February 10, 2016 by Julia
You might think, uh, Maryland…that’s the place with the decorative crabs everywhere, right? Chesapeake Bay? Yes. But there is more. And it is not as mild as our name, relative smallness, and wobbly, uncertain state line might suggest.
Our winters get cold enough to make you wish you’d never formed extremities in your mother’s womb. Our summers will frizz your eyebrows and fry your brain. An earthquake shook our house once, when Jack was one week old. The week after, a tropical storm hit, which I struggle not to put in sarcastic quotation marks, because it was just a bunch of rain and wind, even if it was technically a “tropical storm.” Also, a mini-tornado destroyed someone’s garage in our county a few years back.
Residing as we do next to the Atlantic, and marking the space where the northern states meet the southern (a place where civil rights, the democratic party, and progressive thinking typically win out, but it’s not unusual to see a Confederate flag in someone’s car or front yard), we get a regular buffet of Extreme Weather. When kindergarten teachers review the qualities of each season, they could use stock photos of my neighborhood. My sister and I have grown up feeling very strongly that each season should match the expected the qualities. I don’t expect that either of us will feel compelled to move to Florida in our old age.
But one of the weirdest things about Maryland is our response to forecasts of snow, which I hear is not the usual. If we were a place where snow is rare, like Alabama, it would make sense. You’d think, as we run around like a bunch of headless chickens screaming through our sliced necks that the sky is falling, that it’s our first time at the snow rodeo, that we’re a bunch of snow virgins. What is this white stuff? Hunh? What the…guys?! Check it out! It’s cold when you touch it!
We got dumped on by Blizzard Jonas a few weeks ago, and in true Maryland tradition things shut down before the flurries even began. The milk and bread aisles at the grocery store were empty five days beforehand. And none of us really knows who is buying up all the milk and bread! We all think it’s ridiculous. It must be the worst kind of people, rushing the aisles at the crack of dawn, fearful and hoarding. People who watch Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil religiously. Also, Wheel of Fortune. (Okay, okay. The doctors DO offer valuable insights at times and watching them doesn’t make you a bad person.) It’s silly! Isn’t it silly? Yes, we Marylanders agree that it is. Still, somehow, it happens. It happens even for a measly two inches of snow.
In some ways, we aren’t totally crazy. Sometimes we are buried in heavy wet drifts that no one knows what to do with.
Apparently, it takes us a lot longer to dig out from major snowfall than the states and cities that are known for snow. But you know what? Twice a year, I go to visit my old Maryland friend Sarah in her current home of Chicago. She’s been there for around thirteen years now, and she grew up in Maryland, so she’s lived both sides – the tough, “we couldn’t care less about the foot of snow on your car, and you better be at work or school on time” attitude of Chicago in stark contrast to our childhood home state. I was there this past weekend, actually. I like to go in the winter because as you can imagine, airfare to Chicago is cheap in February, and because in both states, our winters are long and we both need a pick-me-up about halfway through.
I told her that I was trying to write about Maryland and it’s silly ways. I told her that I’d adopted the outraged tone of many a parent around here who’s had it with the constant school closures, but that I couldn’t quite make the outrage work, because I realized that although frustrated complaining is another one of the rituals Maryland parents go through, one in which I have participated since the first year of parenthood, I no longer feel anger.
Seven years ago, I used to be angry about the excess of Maryland’s snow and cancellations. I was miserable about it. Thankfully, Facebook was still new enough that people weren’t totally over public venting sessions yet. My angst was more about the shock and sacrifice of becoming a first-time parent than anything. Snow days were a prime example, along with weekends, of “things that are no longer guaranteed breaks,” and I was bitter about the loss, maturity and gratitude be damned. For my entire life in Maryland, up until Fiona was born, snow had meant a delightfully lazy retreat from the routine of school, and then work. But as a stay-at-home parent to a demanding toddler (aren’t they all?), it was like getting in snowed in at the office, without the benefit of co-workers to keep you company. I depended upon playdates and outings so much at the time that I was scared of what might happen without them.
