The National Catholic Review

Here in New York, as in much of the snowy rest of the United States, we have not only been sacked by successive winter storms, but are now (at least where I live) being gently coated in freezing rain. One impact on all of us who have care of young children is: snow days!

So far in our public school district, just outside New York City, we've had about seven snow days so far (counting late-start, early-release, and fully cancelled days). And another cancellation or delay is likely tomorrow morning -- and with most of February wintertime yet to go.

My wife and I have fairly flexible work arrangements, but still we scramble to piece the day together when that call comes from the school district at 6:00 AM. It makes me wonder about those great many families, in my town and across the country, whose livelihoods are challenged and even upended by snow days, especially by such a despairing concatenation of them as we have had this season.

Of course many working parents have no "sick days," or their employers do not call "snow days" with the same caution as some school districts, daring many parents to choose between staying home with their children on snow days, or arranging and paying for child care "on the fly." In an era when more two-parent families are probably more likely than ever to have both parents working (by which I mean, working at jobs or careers, because all parents who are actually parenting are by definition "working parents"), and in an era when so many factors conspire to make it more financially precipitous than ever for single parents to miss work (and of course there are many other kinds of family arrangements, with their own distinct challenges and blessings), I wonder if it is worth thinking about how our country treats "snow days" in terms of policies that support family well-being. Here is my off-the-cuff idea: Shouldn't snow days be an occasion or at least an invitation for parents (or other in-home caregivers) to really enjoy an unscheduled day with their children? Should our social and employment policies reflect the importance of parents or caregivers being able to "not work" on school snow days? 

"Snow days" seem to underscore the larger issue of parental/caregiver child care as "invisible" labor in our economy and culture. This is the case even when snow days with my 5-year old daughter teach me, as they invariably do, that this labor of love is of the most divine sort. The seven snow days so far this season have been the domain, in our house, of a pantheon of princesses, fairies, and mermaids, all set free for hours on end by that 6AM phone call and the commencement of the snow day. I love snow days for the sudden and gladsome permission they bring to suspend all expectations for the day, and the way that permission can surprisingly open the creativity (even creative boredom) of an unplanned family day.

I love that about snow days, but I hope there are not too many more this season.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

Comments

Beth Cioffoletti | 2/3/2011 - 8:38am
I asked my sister-in-law, who works at a high level with an international company if she would like to work for Google with all those perks and benefits.  No, she said, because when you work for a company like that, you don't have a life.
Bill Mazzella | 2/2/2011 - 10:23am
Tom, you are talking about the difference between State, Municipal and non-profit workers as opposed to the real capitalists who work for profit driven companies. If the State did not take away funding for school days missed the public schools would have more snow days. This is the reason private schools have more snow days. The tuition is the same regardless. Now that is identity politics.  
IBM at one time was the company to work for with outstanding employee benefits. Nowadays Google, Facebook and Starbucks are employee centered companies. Google is also exceptional in the way it treats its customers. Its company theme is "Do no evil." Interesting company Google. A company built on a sense of goodness as opposed to pure cut throat business practice. I am sure their snow day policies are congenial.