There's something about marshmallow mounds of snow that brings out the temporary insanity in us all. Television stations extend newscasts with inch-by-inch curbside coverage; people have an overwhelming desire for bread, milk, and eggs; SUVers seem to drive a tad more recklessly; and children resemble possessed beings from the planet If-you-were-in-school-you-wouldn't-be-eating-every-10-minutes.
The snow day: God's little snapshot of what life would be like if the total chaos theorists were right.
It starts the night before. My son announces at the dinner table that he is not going to do his homework because he won't have school tomorrow. My wife, always the quintessential optimist, glares across at him. "Do you see Mickey Mouse sitting at this table?"
"Because you must think you're in Fantasy Land if you think you are not going to finish your homework tonight."
Then, when it normally takes a team of Clydesdales to get my fourth and sixth graders out of bed on a school day, they are up poking my forehead at 4 a.m. to tell me it snowed and asking do I think school's closed.
By 6 o'clock we know that schools are closed. By five minutes after 6, the kids are screaming to go sledding, and the television news is giving us no less than 1,500 different views of snow.
Our dog, a dachshund, refuses to go out because the snow is higher than he is, so my wife suggests I shovel him a path. I give her a you've-got-to-be-kidding look. She shrugs her shoulders and asks if I would rather clean a mess on the kitchen floor.
So I'm shoveling a path to our dog's favorite spot in the backyard when the snow shovel's handle snaps in half. After about 20 minutes staring at the broken shovel, I trudge to the shed and pull out a rake and - using it upside down - finish the path for the dog, dig out the cars, and clear our sidewalk. I am using a garden spade to clear the front steps when our next-door neighbor asks if I want to borrow his snow shovel.
Not to appear utterly ridiculous and pathetic, I decline his offer - saying something brilliant like this was how they did it in Sweden. I then go into a long, completely unintelligible explanation that was so disjointed that all my neighbor could do was smile, wave, and walk away.
As I finish snow raking, I see my neighbor from down the street. He's using his snow blower on the sidewalks in front of only certain neighbors' houses for reasons that are beyond my understanding. All I know is that, from the sky, our street must look like Morse code.
Back in the house, the kids are literally jumping off the walls to get out in the snow. So, after an hour and a half of bundling up, out they go. Two minutes later, my daughter comes in crying because my son hit her in the face with a snowball. She doesn't want to go back outside.
Fine, I say, stay inside. Less than two minutes later she's complaining that she's bored, there's nothing to do, there's nothing to eat, there's nothing on television, she has no one to play with...
"Outside!" I yell.
It's lunchtime and we haven't seen the kids for hours. I call them in. Both are soaking wet and - with blue lips quivering - swear that they aren't the least bit cold. There are more clothes on the kitchen floor than crumbs as the kids eat their lunch and then settle in front of the television and videogames for the afternoon.
With a sigh I look out the window and then step outside to re-rake the snow that the kids dumped, kicked, and threw back onto the sidewalk.