Snow days don't come any better than this, I thought. The homework and laundry were done, and through some fluke of luck I had arranged to work at home before anyone knew of the blizzard in store. My 12-year-old daughter bounced out of bed Tuesday morning, and the phone immediately began to ring.

"I'll meet you at Lincoln Park. . . . How about like 9:30?" She looks at the clock; it is 9:30. "Well, like 10."

She and one friend set off with a sled. I sit down to work. Every time the phone rings, I say "Lincoln Park" and hang up. The snow is still coming down steadily.

Two hours pass. They must be freezing, I think idly. Then I hear a noise at the door. It is Marina. "Hi, Mom!"

Behind her stand a few familiar, rosy-cheeked faces. Let's see--one, two, three--oh, my--nine friends. That added up to 10 adorable, cold and wet 12- and 13-year-old girls.

I learn later that they'd gone to the park, then went back to one girl's house to call another friend to find out where she was and she had already gone to meet them so they went back to the park, and then two of them wanted to go sledding at the Capitol, so they went, and the others followed, picking up more on the way.

"Hi," I say. "Everybody come in at once so we don't let a lot of cold air in."

They all begin to disrobe: 10 pairs of snow-covered boots, 10 pairs of soggy gloves, 10 dripping hats, waterlogged jackets, scarves, wet trousers and snow pants, and nine pairs of soaked socks. (One child is not wearing socks. I happen to know her mother is out of town.)

It was time to survey the supplies. Only four servings of instant hot chocolate left and not enough milk to make real cocoa. I offer them the instant stuff--tea and soup.

"Marina said we could have pizza," one informs me.

"Marina!" I holler. I'm trying to keep that tone out of my voice, the one I've heard the kids describe as "parenty," as in "her mom and dad are acting parenty." These situations always create inner conflict for me. On the one hand, I am delighted that my daughter wants to bring friends home and happy to warm up freezing children who have been out in the fresh, snowy air. On the other hand, 10 children seem like more than I can feed and there will be a thousand dirty dishes in about 10 seconds and a large lake is forming in my hallway from all the melted snow and I have to finish my work by 4 p.m.

My daughter reminds me that there is a pizza that has been living too long in the basement freezer. The girls drink the cocoa and tea and don't fight over who gets what. Then they run upstairs to borrow dry socks and pants and they take blankets off beds to wrap themselves in and tell each other they look like homeless people. I take all the wet socks, gloves, hats, pants, jackets and scarves and put them in the dryer, sweep up the snow and put down newspaper on which I place all the boots I can find.

I summon them back to the kitchen for pizza. "Okay, girls," I say brightly, "who can figure out how I should cut this in order to get 10 equal pieces?"


They eat the ancient pizza.

"My brother eats raw cookie dough," says one girl, picking at her pepperoni.

"My brother eats raw brownie dough," says another, beaming.

Ten light bulbs blink on around the room. Let's go get some cookie dough! And eat it raw! I think about telling them you can actually make cookie dough instead of buying it, but then I think about what would happen to my kitchen and keep my mouth shut.

A delegation is appointed to go to the corner store. They suit up in the nearly dry remnants of their friends' clothing, leaving the front door open.

"Close the door!" I say. "Please."

I tell the others it is their responsibility to clean up the kitchen, after which they have to go upstairs so I can work. Twenty minutes pass.

The cookie delegation returns, again dripping snow, boots, gloves, etc., and heads upstairs, again leaving the door open.

For a short time, there is quiet. Then another delegation returns to the kitchen with the mission of acquiring 10 glasses of milk and taking them upstairs. In a parenty tone, I say this is not going to happen.

A half-hour passes. All I can hear are gales of laughter, shrieks and loud thumps. I decide not to care, but the thumps keep getting louder. I worry about the ceiling. What are they doing up there, throwing each other on the floor? Stomping the cookie dough into the rug? Dismantling the furniture?

Back upstairs, I announce that the thumps must stop. "Oh, sorry," they say. I see that one child is using my good coat as a blanket. "That's my best coat!" I shriek. "Mom, it's fake fur," my daughter says. I put it back in the closet.

I head back downstairs and try to work. I go to the kitchen and see that they got all their glasses into the dishwasher but apparently were baffled by what to do with the paper plates.

I work for 20 more minutes. The thumps and shrieks and giggles are a little softer. I go down to the basement and get the stuff out of the dryer and take it upstairs, and say in a very parenty tone that the party will be over in a half-hour and they need to clean up the room and put the bedcovers away and make the bed and clean up the cookie dough.

They start coming downstairs and getting back into their gear. "How did your pants get dry?" one girl asks another. "I don't know," she answers.

"Close the door," I say three more times. I explain that I love them all very much but if they leave the door open it lets cold air in and if they can't shut the door I will kill them.

They decide to turn our front steps into a hill by packing the snow over them, and then they will toboggan down it. I say this is fine but everybody needs to go home when they finish this project and not come back into the house.

"I wonder what my parents want me to do," says one girl.

"What did your father say when he called?" I ask.

"He called?" she says.

"Yes, and you talked to him," I say firmly.

She looks up at me, dumbfounded. "I wonder what he said."

They all say Thank You for the pizza, tea and cookie dough, and I think what lovely girls they are after all and head upstairs to write, closing my door to shut out the joyous sounds of frolicking girls. When I emerge, I see the front door is once again ajar.

"Marina!" I am losing it now. "WHY CAN'T YOU SHUT THIS DAMN DOOR?"

"Mom," she says in tones one would use speaking to a particularly cruel dictator who does not know he is about to be purged in a coup d'etat.

"We were going to."