A dog and snow dog in Central Park. by the Forward

What’s a Snow Day? Another conundrum of our new normal

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One of the most memorable things that Ms. Hampton, my daughter’s fourth-grade teacher, taught her was the not-so-secret formula for how to summon a snow day. Flush ice-cubes down the toilet, place three pennies on the bathroom windowsill, and wear your pajamas inside-out.

Google also offers numerous variants — in some versions, it’s a white crayon on the windowsill, or an orange one in the freezer, and a spoon under your pillow — and many testimonials to their effectiveness. It helps, too, if your weather app is predicting 100% precipitation and below-freezing temperatures, as was the case here in Montclair, New Jersey, and across the Northeast this week.

Ms, Hampton’s magic formula, of course, is from the Before Times. In our pandemic era, the very concept of a Snow Day has, like so much else, been turned on its head.

My kids go to “school” in their rooms on the third floor of our house. There is no snow blocking their path up the stairs, no buses to worry about safely navigating our town’s roads to ferry them.

And, yet: our school district, which is already in a heated battle with the teachers’ union over how to (finally!) reopen buildings for in-person classes, nonetheless had an abbreviated scheduled on Monday and Tuesday as more than two feet of snow blanketed the neighborhood.

This satisfied approximately no one, and engendered a Talmudic debate — at our kitchen table and in myriad Internet forums like the Facebook group Montclair Mommies and Daddies — over the meaning, purpose, origin and future of this alternately beloved and despised emblem of American culture outside the Sun Belt.

I’ll admit that I have, heretofore, had a very practical and practically Grinch-like approach to the Snow Day, at least in my parental incarnation. I thought of Snow Days as a stopgap that should only be invoked when roads are truly un-navigable or the heating systems in ancient school buildings unreliable.

I believed kids should be in school during the school year, and would get supremely annoyed when administrators prematurely canceled classes at the sign of a few flurries. After all, I was still expected to commute into  the city, trudging through slush to navigate the inevitably delayed train and subways and arrive at my office wet and cold.

What, exactly, was I supposed to do with these suddenly unscheduled small people, who by the way would last no more than an hour sledding or snowball-fighting before presenting themselves, frozen and spent, on the porch?

But, as I have written before, this pandemic has forced us to focus anew on the essence of everything we do. And so I am reconsidering the Snow Day. It seems it may have been less about logistics and more about the collective psyche. Perhaps the Snow Day is a divine answer to the truism that everybody needs a break. Perhaps now, in this endless-loop life of lockdown, more than ever.

Many of my daughter’s classmates wrote as much in heartfelt letters to our schools superintendent pleading for a Snow Day. On Facebook, many of their parents sounded like kindergarteners on the playground as they posted, jealously, about neighboring towns.

Cedar Grove and Verona had Snow Days, why can’t we? North Caldwell was virtual yesterday and off today, West Essex the reverse. Wah! And then, with vague echoes of the rabbis of the gemara, there was a philosophical parsing.

“Montclair kids have less than four hours of instruction on abbreviated days,” noted one mom. “I feel like that allows for plenty of snow play.” Another said she gave her high-school senior the choice — to school or snow — and she chose to go to class. “While it was difficult watching my fourth-grader stare out at the snow falling, she made it thru the day,” this mom added. “She goes out for a bit before school, at lunch & after school to play in the snow.”

And there was more. “Ms. Mommy at the Montclair Livingroom Academy (very prestigious school, P.J. uniform required), says it’s a Snow Day.” One dad noted that now that we all know how to do virtual learning, “the only reason to hold onto” snow days “is nostalgia,” and said he would prefer the school year end earlier in the spring or winter break be extended to having unpredictable weather-disruptions to the calendar.

“There is literally no winning,” wrote my friend who moderates the forum, Danielle Raymond Neff. “We’ve gone over the edge and are abandoning logic and reason.”

But then someone shared this charming video from a school superintendent in Connecticut. Over its delightful (and very well-produced) four minutes, the superintendent, Dr. Rydell Harrison, sings, dances, plays piano, frolics in the white stuff, wears funny hats and an enormous orange parka, sips cocoa by the fireplace, and does a massive belly flop onto a huge snow bank. 

“Close up that computer ‘cause it’s a snow, snow, snow day,” he chirps in the video, which has more than 126,000 views on YouTube. ”We will not be Zooming ‘cause it’s a snow, snow day. Build a fort or angel ‘cause it’s a snow, snow day. Ain’t nobody rushing you, it’s a snow day.”

Imagine, one of my neighbors wrote in our Facebook group, the joy this brings. I’m convinced. The next time the weather app is showing snowflakes, I’ll be wearing my pajamas inside-out. 

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What’s a Snow Day? Another conundrum of our new normal

What’s a Snow Day? Another conundrum of our new normal

What’s a Snow Day? Another conundrum of our new normal

What’s a Snow Day? Another conundrum of our new normal

What’s a Snow Day? Another conundrum of our new normal

What’s a Snow Day? Another conundrum of our new normal

What’s a Snow Day? Another conundrum of our new normal

What’s a Snow Day? Another conundrum of our new normal

Jodi Rudoren is Editor-in-Chief of the Forward. Follow her on Twitter @rudoren, or email rudoren@forward.com


Jodi Rudoren

Jodi Rudoren

Jodi Rudoren became Editor-in-Chief of the Forward in 2019. Before that, she spent more than two decades as a reporter and editor at The New York Times. Follow her on Twitter @rudoren, email rudoren@forward.com and sign up here to receive her weekly newsletter, “Looking Forward,” in your inbox.

Snow Days in the time of COVID

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