Family Matters

‘Snow Day’ in Seattle. Worst Hit by the Storm: Mom and Dad

Snow days used to be cause for celebration when we were young, but now parents have to figure out how to work, watch the kids — and fit in some sledding.

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Anthony Bolante / Reuters

Seattle children pull their sleds as snow falls in Maple Leaf Park in Seattle on Tuesday.

Snow day. Are there two more exasperating words for parents in the English language?

In Seattle, where forecasters are hyperventilating over a mammoth snowstorm that could blanket the Emerald City with an entire year’s worth of snow in a mere 36 hours, kids — and hence parents — are on break indefinitely.

The funny thing about snow in Seattle is how a little goes a long way. The totals that people are freaking out over are hardly impressive by Northeast standards. In an average winter season, Seattle gets 5.9 inches of snow compared to New York City’s 26.7 inches or Chicago’s 37.7 inches. But it’s precisely because Seattle’s not used to getting dumped on that the meteorologic hyperbole has escalated: the Northwest is getting “hammered”; its cities are “hunkered down.”

MORE: Blizzard Babies: Snow Can’t Stop ‘Em

In truth, the snow — which has now tapered off, though it may start up again — drifted down lazily, in delicate flakes that layered into powdery piles. There are 3 ½ inches on my back deck, hardly enough to rival the 320 inches that have fallen this season in Valdez, Alaska, and muscled its way through one house’s front door. It’s the first time in years that Valdez has closed its schools because of snow, but who could blame them?

Seattle, on the other hand, started school two hours late on Tuesday due to slushy remnants from the inch or so of snow that fell Saturday, then declared a two-hour early dismissal. It amounted to a whopping 90 minutes of academics for most kids that day; my son didn’t even end up making it to school as his bus was recalled.

Counting Monday’s Martin Luther King holiday, many of us in the Seattle area are embarking today on Day 3 of Working with Kids. There’s no clear end in sight. Because the city isn’t used to dealing with snow, it doesn’t have a substantial fleet of plows. To make matters worse, while Seattle doesn’t have San Francisco’s reputation for steep inclines, it’s actually every bit as hilly. Until it’s safe for school buses to ply their route, schools will likely remain on lockdown.

That’s got kids celebrating while parents cringe. As I wrote a few years ago:

Snow days used to be the ultimate reason for rejoicing. Before the age of the Internet and mass e-mail notification, I remember rising early with my brother to press our ears to the stereo speakers, waiting anxiously to hear whether our school was in session.

Learning school was canceled was license to start gathering the snow boots, the gloves, the ski pants, the ingredients for whipping up an impromptu batch of snow creme.

Snow days were pure bliss, welcome reprieves from the daily grind of classes.


Now I’m a parent. Snow days make it awfully hard to concentrate on getting work done.

Of course, that’s the fringe benefit of writing about parenting and its struggles. Snow days rank right up there on the frustration index, and I got to chronicle that in real time. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have some snow crème to make.