Usually I would describe myself as snowed under.
Tuesdays are when I live this metaphor.
I get up at 6am (NOT my chosen waking time, not by a long shot), having prepared my lunch AND supper for the day, arranged my books, and gathered clothes for various activities, all the night before. I walk Emma the dog, make coffee and a light breakfast, dress myself, shove everything into my backpack, and head for the train station a few minutes’ drive from my house.
I clamber onto the train at 7:25am, and work for the next 90 minutes en route to London, Ontario. I then walk the 50 minutes along the river to Western’s campus, and my office, where I get ready for a full day of office hours (10-12pm), meetings, teaching (12:30-4:30pm), and personal training before getting back on the train at 7:45pm. On the ride back home I eat my stashed supper, cold.
When I get home around 9:30pm, I’m absolutely cooked through. Emma the dog will probably get a walk before I fall into bed, but that’s it.
Yesterday was a Tuesday, but it was to be a special one. Instead of teaching 12:30-4:30, as usual, I would be taking my undergraduate students to Toronto, via chartered bus, to see Ravi Jain and Why Not Theatre’s intercultural and intersectional adaptation of Hamlet. My graduate class had been postponed to Friday (which was also to be a field trip). I was excited for this Tuesday, and its unique journey.
And then, an ice storm happened.
I gradually woke up to the problem roaring up the great lakes around 6pm on Monday, when the “special weather statements” turned to “winter storm warnings” online, and when it occurred to me that schools across the region could well close for the day on Tuesday. I emailed both my dean and a friend who works in the experiential learning office at our university, and learned that if Western closed, I should without question postpone our field trip. By now it was around 10pm Monday.
I went to bed and tried not to worry. After all, Western ALMOST NEVER closes. (It is like a polar bear: bring on the ice and snow! We endure!) And the bus company had confirmed the trip was a go from their end – nothing to fret about.
Tuesday I woke as usual at 6am and walked Emma. The worst had not yet hit and things seemed oddly calm outside. I watched the Western home page every few minutes, with no change. I prepared to leave for the train station.
And then, at 6:45am, there it was: the announcement we were closed for the day.
Suddenly, it dawned on me: it was A SNOW DAY. I was an adult, and I was getting a snow day!
I did not need to get on the train. I did not need to go anywhere, at all, all day.
Almost instantly, the panic I’d been feeling about messed-up field trip plans evaporated. A wave of relief flooded my body. The idea of staying home on a Tuesday came with such a sense of pleasure, of potential rest, of freedom, that I forgot I’d even worried about the knife the snow day had sliced into my carefully-laid class plans.
So, what did I do with this unexpected gift, my snow day?
First, I sat down with my coffee (tipped back out of my Hydroflask and into a carafe on the stove to stay warm) and emailed the bus company, the theatre company, and the students. I inquired about contingencies, and told the students to stay home, be warm, and check back later for updates.
I emailed colleagues I was to be meeting at 10am, and at 1pm, and asked about rescheduling options.
I posted some stuff to Facebook. (Everyone who was awake and ready for school or work was now at home with nothing, momentarily, to do – FACEBOOK!!!!!).
And then I went back to sleep.
Emma and I woke up again at 10:30am, and lay in bed watching the storm for a few minutes. I thought, peacefully, about how the rest of the day would, or rather could, unfold.
A snow day is like a gift from the universe; it’s a day out of time. Everything is on hold; everything that WAS going to happen today is going to have to happen tomorrow, or the next day, or later. Sometime, but not now. Think about it later. Today hangs in suspension. It’s wide open.
I thought about working; what work needed doing? I always have a long list, after all (see above, re “snowed under”). I decided I’d prepare my Thursday class, something I hadn’t finished on Monday. Then, I figured, I’d see what I felt like.
I made some more coffee and texted my neighbour, who was also working from home. I invited her to come over for cocoa in the afternoon; I said, maybe, I’d make some cookies.
I got an email blast from our local donut shop; they were feeling the snow-day, ice-glazed-road hit, and having a buy-6-get-6-free sale to get rid of the morning’s baking. Amanda and I talked about perhaps taking the dogs up the road to get donuts; this plan eventually went south because the sidewalks became too slippery, but it seemed like the perfect snow day idea.
I sat down at my desk and worked on my prep, leisurely. Normally Mondays are my weekly prep days, and there’s enough to do that I typically start to rush and panic at some point. Today, though, no rush and no panic feelings came: free day, day out of time, meant feeling able to take my time, making time for the little extras, and taking care with them, too.
Around 3pm an email came through from a colleague in the UK, with a final edit of a chapter I’d submitted to him at Christmas. I decided I had the time and space to have a look at it right then and there. The changes requested were minor, and it was a pleasure, on this day of quiet semi-work-semi-leisure, to reread my text and adjust as I saw fit.
I fired the chapter back to him around 4pm, and texted Amanda to come for cocoa. Then I got the cookies (peanut butter) in the oven.
We drank our chocolate, ate treats, and gossiped for an hour; then she went home to watch a movie, and I braved the sidewalks with intrepid Emma the dog. Later, I did a workout on my home bicycle trainer, then prepared a frittata for supper. I enjoyed that with a nice glass of wine.
So that’s what I did on my snow day: I gave myself the freedom to feel its liberty, its time-less-ness. To work and not to work; to enjoy the gift of time I so rarely feel in a world of constant movement, piled-up-tasks, panic over deadlines. I let myself feel out of time’s rush, out of the freight of get-it-done, for a moment. It was incredibly restful – even though it was not a day “of rest”, strictly speaking.
I do want to stop here and acknowledge that snow days, for parents, are a very different thing: kids are home and probably stir-crazy and there’s more, not less, juggling to be done as a result. I can only imagine my snow day with kids at the heel while I tried to prep, manage Emma, and contact field trip stakeholders; I suspect I would have felt a lot less free and a good deal more winded. There may not have been cookies.
What I’m describing in this post, then, is a kind of ideal snow day, not the one that happens for everyone or even captures a common reality.
My gift of a snow day, though, does provide an apt reminder, for all days. It’s a reminder to remember that we are all in this together, as when the ice traps us in our neighbourhoods and invites our shared commiseration and digging out. It’s a reminder that work does not need to be a constant rush, and does not need to be divorced from leisure. It’s a reminder that time does not need to hold us hostage the way it often seems to do. Likely, we can all make even just a bit more time, all the time, simply by shifting our attitudes toward the way time holds us, and our narratives about work and chores and family, in its grasp.
As it turned out, I managed to move our field trip to Thursday with almost no fuss. All that worry on Monday night had been for nothing; on the far side of the snow day, I was able to see that. Which is also, at this tough time of term, a gift.