When I was younger, I used to get excited about snow days. Although I wasn’t a big fan of winter, snow days almost made winters worthwhile. Even better is when the weather was bad enough that school was called off for the next morning before we even went to bed. Going to bed without turning on the alarm clock was great. But even if it didn’t happen before bedtime, we didn’t mind too much. We’d get up right on time the next morning and turn on the radio and listen intently for the name of our school district to be included in the list of cancellations. Since we were already up, it just gave us a little extra time to celebrate the day.
Whether we found out the night before or on the morning of the snow day, I loved the unexpected release from the usual schedule. It’s not that I disliked school (at least, not most of the time), but I liked the surprise of having an unexpected chunk of time to use for all kinds of fun and exploration. My sister and I had a variety of activities that we enjoyed on these days. Our multi-day Monopoly games, writing letters for our pen pal competition, reading, or baking. We would put music on the stereo and explore the possibilities.
When I had my own family, I still loved snow days. I enjoyed the unscheduled days with my children. My office was located in a neighboring school district, and if a snow day was called in that district, our office was also closed. When the weather looked “promising,” the kids and I could often be found refreshing the TV station’s website every couple of minutes, waiting for the moment when our two school districts would announce closures. Games, puzzles, special menus, baking, and art projects were a few of the activities that we enjoyed on those days. And sometimes, it was nice just to catch up on a few things that had been falling behind. But even when those snow days involved a few chores or tasks, they always seemed a little less burdensome when they were done after being excused from something else.
In Time is Money?, I wrote that there are no savings accounts for time, but snow days at least served as a coupon for some additional time that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. They became my first conscious experience of a gift of time. Whenever the weather graced me with a day off, I had a few projects ready to take advantage of the coupon before it expired. I would also receive gifts of time when piano students cancelled or postponed lessons. Or when my husband would suggest that we go out to dinner, and my afternoon would be freed from thoughts of dinner preparation.
Sometimes, a gift of time doesn’t seem like a gift initially. When I wrote about the burst of creative energy I experienced after a job loss, that was a real blessing, but I didn’t find feel that way at first. I had to get past some of the negative aspects of the experience and begin to see what I could do with the time I suddenly had. It took a while, but eventually, I saw it for the gift it was. A further gift of time came after a move across the country to take a new job (to replace the one I had lost). When I was hired, the job didn’t actually start for nearly a month. With that much time available to me while knowing I had a job to go to made settling into our new home a real pleasure.
Now I live in Taiwan, where we don’t have snow days–ever. Occasionally a typhoon day, but so far during my time here, they only happen on the weekend. Still I find ways to make pockets of time for myself, time coupons that I capture for myself, even though not as often as I would like. Still, there are times when a meeting gets postponed, or a student changes an appointment, and there it is–another gift. Just last week, a student who meets with me weekly, wrote down Wednesday, but thought it was Thursday. So on Wednesday, she didn’t show up at the appointed time. I started work on a project while I waited for her, and by the time I figured out she wasn’t coming that day, I had quite a bit done. We figured things out, and she ended up coming the next day, but even the rearranging of the schedule offered a gift of time, a different perspective of how to use the containers of time I had available, shifting things from one day to another and back. In that particular instance, it is possible that I accomplished more in those rearranged two days, than I would have if we had stayed with the original plan. The gift allowed me to think about those pockets of time differently.
The other thing about living in Taiwan is that school semesters are marked differently. We had classes today, December 25. I personally don’t teach on Tuesday, but while schools in the US are on their holiday recess, we are meeting. We have January 1 off, but then we finish week 17 of our 18-week semester. After I finish grading finals, we have our break, and for Chinese New Year, that break is substantial–about a month. Like any gift of time, I can squander it or cherish it.
This year brings a special challenge. I have a major textbook project that needs to move forward substantially during the break. But I also desperately need to recharge my batteries, to find some enjoyment in the days, and not just run from one to-do list to another. This time, I have to give myself the gift of time. I can’t rely on snow storms or typhoons or cancelled meetings. The gift I need to give myself is to find the balance in those days–to decide what’s important, to arrange the days into containers of time, assign some of those containers to the responsibilities I have, and allow for others to be open to surprise and wonder. The best thing is I don’t have to rely on the weather to give me what I need. With a little planning and creativity, I can give this gift to myself.