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Being snowed in with young kids tests parents' creativity

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9, 2010; B01

The attack from the western front has grown more intense in these waning hours of daylight.

A heavy barrage of Lego pieces flies through the air, answered from the east by a hail of dry pinto beans.

It is Day 3 of Snowmageddon, and the parents of young children are growing weary.

We are bruised, haggard and completely out of ideas for crafts, stories, puppet shows, cookie recipes and projects.

For lots of us, a string of snow days like this one is really akin to being cast in a survival reality show. Or working KP duty in a battle unit during the first World War.

Just a moment, a very tiny first lieutenant needs help adjusting his swim goggles.

Okay, I'm back.

Some of this really made us closer as a family. For example, in my home, we made fantastic chocolate-chip peanut butter cookies using dump trucks (my trick to get the boys to bake with me), we started on class Valentines, we cooked our own chicken soup, drew Chewbacca and Darth Vader, created a toy launcher out of a PVC pipe and a slingshot, and watched a movie about sea dinosaurs.

And then we ate dinner Friday. And then there was Saturday. And Sunday. And Monday.

On my way to pick up the boys after early dismissal from school Friday, I listened to a radio broadcaster predict the weekend's complete snow-in and shutdown of the city. He said it would be a good time "to just stay home and get to know your family."

He sounded thrilled to be able to spend some quality time with his sons. Or are they daughters?

There are some folks who got to know their families, and even their neighbors, astoundingly well over the weekend.

In Kensington, one friend tells me, the power gods eenie-meenie-miney-moed the neighborhood so that about half the houses lost power. And no snow plow has come through yet, and the utility company is estimating that the juice isn't coming back on until 2 a.m. Thursday.

So they've doubled up, one family hosting another. They worked together to get a 90-year-old woman out of her cold, dark house and onto a sled. They then whisked her away to the closest plowed street so her daughter could pick her up. One family had six other families over for dinner on Monday night.

I was reveling in the stories I'd been hearing from neighbors out there about kindness and community when a 3-foot-tall man who insists on being called The Sergeant asked me to help him pierce his juice box.

Oh, yes, I'm breaking out the juice boxes. I even turned on the television, and I've stopped picking up the toys.

The snow is fun, sure, but when the children are little, it's only a small part of the day.

We found a great diversion at the home of Miles Pulford, 5, whose dad created a cool snow slide off his back porch on Capitol Hill.

There was a fort built at Stanton Park, and folks slid down the west lawn of the Capitol grounds on baby bathtubs, trash can lids, inflatable dinghies, the bottom half of an Exersaucer and even a couple of actual sleds.

But in about an hour, mittens fall off the younger one (one mom online suggested replacing mittens with socks for their staying power and another admitted to Duct-taping mittens onto her toddler), and the older one gets snow down his back, and it's time to return to the house.

While I trawled around on the Internet for more indoor project ideas, my sons were glued to the TV.

"Mom! Did you know that Trix cereal has swirled flavors and Danimals has a crush cup that you can CRUSH?!" my older one ran over to report to me, his eyes as frantic as a Saints fan on Bourbon Street.

"They talk about food and TOYS on this television," said the child who, until snOMG 2010, had watched only DVDs or commercial-free television.

I came across the digital woes of one pregnant mom who complained a bit about how tough it was in her condition to be home with a toddler during the storm. This lone comment ignited an online mommy war, where a person assumed that the exhausted woman was a working mom who is "climbing the walls at the thought of playing with the young children you willingly created," and added that she doesn't "deserve sympathy."

I backed out of that one really fast. Judgment from any side is never productive.

But I know that all these parents have some great ideas about how to keep kids occupied without parks, museums, gymnastics classes and so forth. So I asked for help.

"Food coloring and snow . . . very fun combo . . . (but beware gloves will not be the same again)," one mom told me.

Hmm, I like my gloves.

"Lady Gaga dance-a-thons," suggested another.

We did that, only it was to the Descendants.

"Indoor bowling with recycled bottles!" from another.

Okay, whatever.

I'll tell you what not to do: Teach them to count to 100 using pinto beans.

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