A year and a month ago, in the darkest depths of the New York lockdown, somebody started shooting off fireworks from the roof of the building across the street from mine. The pops of the explosions reverberated around the empty streets below, which had fallen silent for weeks on end apart from the scream of passing ambulances. After a few minutes pause, the friendly neighborhood lawbreakers started firing off projectiles again, and this time the whole world around us erupted in cheers. People were screaming with joy.
If I've taken anything from the pandemic, it's that unpredictability—majestic, scary, daunting, exhilarating uncertainty—is one of the most central features of a full life. You cannot thrive, as a human soul naturally seeking joy and wonder, on the monotony supplied by sitting inside and staring at a screen, particularly when the contents of the pixels are things you're forced to look at. Work, school, taxes, digital errands. There will be a lot of benefits to returning to the workplace or to in-person school, but one will be the possibility that something insane, bizarre, and maybe even delightful will happen to you there, or on the way, which might remind you for a moment that life is not a series of repetitive cycles and hour-long blocks on a digital calendar. Life is uncertainty—randomness, and yes, chaos. It means sometimes seeing your plans for the day blown up by weather or circumstance. Sometimes, it turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. The greatest nights out are rarely the ones you planned for months in advance. Is it even possible to get the same level of joy from something you knew all along was going to happen?
All of which makes Tuesday's announcement from the New York City Department of Education so achingly sad. The schooling bigwigs have banned Snow Days, you see. Having been forced into a trial run on remote learning during the pandemic, the powers that be have decided that, if the weather is too inclement for kids to get to school, they should go back to the screens and do their best imitation of April 2020. Fire up the Zoom and start drawing up those multiplication tables, kiddos. There might be a glorious exhibition underway outside showcasing the world's natural wonders and our improbable place in it, an unknowable marriage of fate and circumstance, but that French vocab isn't going to memorize itself. Not every parent has easy access to childcare, but it's hard to see how that problem is solved by keeping the kid at home. Someone still needs to be there.
Of course kids need to go to school. But they also need to go sledding. This is not negotiable. It's not something to be discarded as a dated frivolity from the Before Times. It's not another thing to be sacrificed at the altar of Productivity. And it cannot be replaced by regularly scheduled holiday periods, often dominated by excessively planned and structured activities that are nice but also remarkably similar each year. There is no substitute for the joy you feel as a child waking up and realizing that, on a day you were supposed to go to school and sit in class like every other day, you do not need to do any of that. You get to go outside and slide down a hill in a plastic saucer—mine was purple—and giggle a bit with your friends. Maybe you throw some snowballs. Maybe you get hit with one and feel the icy sting of the world on your cheek. Aren't we all sick of knowing what's going to happen all the time, apart from when we doomscroll fretting about The South African Variant? Dear God, let's take some of our uncertainty back.
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