Fourth grade was a bad year for me. I went from the loving embrace of Mrs. Minnis, a woman who defended my left-handedness by loudly telling everyone in class that her husband, an artist, was also left-handed, to the cold-fish grip of Mrs. Mackrel. Honestly, I don’t even know if that was her name. It might have been Mackle or Mackel, Mackeler?
But I know she was old, a year or so from retirement, and her hands had large blue veins. Every day I went from her boring classroom to a loud room down the hall marked LD. There were kids in that room I’d never seen before, kids I didn’t know went to my school, kids who threw things and yelled, kids who did not speak. I was supposed to go there daily to work on my handwriting and my math. It would have been bad enough even if Jack Jones (not his real name) had not decided to tell me one November day what LD stood for.
That night in tears, I asked my father if it was true, that I was learning disabled, retarded. My father said he didn’t find labels helpful and I went to bed knowing that it was in fact true, I was retarded. The next morning there was snow on the ground, almost unheard of in November in Louisville, KY and from that moment on the worst year of school became the best. There was a Thanksgiving blizzard, followed by snow in December. Louisville, KY is not like Chicago or New York, or honestly, any other normal place. Louisville persists in seeing itself as a southern city and so, like other southern cities, it refuses to buy appropriate snow removal equipment. The merest hint of snow can shut everything down for days.
That year, the early snow combined with a teacher’s strike, proved my savior. Days away from taunting classmates and confusing classrooms gave me room to recover and breathe. The next year, when I was moved to a different school for advanced placement classes, instead of LD, snow days were possibly more important.
We have a popular idea that those of us who grew up in the 1970s all spent our childhoods running in traffic, eating Oreos, and watching TV. That wasn’t my experience. I was over-scheduled and organically fed before it was cool. Violin lessons and Hebrew School twice a week (three times if you count Sundays), a house devoid of junk food except for Tab, summer camp and tightly controlled schedules.
But no one could control snow days. On a snowy night, I would watch the news and pray to see Jefferson County Public Closed scroll by on the bottom of the screen. If it didn’t, then the next morning I would stay in bed, radio on, eyes squeezed closed, hoping the DJ on WACKY would say the magic words. Then, the choice, do I turn over and go back to sleep or bounce out of bed to make the most of the day?
TV, food, freedom. There was no one to tease me (well, except my sister) and with my parents at work no expectations at which to fail. Even in college, school would occasionally be canceled for snow and the feeling of freedom and release would make me giddy.
It’s one of the things I admire about my hometown, the ability to just stop. I think about that now that I’m in the most midwestern city, the city that works, or well, in a suburb of the city that works. I remember when my kids first started school hearing that our school district NEVER closed and being sad for them.
When my daughter was in first grade though, there was a blizzard, and school closed. I don’t remember what we did, except that we met another family for lunch at a restaurant we could both walk to. The next day though, everything was shoveled and clear and while others were happy to get back to work, I cried because no one else seemed to have a need to get off the path for a while.
Every year since then, blame Obama or blame climate change, school has been closed at least once a year for weather. People write op-eds about the wimpification of our culture. Parents complain. I hear parents and others try parse what causes the schools to close some days and not others.
I get it. I’m trying to work here, too.
But, I’ve decided that this year, I don’t care. Maybe it wasn’t cold enough yesterday and it is today. Maybe sometimes we cancel school when really, we probably could have gone. But we also hear all the time about how over-scheduled and over-pressured our kids are. We don’t hear quite as much about how over-scheduled and over-pressured most adults are, but they are.
Snow days are different than vacation days. Vacation days you plan for, vacation days cause their own level of excitement, yes, but also stress. Snow days are uncontrollable and unpredictable, and maybe, the idea that sometimes you have to stop, sometimes you have to let nature or a superintendent or something else be in control is just as important a lesson for adults as it is for kids.