Editorial

The late, great adult snow day?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Granted, the concept of the "snow day" for adults is not quite as wondrous and alluring as it may be for the school kid.

A snow day once was a gift from the meteorological gods, the announcement of school cancelation in a child's mind heralded by a host of angels playing the Hallelujah Chorus on golden trumpets, accompanied by twerking unicorns.

It was a get-out-of-jail-free card, a mini-Christmas, even if it had to be eventually paid back in the most extreme of cases by the ultimate indignity, the Saturday half-day school makeup day in May.

A snow day allows for a precious extra hour of sleep, the rare luxury of watching an episode of "The Price is Right" on daytime TV, comfort food such as mom's macaroni and cheese, and a rush to the closest venue for sledding or a snowball fight, followed by the inevitable bloody nose and hot chocolate with (and this is a must) miniature marshmallows. In the cocoa, not the nose.

I have hardly seen any children outdoors all winter, so the dynamic may be changing.

Instead of building snowmen and snowforts, I suppose they now post memes of snowmen on their Facebook and Pinterest accounts, their faces pressed into a cellphone while never venturing from under a fleecie on the family sofa except for necessary trips to the bathroom, which is the one thing they haven't yet figured out how to do online.

Personally, if you had to be indoors and poking away at a keyboard, I figure you might as well be at school. What kind of snow day vacation is that?

The real joy of the snow day, I think, isn't a day off school. Kids get two of those every week that mostly go to waste. ("Mom, I'm boooored!") The snow day represents a departure from routine, an unscheduled reprieve, getting away with something. A day to which the usual rules do not apply.

Snow seems to be more feared and dramatic than it used to be, perhaps because of advancements in weather forecasting that force us to anticipate and fret over impending snowmageddon for up to two solid weeks in advance.

It is Iowa, and it is winter. Snow, ice and wind really shouldn't come as that great a shocker.

What used to be a "snowfall" is now a "winter storm." What used to be a "snowstorm" is now a "blizzard." What used to be a a trip to the store for an extra loaf of bread and gallon of milk just in case is now "The Storm of the Century," at least until next week's Storm of the Century.

We've become more cautious, which I imagine is good. School is sometimes called off before or without a single new flake of snow falling. I have yet to hear the kids complain about this trend.

For the adult, a snow day is more problematic. If their work isn't canceled, there may be a mad rush to find a babysitter or get a job absence wrestled from that boss who expects you at your work station at 8 a.m. sharp even if the entire world has come to an apocalyptic halt.

Having the little darlings home all day is joyful - for about an hour. By lunchtime, Mom or Dad will be trying to barricade themselves into the spare bedroom while their offspring are bouncing off the walls.

Much of the wonder of the snow day has worn off by adulthood. There are the realities of the driveway to be cleared, the pressure of twice as much that will have to be done tomorrow, and the worries over high heat bills and whether or not the power lines might blow down.

If there is a poetic beauty to snow (debatable in my opinion), it has started to wear off by puberty.

New York magazine's The Science of Us recently did an interesting article on the phenomenon of the disappearing adult snow day.

With the rise of technology and telecommuting, more and more workers are expected, or even contracted, to work from home when they can't make it into the office. Days that several years ago would be spent hanging out with the kids, sleeping in or vegetating in front of the television are now spent plugging away on the laptop and emailing back and forth with the work computers.

"Snow days used to be a windfall," said David Harrison of the University of Texas's McCombs School of Business. "They used to [think], I don't have to work. And now they're not."

Telecommunicating has made work more efficient, allowing many to connect with work on a weekend, holiday or vacation without having to even be in the same hemisphere as the office.

But there's evidence that telecommuting has brought with it some not-so-hidden costs, too, says the article. A 2012 Bureau of Labor and Statistics paper suggests that the practice has "become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers' needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees."

In short, the lines between working and not working get ever more blurred.

A recent survey found that only 25 percent of American workers with paid vacation actually took it, and of those who do vacation, more than half admit to spending some of that time working when they are supposed to be off.

Some may have no choice in the matter, some may love what they do so much they can't bear to leave it, and some may just be in such a workaholic rut that they no longer know how to step away.

In a world in which actual time not working has been shrinking for decades, the article suggests that for us northerners at least, the snow day had been the last excuse for a worker to not be a worker for a little while.

The last escape from responsibility. The sign from above not only suggesting a break, but forcing one.

Kids, enjoy those precious snow days while you can. And adults, mourn them.

I hope you at least took time away for a cup of hot cocoa.