I Believe in Snow Days
Last night was our first real snow of the season and today at 8:30 a.m. my two year old son is ready to race outside and play. We can finally put the hand-me-down snow pants and boots to use and maybe he will stop calling snowflakes “bubbles” every time we read a winter story.
We live near Washington, DC, a hectic city that all but shuts down for winter storms. A native Midwesterner, I first scoffed at the complete panic that sets in here when a few snowflakes fall and at the willingness of the city and entire Federal government to throw in the towel and claim a snow emergency for weather that would not have interrupted a moment of recess on my school playground. But after years of working in the capital city – and working hard like everybody else – I realize it is a little game we all play
I am a former Hill Rat. You may have heard about us or even seen us in the shadows behind Senators making important speeches on C-Span. We are the staff who keep Congress running by researching legislation, answering constituent mail and advising your elected officials on how to vote on billion dollar tax initiatives. Despite what you have heard, we are generally an honest bunch of policy wonks who are dedicated to this country and who truly believe that government can make a positive difference in the lives of our fellow citizens. I certainly did not do the job for over a decade for the money or the lifestyle. I logged 60 to 80 hour work weeks, sometimes waking my former boss up in the middle of the night to drive her to the Capitol for a vote. After 5 years of marriage, my husband and I barely made enough combined income to purchase our home and had to use a special program to assist us with our down payment and closing costs.
But the trade-offs were priceless. I helped people. I solved problems. I played a role in making our country great. After 9/11 and then the anthrax attack on Congress in 2001, I felt that simply showing up for work in the face of danger was a tremendously patriotic act. I did all of this without any recognition. (To this day, you can Google me and the only thing that you will find is a now defunct university institute where I worked during graduate school.) I gave myself completely to my job and in the end that is why I had to leave. It was time for me to pour that same passion into myself, my family and my marriage.
During those hectic times I would pray for a snowfall. Like my grandmother, I became addicted to watching the news and considered the local weatherman my personal friend or enemy based on his predictions. Unlike my grandmother, I wanted bad weather, really bad, snow emergency weather. And then, when only a few pitiful flakes would fall to the earth and melt upon contact, I would start to play the Washington, DC snow game. First, I would say that snow is rare here. (It really isn’t; we get a good 15 inches on average per year.) Then I would say that people in the south don’t know how to drive in the snow. (Actually, we do fine.) More than anything, however, I would argue that the Federal government should declare a snow emergency and shut down the city despite the obvious sunny skies and clear roads.
None of us here are really worried about the weather. Washington, DC has one of the highest transplant populations in the county. Many of us moved here from somewhere else and probably have dealt with a storm or two before. Washington, DC is also one of the smartest and most educated cities. It is chock full of resourceful people who make a living overcoming obstacles and finding loopholes. Don’t forget, we also have a world-class public transportation system that moves thousands to and from work each day. So, why all the fuss about the weather? We need a break. It’s that simple.
Washingtonians work too hard but they would never confess they need to slow down. A good ‘ole snow day allows us to check out a bit. We are like overgrown and overworked school kids who would love an unexpected escape from tomorrow’s biology quiz. I certainly needed those breaks and then one day I realized I needed more.
My husband and I tried to conceive for nearly seven years. Perhaps it was the stressful life, or maybe the universe was waiting for the right moment, but getting pregnant was a lot harder for us than it was for most of our friends. We ultimately made a decision to slow down and rearrange our priorities. We would do anything to have a baby. We both took jobs at non-profit organizations with shorter hours and fewer demands and started saving money for the inevitable IVF procedure. I went to a Unitarian church and prayed for a child. My husband endured a mortifying visit to a urologist to assess his virility. Our love life became very technical and it seemed that my graduate school skills were finally put to use as I graphed and charted the various aspects of my fertility to determine if and when I had ovulated.
Our son was born a few weeks early in a snowstorm almost exactly two years ago. After all that planning and work, he surprised us by showing up on a pregnancy test exactly one day before I was supposed to start a fertility procedure. He came into this world with shocking red hair and a calm disposition that makes him appear older than he is. He was a gift given to us once we slowed down and took a break in our lives. I reciprocated by quitting my job and staying home as a full-time mom.
I never saw myself as the mother of a son. I was going to have two girls (Sophie and Grace, both blond) and be a working mom. They would be hilarious and talkative and we would spend hours decorating dollhouses. Instead, I have a serious boy who doles out hugs like precious resources that must be preserved. Like me, he loves books. He is reintroducing me to the world of trains – a hobby of my father’s that I painfully endured as a child but am now being taught to love. The thing about parenthood is that you can not plan any of it. If I had designed my child, he wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful as he proves himself to be with every shy smile. He is beyond anything that I could have imagined and like a storm, the surprises keep coming.
These days, I am working part-time from home as a government relations consultant for a few really great clients. I am keeping our family out of debt, saving for retirement and college tuition, and dedicating a bit of myself to the work that I still love. For the most part however, I am in the middle of a really long snow day, a break in the middle of my life that has been my happiest phase yet.
My son and I made our first snowman together today. I pulled out my button box and paused to remember the fussy brown suit whose buttons are now our snowman’s eyes.
Instead of working for my country, I am mothering a future citizen. I hope he will do great things someday like stay home with his kids or work to enact paid parental leave. Now content, I wish I could tell the old me and her colleagues that it is ok to take some breaks.
Let it snow.
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