down our hilly street on sleds, “borrowed” cafeteria trays and whatever else would sail us either to unprecedented thrills or our deaths.
Having spent a lot of my adulthood in South Florida — a place with zero snow days ever — I was excited for my 10-year-old son, Brooks, to experience the ritual of getting some weather-related free time. But, since moving back to Baltimore in 2020, we’ve had only one big snow, and that happened during virtual COVID learning so he was home anyway.
I was afraid that climate change had made that frivolity impossible and snow days would be just one more tale from an ancient time, like corded telephones and spending an hour waiting at Blockbuster Video for someone to return “Titanic.”
But then it started snowing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and kept going all night. By Tuesday morning, the planned two-hour delay had become a full-blown cancellation. And the young boy, who’d already gone into the basement to retrieve the sled he’s never really used, was pulling on his little lumberjack flannel and standing by the door.
I slapped on my boots and gloves and followed.
It made me realize there’s a lot about school cancellations I had never considered, especially in terms of their impact on anyone but kids who were giddy to play a little hooky with the assistance of an act of God. I never really thought about what it took for my parents, in the day of all in-person jobs, to have to leave the house in the relative arctic chill walking past sleepy teenagers ordering gravy fries in their PJs.
I also never considered what it took, as an adult, to prepare for snowy, possibly treacherous drives. The most I ever had to do was dig my dad’s car out of the snow so he could drive in with my mom and we could all go to Pizza Hut later. (We returned to find that someone else had placed a chair in that space that we dug because it was closer to their house. That chair was removed, and we parked there. Baltimore rules.)
In my gravy and pan pizza coma, I didn’t parse the logistics of navigating a snowy, soggy commute, trying to anticipate the traffic and degraded conditions. And I certainly didn’t imagine the tricky dance of child care. When we were little, we just stayed all day with the lady who used to keep us after school, and, as teenagers, we cozied up at home with the cable and fries.
When we were pleading through the air with Superintendent Pinderhughes, all we were thinking about was missing that algebra test we were maybe not all that prepared for, and not about the bind that not knowing about closures put us in. Baltimore City always seemed to be the last local district to decide to close, and we were also the only ones without school buses, relying on the MTA, our feet and our parents, if possible. In those pre-cellphone times, we’d be standing on our coverless stop on two-hour-delay days, hoping the bus was going to arrive at some point.
As a parent, it’s even trickier. I am privileged to be able to work from home when necessary so, when school is canceled or delayed, I can take the time I need to make it all work. For parents who can’t, waiting by the phone, TV or app to see if you’ll have to make arrangements to get the kid to school and still get to work on time, or if you have to find somewhere for them to be all day, is its own source of stress.
I am not an education or transportation expert, but I saw that Baltimore County, which is not far from my home in the city, canceled school Monday night, while the city first announced a delay and then didn’t cancel until about 6:15 a.m., the same time that kids might be headed for the bus stop, where they have to make connections. Again, I was personally OK, but that’s not the case for a lot of families. All I can say is that more notice is better.
Still, we wound up getting that snow day, and the boy was so excited about getting out there in the fluffy white wonder. It was still a workday for me; I had a WJZ appearance to make from my living room and this column to write.
“Can we go now?” he asked. This was all new to him, and when you’re 10, there’s snow and you can see all the possibility out of your window, now needs to be now. So, after I was done with TV and he helped me shovel, we did indeed head to the nearest hill so I could snap some photos of Brooks and that precious sled zipping down. The second time, he gave me his hand.
“I want you to come with me,” he said, and my deadline-oriented heart both melted and grew three sizes like the Grinch. For five minutes, I stopped thinking about work, or whether I looked silly at 52 stuffed behind my son, or if I was going to topple over. I kinda did, and you know what? We just sat in the snow, warm and laughing, shook ourselves off and kept going. His giggles were delicious. They could probably heat a whole house with their giddy power.
It took a few years to get us this perfect snow day, and I don’t know if the climate is going to allow us many more. But I’ll never forget this one.