The XX Factor

Snow and the Working Mom

Across the entire Northeast region, thousands-no, tens of thousands, at least-of working women, faced last night with their 4,000th snow day at home with the kids so far this year, put their heads in their hands and sobbed. Is it always the mom, in every family, who stays home for the snow days, or does it just feel that way? Even when both parents work, dad-who has, as we’ve noted before, not chosen his career based on flexibility-is somehow that much more likely to be out of town, or have the scheduled surgeries or the unmissable meetings. It’s mom who scrambles, calling friends (“But wouldn’t it make your day easier if Jacob had someone to play with?”) or “working from home,” which too often means muting ourselves on conference calls  so that our colleagues can’t hear the Phineas and Ferb theme in the background, or the constant rustling of snack bags as we try to keep kids happy and sated.

This incredibly inequitable state of affairs calls, of course, for someone to blame. Which leads to the snow conspiracy theory: That schools, who hate working mothers, cancel intentionally and as often as possible, usually in ways specifically designed to cause the most inconvenience, such as the “cancel school at 11:30 after the kids have been there for two hours and we can get credit for the day” ploy, or the bait and switch morning “delay” that turns, ten minutes after you’ve shifted your work schedule back by two hours, into a full snow day, and the patented “wait to cancel until 6:45” rule, which requires that you awaken the children and start them on the process of getting ready, only to find that all you’ve really achieved is doing yourself out of the extra half an hour during which you might have been able to cancel your day in peace while your little angels slept.

Of course it’s not true, not any of it, not most times. Schools cancel largely because school buses can’t cope with snow, and anyone who’s been in one can see why. Teachers and administrators are often working parents themselves. And, I suppose (this grudgingly) much of this problem comes from our American Protestant work ethic roots that prevent a snow day from being a snow day. If the point is that we’re supposed to stay off the roads, then unless our career involves clearing those roads, shouldn’t all those indispensable meetings just be … dispensed with? Shouldn’t we all just roll over, take a moment of gratitude for a solid roof, a full oil tank, and a good blanket, and sleep until it’s time to break out the sleds?

Maybe after the recession.

Photograph by John MacDougall/Getty Images.