NEW YORK -- At 4 p.m. Thursday, Claire Brown Goss, a pregnant working mother of two, learned that her town of Ashland, Mass., planned to shut down its schools on Friday in anticipation of this weekend's blizzard. Ten minutes later, she received a call from her babysitter who lives a few towns over, so she, too, had to cancel.
The mother works as a part-time teacher and writer, and is losing one day's pay. "Now I have to cram some work into the 60-to-90-minute nap that my 2-year-old gives me," Brown Goss said Friday, shortly after her son and 4-year-old daughter fought loudly over a cardboard box. "It's one of those situations that most parents find themselves in. The clock starts running the second he falls asleep."
She added, "I haven't showered yet today."
And so goes the familiar scramble working parents face as the first flakes of snow fall from the sky. It's particularly grueling for parents who can't find -- or can’t afford -- childcare on snowy days. Luchina Fisher, a mother in New Fairfield, Conn., put it this way: "My husband went to work and left me with three boys!"
As the blizzard, unofficially named Nemo, began to wallop the East Coast on Friday, hundreds of schools shut down or dismissed students early. In New Jersey, about 16 school districts and eight schools shut down. In New York, 780 schools and districts shut down, while New York City, which has the nation's largest school district, kept schools open but canceled after-school activities and Saturday classes. Rhode Island's governor declared a state of emergency in advance of the blizzard, a move that led most schools to shut down. Many more schools in Maine, Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts also canceled classes.
Fisher's area, just north of Danbury, Conn., is expecting 21 inches of snow. School officials announced Thursday night that classes would be canceled for her two older boys. Friday morning, they canceled daycare, leaving Fisher's 2-year-old with nowhere to go. So far, her boys have one simple complaint: they're bored. "As long as each one has something to occupy themselves when they say, 'I'm BORED,' we'll be fine," she said.
Cheryl Stober, a working mother stuck at home in Newton, Mass., had a similar problem: While on a call with her co-worker, she got her first "I want lunch" interruption. At 9:13 a.m.
While snow days are often exciting for kids, parents struggle to fill the gap. That process becomes tougher in a school year like this one, when Hurricane Sandy led to the closure of schools for a week in some districts. The combination of Sandy and snow days can also eat into vacation plans, since most states have a required annual minimum of school days. New York City canceled three teacher vacation days in light of Sandy, and turned a June half-day into a full one in order to reach New York State's 180-day minimum.
Deborah Skolnik, a senior editor at Parenting, is snowed in with her daughters in Scarsdale, N.Y. The school district already missed so many days during Sandy that it had to take away a vacation day. Skolnik said she suspects that's why the school district called for a half day Friday, instead of shutting down. But while her 9-year-old's elementary school is within walking distance, her 12-year-old had to be driven there and back, a trip Skolnik was worried about making in the snow.
"I had the shame of calling the school and confessing I am a snow wimp and I was too afraid to drive," she said. Her middle schooler spent the morning working on a fluorescent orange poster about cloning, featuring a double DNA helix and Dolly the sheep, while Skolnik did some work and made stuffed cabbage.
This fall, the Ardsley, N.Y., school district canceled a week of school for Sandy, putting Ellen Gerstein, a publishing executive and mother of two, in a bind. Her husband, a financial analyst for a law firm, took the last three "the kid is sick and somebody needs to stay home days," she said, so on Friday, her son and daughter played with an iPad and watched "Bubble Guppies." Gerstein didn't want to make her babysitter drive in this weather, so she spent time between work calls reading Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus with her 6-year-old son.
She asked: "When you want to go to work, that's a bad sign, right?"
Teri D'Angelo contributed reporting.