Free. Time.

In the outside pocket of my backpack, under my Subway-kids-meal-bag packed lunch, I cram my sneakers. The snow will be too deep this morning to wear them, but the thought of wearing my discount-store leather boots that pinch my toes all day burdens me more than switching out shoes once I get to work.

I could drive now, having two cars for the first time in three years. But then I would miss the beauty of freshly frosted branches, of silent flakes floating out of the Colorado sky, of the words tapping into me from my latest audiobook.

I am eating my amped-up breakfast, a bagel with cream cheese, spinach, and two eggs scrambled with red peppers, to sustain me for the late start day and the late lunch day, when my colleague texts me to announce the snow day.

I don’t believe her. Denver doesn’t cancel school, not unless there’s more than a foot and blizzard-like conditions. I check three web sites who haven’t caught up with the news as quickly as her, and then the email from the superintendent pops up and my entire family receives a rare and beautiful gift that cannot be wrapped and yet we open with such joy that it warms our entire house: Free. Time.

This could be so different. We could be part of different districts, just like before, Bruce could be at work, just like a few months ago, and we wouldn’t be all together. It would be my day, mine alone, and I would be crawling up the walls by the end of it, probably using the time to work and clean the house and dig out the driveway and be the person I am for 95% of my life.

But today? I fix French toast with sliced strawberries, powdered sugar, butter, honey, the works! We read Shel Silverstein under a blanket on the couch. Bruce visits a former colleague, helps him figure out a trouble ticket (unpaid, of course), and borrows his crockpot for our Sunday pot roast dinner. I listen, for once, to the girls practice their piano songs. Riona teaches me to play chess and Mythili beats me in a game in five minutes. The girls play Wii, Bruce shovels the walks and driveway, and I ski to, around, and back from the park, capturing the utter emptiness and silence in a way that couldn’t come to me on my frenzied walk to school, where I’d be thinking about my lesson plan, my seating chart, the upcoming testing nightmare… I come home sweating from head to toe, peel off my clothes for a shower, and he waits for me in the bedroom, ready to make me sweat from head to toe all over again… Isabella and I play Sorry, the younger set drives with Bruce and I to the local coffee shop where we have gluten-free pastries and mochas and hot chocolates and play Go Fish and compost our waste and pretend, if only for an hour, we are just like the yuppies who can actually afford this neighborhood. We have freestyle dinner–each person gets to choose what they want, Bruce fries up some ham and eggs to supplement the girls’ inadequate choices, I eat his delicious teriyaki chicken leftovers, and he whips up some instant pudding when the baby requests it because, well, she’s the baby, and, why not? I finalize the girls’ sleepover plans for Saturday and in the midst of texting with the mothers I don’t really know (nothing like the good old days when the girls were young and we actually took time to get to know their friends’ parents), we’re dropped with a mini bombshell.

How dare she ruin my snow day, my gift from God (or at least my gift from the god-of-the-school-district superintendent)? How dare she flaunt something in our faces and snatch it away? But worse, how dare she draw that rift up between he and I?

It is what we don’t talk about and what we always talk about. What he hates for me to bug him about and what I hate to be the one bugging about. How dare she flaunt an easy path for some extra money and take it all away before giving us one dime, all for us to be right back where we started, which is: Can we afford to live this way?

“I’ll look for a job…” He reassures me. “I mean, I’ll look harder. But you know, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have me work and expect all the things you have now. You know–” He sucks in his breath, flips the ham on his plate. “I’m not going to say anything else or I’ll get too upset.”

I know. If he works I wouldn’t be able to ski, or walk, or listen to audiobooks on the way to school. I won’t have neat piles of folded laundry stacked on the bed, ready for me to put away. I won’t have a chef fixing me his latest recipe, or a grocery list with everything checked off. The wood floor will be gritty when I move back the mat to do a yoga video, or I’ll be cleaning that floor instead of doing yoga. I’ll work two jobs and spend my free time transporting three kids to their schools and activities, and we’ll be able to eat out whenever we want and surely pay that hefty price for the piano lessons they so love and drive all the way to the east coast and back because we’ll have the money to pay for it… but at what cost?

The cost of silencing everyone who’s always asking me, “Why doesn’t he work? Where has he been looking? Why doesn’t he do this or try that? How do you do it? Why would you…” I won’t finish because I’ll get too upset.

The cost that would snatch the peace of a family snow day right out from under us. Of knowing that he’ll have a good job with decent hours and enough vacation time to actually enjoy our lives together, just like all those years before.

My day ends with a ping on my phone: a message from a former colleague who didn’t get a snow day, who is tired of everyone bitching about not getting a snow day, and announced it to them all today on the social media that consumes our lives and makes us not have a life. Why is he calling them out on their complaints? Because he remembers the 25 miles I used to ride my damn bicycle to and from work every day, all so we wouldn’t have to try to replace our broken-down van, so Bruce wouldn’t have to work, so we wouldn’t have the damn frenzy of a rat-race life that everyone around us has, all those parents out there who are stressing about delayed starts and snow days and having to fight the battle to bring home that extra buck.

How ironic, he points out in the end, that I was lucky enough to get a snow day today. That I wouldn’t have to ride my bike or walk or ski to work.

In the outside pocket of my backpack, leaving a space for my Subway-kids-meal-bagged lunch, my sneakers wait for tomorrow. I could drive, but why wouldn’t I walk? Why wouldn’t I enjoy the freshly fallen flakes, the peace that comes with early morning movement, where I can rethink my lesson plans, still have time to change them, and know that my husband will drive all the girls to school and fix their lunches and be there for them when the last bell rings and not have the money to take me out to dinner but will have a ten-million-times-better meal already planned?

Tomorrow, the snow will not be too deep. There will be no snow day. No Free. Time. And I will walk. And he will be home. And he will be the happiness that I am lucky enough to come home to.

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