And during the heavy snows, it was impossible to predict when we might be able to get out. Now, with Fiona in second grade, and Jack in part time preschool, we can never tell how long it will be before they go back to school. With the recent blizzard, schools closed a day before the snow was even due to begin, as though blizzards suddenly strike with no warning – Nothing, nothing…nothing…AAAAAAHHHH BLIZZARD!!!!!! Where ARE THE CHILDREN?!?! – and then stayed closed for an additional, entire week, with two weekends as buffers. Once you accounted for MLK Jr. Day, an admin day, and a sick day, my kids had a longer break in January than they did for Christmas.
But it’s changing for me. Partly because the kids are older and need me less, it’s true. Partly because I’m thinking this all the way through to the end, now, and I am realizing that maybe all these snow days don’t have to be such a difficult or foolish thing. That our state could spend more money on snow removal, but why should they, when that money is already being used to meet other important needs?
The more I read on the subject, the more I realize that the U.S. is on a treadmill that never stops. Now that work reaches into every crevice of our lives through technology, it’s becoming harder to switch gears from work mode to home mode. That doesn’t apply to me exactly, because I don’t work outside the home, but our cultural obsession with speed and productivity does affect me profoundly. I often feel overwhelmed by the kids’ activities, by all the texts and appointments and emails and projects and errands and planning. And so on. And on.
When it snows, things quiet down. No rushing to the bus stop or driving Jack to school just to pick him up two hours later. My phone stops dinging. We dig a little deeper into the pantry for food instead of heading out to get more. We have time for play. We can stay in our pajamas all day, if we like. The kids force us outside to sled, which I dread at first because it’s so much work to bundle everyone up and trudge through knee deep snow, but once we are out there, I am glad they begged for it. Especially on the first day, things are so clean and wondrous and magical that I am rejuvenated. It’s lovely. Almost as lovely as the feeling afterwards, when we’re all dry, warmed up with hot chocolate and a family movie, proud of ourselves for taking the kids out and showing them how to go top speed down the neighborhood’s biggest hill, screaming all the way.
On a snow day, there is time enough for it all – the housework, the vegging out, and the “quality time,” whatever that means for your family. Usually it’s the part that gets cut out of our busy days first: having actual conversations. Playing with toys or making something together. Cuddling. The most rare: each doing what we enjoy, side-by-side, no one fighting or stressed out.
My friend Sarah in Chicago said last weekend that she misses all of this, and wishes there were established snow days where she lives. It’s funny, because I had assumed up until our conversation that other snowy cities scoffed at us for our constant cancellations and inability to keep moving, through all the snow. But I suddenly realized that I wouldn’t prefer the tougher mindset, either. Despite all the complaining over the years, I…actually…like…snow days at home with the kids now.
Yeah, a totally unpredictable winter school schedule probably isn’t great for their education. But there is something of value in waking up to the surprise of snow on the ground, and a day off to spend how you like. Their delight makes me happy, too. Such days build up our reserves for the days when we have to go nonstop. And the memories will stick with them. Mine do.
This is a good thing for families. Pockets of free time are a rare commodity these days.
So. Remind me of this the next time I start to grumble about another “ridiculous” school cancellation. Parents who have to scramble to find childcare because their workplaces honor no such snow policies – you’re totally allowed to complain, cause that sucks. But I’m not allowed to. Oh fine, yes I am…I will never deny anyone their right to complain. But you can remind me of how good I have it, and I will nod and say, oh yeah! instead of wanting to punch you for saying so. (Everyone remember how these conversations are supposed to go, now.)
No one thinks about the mid-Atlantic states all that much. I’M HERE TO CHANGE THAT. Just kidding. Carry on with your own bad selves in your own tough or wimptastic states, and figure out what you actually love about your home that you thought you hated.