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As snow days multiply, the magic fades

Cabin fever is one of those things that sneaks up on you, then it overwhelms you, and all of a sudden you can't remember that moment — not too long ago — when the words "snow day" sounded like the most magical thing in the world.

As winter storm begets winter storm and snow days beget snow days, many Massachusetts families woke Tuesday morning to another day handcuffed by Mother Nature. In the past eight days, many students had only been to school once.

"My Facebook page [on Monday night] was full of parents just wailing after the announcement went out," said Liz O'Donnell, a mother of two in Dedham. "They're saying things like 'I can't take it anymore,' 'There's not enough wine.' 'Don't people expect us to have jobs?'"

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One of her friends, in an effort to actually get some work done from home, had her husband tell the kids that she'd gone to work, then hid in her home office and had her husband sneak food and drinks to her.

"Whatever it takes to make it through the day," said O'Donnell, the author of "Mogul, Mom and Maid," a book about the balancing act of the modern woman. "This isn't the time to sweat things like screen time."

Screen time, the balancing act of modern parenting, has been, for many, a savior for their sanity and that of their children. When cooped up day after day, iPads and televisions allow parents to have such luxuries as a shower. Maybe a meal that's not eaten over the sink.

"I'm actually disappointed that my kids aren't watching as much TV as we'd like," joked Odessa Holt, a mother of two small children in Rehoboth. "They're too antsy. I'll say, 'Let's watch a movie,' and James" — her 5-year-old — "will just start bouncing around the room and literally start climbing things."

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Instead, James built his own iPad. Out of Legos. Complete with an imaginary "app store" inside it.

Limits on screen time are also out the window for many parents. Holt's husband, Jordan, said he's appalled at how much time he's spent staring at his own screens while snowed-in with the kids. "I've been hitting Facebook like crazy, and I've gotten that sick feeling where you can't stop scrolling down, like there's maybe one more good one. It makes me feel gross."

Of course, there are the old-school forms of burning off hours. Puzzles. Board games. Playing cards. "I'm on a 13-game Connect 4 winning streak," said Jamie Gallagher, a teacher at the Carroll School in Lincoln who has been home with his three young children — 6, 5, and 2 — in Dedham. "We've tried some other board games, but it's hard for the 5-year-old."

So there have been a lot of Legos. They've watched "Peabody and Sherman" five times. And they've been taking baths in the middle of the day just to break it up.

"There's just so much snow outside that it's tough to move out there," Gallagher said.

And that is the problem with these snow days. The ideal of "let's take the kids to go play somewhere" is very tricky with the record-setting amount of snow that has been dumped on the state. Roads are a mess. Snow banks are so high that sight lines are dangerous. Many sidewalks are unplowed, forcing you to walk in the street or plod through the huge drifts, an impossibility for smaller children.

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Odessa Holt took her 2-year-old, Meriwether, out into the snow. Once. She hated it. "It took forever to get her ready, then she took a few steps, got stuck in the snow, and just burst into tears."

So she filled a Tupperware container with snow, brought it in the house, and let Meriwether have her snow day fun inside.

Billy Baker can be reached at billy.baker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.