Last Wednesday night, after huge snowflakes fell onto my otter hat and melted in my eyelashes – I had just aggressively boot-plowed my way to and from the grocery a block away – Joe and I received nearly-simultaneous texts, automated calls, and emails telling us that the girls’ school would be closed the next day due to weather.
In the past, when I was part of a newsroom staff, this pronouncement would immediately set me into action. I’d message the owner of the girls’ old preschool, humbly asking if the girls could crash there for the day. (Thankfully, the answer was “yes” every single time.) We’d load their backpacks with their favorite toys and games and books; make them each a lunch; and then, more often than not, Joe and I would have them climb onto a sled, and we’d pull them to the local Montessori on foot. (The girls thought this was the best thing ever, by the way.)
Yes, I’d often end up working at home that day, anyway; but as many contractors know, trying to work at home while taking care of young kids is beyond pointless. It’s like cleaning up the kitchen while also cooking a multi-course meal. And honestly, I loved having the occasional day at home to myself.
Now, though, two years after my layoff, and in the midst of a month-long freelancing drought, the thought of taking them to their former preschool never crossed my mind.
I was even kind of looking forward to spending the day with them.
And let me tell you, that marks a substantive shift in thinking. I used to feel resentful and anxious about these kind of situations; how they, by and large, fell to me more often than not. After all, I was the one with the part-time journalist job (though I worked off the clock ALL THE DAMN TIME), while Joe had the more demanding, high-stakes, high responsibility litigator gig. On paper, it was a no-brainer.
But I still resented it, and worried that the girls would start climbing the walls after a few hours, and turn on each other and me shortly thereafter. Because this wasn’t what we were all accustomed to. It wasn’t our routine. So such situations previously filled me with maternal dread.
Of course, this was when the girls were younger, and needed me for every little thing, and my responsibilities – at work, at home, at the girls’ school, etc. – constantly threatened to swallow me whole and re-make me into a joyless person I didn’t recognize.
Now, however, Lily’s 9, and Neve’s 6. They can entertain each other or themselves for stretches of time; they can put buckle their own seat belts, tie their own shoes, and pull a chair across the kitchen to get a cup out of the cupboard. And sometimes, they even like to do the things that I like to do.
Like sleep in. (Ahhhhhhhh. The stuff toddler parents’ dreams are made of … )
That’s how our girls’ snow day began last week. I mean, it wasn’t anything crazy, but even a half hour or hour more sleep than usual feels like decadence.
The girls had slices of pumpkin bread for breakfast; they got out the airbrush magic markers they’d gotten as Hanukkah gifts the night before, and they used stencils to make pictures for an hour, while I read sections of the NYTimes at the kitchen table; they each had their half hour on the iPad, playing games; they bundled up, and I drove them to the nearby sledding hill, where the sunshine and lack of wind made conditions perfect; we came back, turned on the fireplace, drank cocoa while wrapped up blankets, and read a chapter or two from the new, illustrated edition of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”; I went to pick up hummus, bread, and smoothies from La Marsa for a late lunch, which we ate picnic-style in front of the fire; and we played twenty questions, with me lodged snugly between my two girls, noshing on the leftovers.
At that point, Joe came home to relieve me. And I did have holiday-related errands to run, so I drove off to do them (leaving Joe with the admittedly tougher load: getting the girls showered and having them clean up the airbrush marker stencil mess in the kitchen). But I’d had a really, really lovely day with my kiddos, which ended with all four of us on the couch watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Part of the pleasure of the day, of course, stemmed from the fact that working from home can be a profoundly lonely thing. You can start to feel like, with each passing day, you’re forgetting how to interact with others in the world, and that no one values your voice or presence any longer.
But Lily and Neve were so unabashedly content to spend Thursday with me that I felt buoyed. They weren’t badgering me to take them somewhere or buy something new. They just wanted to revel in the simple pleasures of being at home with me, and each other, on a day they’d otherwise expected to spend in a classroom.
Even more than that, though, on my end, was this: the day had the feel of a prototypical girls’ day spent, for the first time, with my daughters. No, we weren’t going to the spa or seeing a rom-com at the cinema; but when I snuggled up between them in front of the fire, sharing a blanket and a styrofoam box of hummus, a calm came over me that often only occurs in the company of my closest, far-flung girlfriends (whom I now rarely get to see). The kind of comfort and fulfillment that arises from not simply being accepted for who I am, but from being downright adored for it. I experienced the warmth of being around girlfriends who want nothing from me but conversation, companionship, a sympathetic ear, and maybe some laughter.
This snow day gave me hope that as the girls get older, and go through inevitable adolescent phases wherein they despise and condescend to me, we may come out the other end somehow being friends.
We can’t be friends now, of course. I have to be a parent – a guiding hand that will inevitably make decisions they won’t like.
But it’s nice to think we might have more fun, life-giving girls’ snow days together in our future.