Snow day! As snow begins to pile up on my driveway this Sunday night the channel 6 weather lady cheerfully declares, “The storm is beginning to build.” A strong-front is approaching from the southwest meeting a cold-front from the northwest and converging and shaking hands in North Idaho to bring the great possibility of heavy snow to my hometown. This possibility proves true.
Understanding the impending snow day, I toss and turn in my bed Sunday night, finally rising at 3:45 a.m. to let the dogs out. Turning on the television, I realize I am hours away from discovering if the roads are too difficult to travel and schools must be closed to protect the children of our community from an unsafe condition. Patiently I wait.
Infomercials of copper pans and fancy pillows entertain me as I sit, blurry-eyed on my couch, for the morning news to offer weather prognostications of a storm realized or diminished. Finally at 5:45, the news comes. The storm will continue and school is canceled for the day. Literally or figuratively — I’m unsure — I hear thousands of kids scream in pleasure all over town. At exactly the same time, instantaneously, I hear thousands of parents all over town scream in unison, noooooooo.
As the principal of an elementary school, my day is just beginning. I head to school to ensure students are not dropped off by parents who did not receive the news, text my staff informing them of the day off and catch up on meetings that need canceling. After a few hours at work, feeling the loneliness of a quiet and cold school, I lock the doors, set the alarm and head home.
On my drive home, I begin to think of snow days of my childhood. I think of being cold, lonely and afraid. Winter is not a happy time in my life as a kid. My family is poor and winter without money feels extremely chilly.
My parents are frigid and offer little warmth in the winter. “Get dressed and go to school,” is offered by my father with little support when I ask, “How do I stay warm?” For mittens my brother, sister and I wear mismatched socks on our hands and Wonderbread plastic bags secured with a rubber band at the top attempting to keep our ragged sneakers dry to little avail. Wearing two of my father’s shirts over my T-shirt provides external warmth, but internally, I freeze from the nasty and hurtful comments of friends.
Being cold hurts the poor. Warm clothes are expensive. Buy a pair of mittens or four loaves of bread. Buy snow boots or feed the family for a week. The decision is easy but the result leaves scars. I fully understand as an adult, the pride of my parents not to accept a “handout” and the desire to make it on their own, but as a child, I pay the price. Public ridicule, hurtful comments, dismissive looks and smirks from teachers inform me that I am less than, not important; that I am poor.
Today I still struggle with this issue. I believe a handout is a gift of pity that diminishes the receiver while bolstering the ego of the giver. I hate when someone gives to improve another’s life, then demands or expects publicity to celebrate one’s philanthropy. This work is more about the giver than the receiver. I love when a gift is given anonymously with no expectation of celebration or thanks. This is true giving.
I am not sure what the right answer is. This is a question for our society. To give to a family that is down on their luck or, a family that does not do what is necessary to support their children — gifts or presents to help the family’s children feel wanted and warm — or deny the family of these gifts because a family should support itself? What is the right answer? Maybe it should depend on the feelings of the child.
Send comments or other suggestions to William Rutherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit pensiveparenting.com.