I woke this morning to a 2-hour school delay. It’s getting to be a Tuesday tradition around here! But other than some mild trepidation about whether my 3-year-old would tear the house apart while I was outside shoveling the driveway, I am relatively relaxed about it. This has not always been the case. But I feel like I’ve reached a pretty good place on winter weather and still getting my stuff done.
Many years into my parenting journey, I have become obsessive about winter weather checking. When heavy snow is forecast, I have learned that there is a good chance that the schools will be closed, or delayed, or dismissed early. This means my children will be home. And while I have a back-up layer of care for this (full-time nanny coverage!), if the weather is bad enough to prevent the school buses getting through, it can prevent anyone else from driving to my house either. Also, it’s a lot harder to work with the big kids underfoot. If they’re home at unusual times, they’re not inclined to think “hey, I bet mom would like to get some work done. I should refrain from bothering her!” One example: my 10-year-old just stopped by my office to ask when the books he’d ordered would arrive via UPS. He is also bouncing a ball. Loudly.
Hence the obsessive winter weather checking. If I know ahead of time that bad weather is on the way, I can plan my work to account for it. (One reason I am posting this now instead of making any of the calls I need to make — calls which would not be helped by the sound of a bouncing ball).
This generally looks like this: On Friday, I figure out what I have due over the next week or two. I try to figure out how much time these tasks will take. Then, if inclement weather is forecast, I aim to get anything that is really time-sensitive done ahead of time. So if snow is forecast for Tuesday, I schedule anything that has to get done that week for Monday. That way, if school is canceled Tuesday, and then also Wednesday, it’s OK. If snow is forecast for Monday, I’ll often try to get the week’s time-sensitive work done over the weekend. My husband knows to take the kids — because I’ll most likely be covering the week days. If I don’t manage to get it done ahead of time, I break things up into smaller chunks and assign a time to them: after the 3-year-old goes to bed, doable in 20 minutes while Go, Diego, Go! is on TV, etc.
(A question: Why am I responsible for snow days? This tends to be the case when one parent works from home, though it’s important to make sure the split is not so lopsided that the work-from-home party’s career starts suffering. If the weather were bad enough to preclude my husband getting to his office, then he would be just as much on the hook as me. Though I have found he has a sneaky way of flying out ahead of snowstorms for meetings in some non-snowy place. Of course I should note that I did that to him two weeks ago — flying to San Francisco just in time for us to have two snow days in a row.)
That sort of triaging is fine for solo work that can be done at any point. Obviously, not all work can be done like that. I evaluate any calls I have coming up on potential snow days and see what category they fall in:
- People Who Will Be OK With Kid Noise
- People Who Will Not Be OK With Kid Noise or
- People Who Would Probably Be OK With Kid Noise, But This Is A Live Radio Interview or some such.
If the latter two categories, I’ll suggest other times for the call. Or maybe take my chances. Theoretically, the 10-year-old could watch the 3-year-old for a bit and I could still do something requiring no kid noise for 10-15 minutes. However, I try not to do this if at all possible, as I’ve found he’s not a reliable caregiver. The 3-year-old will do something not nice, like throw a truck, and the 10-year-old will come yelling to me. (Of course, if our nanny is here, she’ll just take everyone in the basement or outside for the duration of any important calls. If I were taking off for a trip and my husband was gone, I would probably ask her to stay over the night before a potential snow closure so I would know for sure she was here).
Sarah and I were talking on the podcast about this topic recently: noting that snow days in snowy climates are what Donald Rumsfeld might call “known unknowns.” You don’t know for sure when they will happen, but you can be pretty sure that they will happen at some point during the winter. Best to plan for them. A lot of work can be done ahead.
Though not all! Sarah does not live in a place where it snows, but if she did, she couldn’t suddenly see her patients on Sunday if there’s bad weather forecast for Monday. And while snow days might be visible on the horizon, other winter woes don’t fall into that category. You don’t know whether or not your children will suddenly have a stomach bug on Thursday. That’s why people who do need to report to an office on their work days, with very limited work-from-home options, often wind up going the nanny route rather than daycare. Sick kids can’t go to daycare, whereas a caregiver who comes to your home can care for (mildly) sick children. That’s straightforward for young kids, but many people give up their nanny when all the kids are in school…only to learn that they still need coverage. Because school is not reliable childcare. Hence the popularity of au pairs. And living near extended family.
And, of course, trading off with a spouse. Maybe one party is responsible for problems on Monday and Tuesday, another party for problems on Wednesday and Thursday. That way, each party knows to schedule anything that has to happen on the days his/her spouse is scheduled to cover.
Anyway, we’re already deep into winter, and we’ve come through the first major winter storms on the east coast, so I’m guessing most readers with kids have already thought about these matters, but if not, consider this a reminder to think about it: what is your winter back-up plan? How will you stay on track with your projects as snow days and sick days pile up? There are lots of options. One genius one for weather: finding a responsible high school student sitter who lives in your neighborhood. He/she will also be out of school when school is canceled, and could walk over to watch the kids for a few hours. It won’t be a 100 percent work day, but it will be better than nothing.
A retired neighbor might be an option too. Or another neighborhood parent who you might be able to trade coverage with. If he/she has more during-the-week flexibility, you could take his/her kids on the weekend in exchange.
What’s your snow day/sick day plan?
Photo: Un-shoveled driveway early in the morning