Blizzard makes families scramble Snow daze: When the schools are closed and the sitter can't come, working parents dig out some creative solutions.

January 13, 1996|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

Whenever meteorologists begin their feverish snow forecasts, working parents can feel their blood pressure rise.

For many households, the snow emergency route of the '90s leads directly to child care. All week, working couples and single parents often spent as much time setting up baby sitters as they did shoveling out their cars.

Some working parents forged creative relationships among various friends, relatives, sitters and four-wheel drives. Others schlepped the kids -- heavily laden with snacks, toys and other distractions -- to the office. Some worked from their homes, putting business calls on hold while they attended to the various disputes of cranky housebound offspring.

Linda and Steve Goldberg of Pikesville exercised all options for their 9-year-old daughter Sarah. They worked at home. They arranged an all-day play date for their daughter at a friend's house.

And they took turns taking Sarah to the office.

At Mom's office, the fourth-grader watched "The Wizard of Oz" on the family's portable VCR and killed time talking on the phone with housebound buddy Andrea Smillie.

"I got five concentrated hours of work done when Sarah was here," says Ms. Goldberg, director of human resources development for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Sarah's day with Dad, an attorney for Weinberg & Green, provided more in the way of actual peer companionship. When two other little girls showed up, the trio repaired to the conference room to watch videos and eat popcorn.

Folks at Weinberg & Green refer to snow-day kids as "the young associates," says Eileen O'Brien, an estates and trusts attorney for the firm.

Mrs. O'Brien and her husband Sean, a pediatric allergist, handled the snow situation by splitting shifts on child care. Hilary, a second-grader at McDonogh School, spent half the day with Mom and the other half with Dad.

Many working parents map out child care for school and day-care vacation days several months in advance. However, the you-can't-plan-for-it stuff -- the 101-degree temperature a toddler wakes up with, the snow that keeps the baby sitter from driving -- can threaten delicately balanced work schedules.

Deciding which parent will take responsibility for the child often requires negotiation.

"With us, it depends on who has what commitments and on who has to be where on a given day," explains Mr. Goldberg. "I would call it a seat-of-the-pants thing."

Many parents settle the issue by trying to do office work at home.

Portia White, a test developer for the state department of education, was the stay-at-home parent this week with sons Alexander, 10, and Zachary, 7. Bernard White, who works in production at Proctor & Gamble, managed to get their four-wheel drive car to his Cockeysville job even though their street in Edmondson Village had not been plowed.

Between shoveling and tending to the kids, Mrs. White says, she managed to accomplish a lot of work. On one snow day, a niece who was home from college looked after the boys so that she could struggle downtown to the office.

Home health nurse Linda Diehl has a file of creative child care solutions for bad weather and sick days. As a single mother, she has become experienced at coming up with safe -- and fun -- places for Emily to stay while she visits her patients throughout the city.

The best method of finding emergency child care?

"I network," she says.

Emily often spends the day with an older neighbor or at the houses of other children in their Fells Point neighborhood. A couple of college students who live nearby enjoy taking the 7-year-old sledding in Patterson Park.

Ms. Diehl also has schoolteacher friends in Timonium and Catonsville who can help out -- when the roads are passable.

And, increasingly, her second-grader has begun to broker her own deals.

"Emily often calls a friend and initiates arrangements," she says.

This week Ms. Diehl got lucky. Her father, who happened to be visiting from Rutherford, N.J., was conveniently marooned at her home.

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