Amy Umble writes about family issues and kid-friendly events.
Parenting post prompts controversy
Last night at Wegmans, I had what seemed like a brilliant idea for a blog post–on the cost of snow days. Flakes were just starting to fall from the sky, and I was buying about $100 worth of groceries, anticipating having all three of my children home for the next few days. Two of those children are teenage boys, who seem to eat nonstop whenever they’re at home. My oldest son has sometimes eaten three dinners and still requested dessert. And for some reason, snow revs up their appetite even more.
I pictured a funny blog post, with a serious side note. I gulped at the grocery bill, but I was also very aware of how fortunate our family is. Most of that grocery bill came from buying fresh fruits and veggies for my family. And while we’re not flush with cash, we could afford the occasional extra cost. But I have written stories about families living in motels, and I knew that these snow days weren’t a laughing matter to them. These families rely on free breakfast and lunch that their children get at school. And while I might roll my eyes when my kids get grumpy from the change in their routine, I knew how lucky I was that we live in a three-bedroom home, so they could be separated at times during the snow days.
Additionally, I’m incredibly fortunate to live 5 miles from my parents. And to have a job that can be done from home when needed. Last year, while chatting with a source about something else, I learned that parents sometimes pay $70 for day care on snow days. And families with kids in day care or preschool who don’t – or can’t – use it on snow days still have to pay the tuition.
I didn’t picture the response I got when I posted a request on Facebook, asking for people to chime in with their own costs. I expected some funny complaints about how much kids eat when it snows. Or how they use a lot of electricity watching movies all day. Instead, my request ignited the firestorm of a controversy I didn’t even know existed as people started talking about students’ safety and how some parents like spending time with their children.
So I thought I’d try a different blog post. First, I never intended to questions schools’ decisions to close. As an education reporter, I would never publicly criticize the schools based on my personal experiences. But I can also tell you that as a parent, I don’t privately question these decisions, either. I have driven all over the area and I am well aware that roads are very different and in very different conditions even in good weather. I am also aware that school officials get up at 4 a.m. to monitor inclement weather. I wouldn’t want that job for anything, so I’m not going to second guess the people who do it. I was just looking for a different story besides writing for the 50th time this winter, “School is out and officials will later decide how to make up for the time.”
And I’m not going to defend my parenting. I love my children. My oldest turned 17 this weekend, and I am very aware of how fast the time goes – and how little time we have with them. That said, my oldest has profound autism. These snow days have thrown him off his routine. Also, he attends Chancellor High School, so lately even when school has been in session, his routine has been ruined by bomb threats and school evacuations. While I love being with him, I would prefer to save him from the anxiety he feels over the significant disruption he’s experienced this winter. And I know there are many, many families who have experiences like this. We aren’t all cozy and playing board games with our children. Some parents are stressed because of finances. Or they are single parents doing the best they can. And the stress of snow days is just one pressure too many. But this isn’t a complaint against the schools. If a tornado came through and destroyed my home, I’d be upset about it – even though there’s no one to blame.
Also, like many other parents, I don’t get snow days off. So far today, I have done two interviews, checked in with a school system about snow days, emailed several sources, written two blog posts and one story. And I’m working the late shift tonight. It’s a bit stressful to do this while taking care of three kids. And I’m lucky to have that stress – I don’t know what I’d do if I had to report to work in person today. But many parents do. And the costs they incur to go to work aren’t small. They are costs they don’t usually have because their kids are typically in school. It isn’t calling school “free day care” to acknowledge that.
I am so glad that so many parents enjoy these snow days. Here at my house, we’ve been having a lot of fun, too. We don’t get to play in the snow as much as I’d like – my oldest son can’t be left alone but doesn’t like the snow. But we’ve been painting pictures and playing with window gel clings. We’ve had a marching band with oatmeal-container drums and a singing competition. We’ve watched DVDs. And we’ve eaten way too many chocolate chip cookies. I’d love to hear more about the fun you’ve been having; that would make a good blog post, too. And hopefully that one won’t come with controversy.