Commentary 10 Feb 2010 12:43 pm

A rare, unscheduled gift

 snow1

I had to go waaay back in the archives to Dec. 14, 2006, to find this column on snow days (or calamity days, as they are more properly called). Since most area schools are out because of the weather today, it’s appropriate to share a leftover:

The season’s first flurries have fallen, and children’s thoughts turn to … snow days.

Snow days, the Shangri-La of the American education system, a day salvaged from the drudgery of reading, writing and arithmetic by the happy union of Mother Nature, Old Man Winter and their offspring — Snow, Ice, and (the newest arrival) Wind Chill Factor.

We’ve only had one good dusting. The day after came nowhere near meeting requirements of a snow day here, although some neighboring districts were blessed with one.

Nevertheless, what child could resist the temptation to stay up later, blow off homework, or offer up a prayer that the following morning would dawn with his school on the cancellation list?

It takes a saint to avoid that temptation, and most saints grew up in warmer climates. They probably wished for sand days, instead.

Judging from the jubilant cries that ring from every rooftop (or, more likely, every child’s bed) when a snow day is announced, you would think school children are subjected to every kind of cruelty, toiling in Dickensian sweat shops of sadism that make sufferers echo Pink Floyd’s mantra, “We don’t need no education …”

As a teacher, I would like to think this isn’t the case, that school is a good experience, a place to learn, socialize, and even have fun. So why the near-universal chorus of hoorahs for cancellations?

I believe it has more to do with the unexpected nature of a snow day, the fact it is a rare gift, unscheduled and beyond the control of know-it-all adults. On a snow day, a newly emancipated student can do almost anything — sleep until noon (but who wants to waste the day sleeping?), shovel snow, shovel food into one’s mouth while watching eight straight hours of television, or even — Egad! — catch up on schoolwork.

Whether the time is squandered is immaterial. It is, after all, a snow day, and you will be no further behind for wasting it.

Like most special occasions, an entire body of superstition and tradition has built up around the snow day, as students plot ways to wish them into being.

One superstition is to go to bed the night before with underwear and pajamas inside out. The hope is that the following day will be equally turned around — hence, no school.

A second is to place a photo (for slackers) or an effigy (for overachievers) of the principal in your freezer, putting the deepfreeze on the person most kids assume is responsible for calling off classes. Since that duty rests most often with a superintendent, it makes better sense to put a picture or Zuni fetish doll of him or her in the icebox, but kids are more familiar with principals, so in they go, instead.

Under no circumstances should the word “snow day” be uttered the night before one may occur. This is a jinx of the highest order and makes school a virtual certainty. For the same reason, teachers who plan for snow days (”Class, if we aren’t here tomorrow because of the weather, your test will be Friday instead of Thursday”) will reduce their likelihood to nearly zero percent.

The weather has to be really rotten for most working adults to benefit from snow days. Hence, the first things most grown-ups think of when they see snow flying in the evening is how will it affect the morning commute, will the car start in the cold, and where the heck is that snow scraper, anyhow?

How different their thoughts would be if they expected to turn on the radio or the TV the next morning and learn work was canceled!

I like my job, and I like being at my job. But sometimes, when the night skies threaten and crystalline flakes plummet earthward, I consider all the things I might do with a surprise day off, and the 10-year-old lurking inside me pops out.

I’m a lot smarter than the average 10-year-old, though.

I place the Bible and the entire yearbook in the freezer. Somewhere between those four covers is the responsible party, and I like keeping all my bases covered.

Furthermore, wearing my underwear inside out means I can wait an extra day to change them.

One Response to “A rare, unscheduled gift”

  1. on 10 Feb 2010 at 1.Cassandra Dalton said …

    I love this, it made me laugh really hard so my mom and sister looked over at me like I had lost my mind.

    And the truth about snow days and why students desire them so much is not necessarily because we hate school. My 11 year old sister who would attempt to go to school with pneumonia cheers for snow days along with me and my brother, who are far less enthusiastic about school. The reason I believe is because it lets us know that sometimes even the big bad school administration can’t always have their way and force us into our desks when our brains are not yet awake enough to function properly.

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