News of an impromptu winter break from school sent shivers of excitement through brother and sister Lofton and Gia O’Groske.
But for their working mom Katie O’Groske, the initial reaction was pure panic: “What are we going to do for day care?”
“I am still stressing out,” said O’Groske, whose children, ages 7 and 12, are off school for three days this week.
Like the O’Groskes, families across Minnesota are relying on a patchwork of plans to make it through this dangerous cold snap that’s led to dozens of school closures spanning the better half of this week.
Parents are telecommuting, taking paid time off, asking grandparents for help and leaning on friends. Some youth programs are offering emergency child care. For instance, the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is offering emergency child care at its north Minneapolis location for $12 a day per child.
Many parents in Minneapolis and St. Paul are navigating their cities’ safe and sick time ordinances for the first time since the laws went into effect in 2017, guaranteeing paid time off for most employees.
The O’Groskes each took a half day off Monday, with dad going to the office in the morning and mom working in the afternoon. Katie O’Groske, who works at Bremer Bank and cannot telecommute, then jumped on Facebook and found a friend with children willing to collaborate.
The Coon Rapids resident dropped off the kids at her friend’s house on Tuesday. She’ll return the favor and stay home with the children on Wednesday.
To make sure this unprecedented vacation is fun, she’s planning a sleepover, baking and crafts for the kids.
Despite the stress, she thinks Anoka-Hennepin school officials were wise to close schools because of the dangerous cold.
“They are doing the right thing,” she said. “It’s keeping our kids safe. We will all work it out.”
'A happy dance'
Eagan mom Angela Cahill was refereeing an indoor game of football with her four sons on Tuesday morning, her infant daughter crawling amid the commotion.
For Cahill, a stay-at-home mom, the break means some unscripted family time.
“I’m excited. These unexpected breaks are really fun,” said Cahill, as she prepared a lunch of peanut butter and jelly for her crew. “We all figure out something to do and it's almost more fun when it’s unplanned. It’s the surprise factor.”
So far, they’d been playing games, listening to music, doing artwork and rehearsing skits the boys created.
She said her sons, ages 9, 8, 6 and 4, are ecstatic about their time together.
“One of the them did a happy dance with a song about a five-day weekend,” Cahill said. “That was the best reaction.”
The only real wrinkle: church and other family activities have been canceled, too.
“Now, we just get to hunker down and be at home,” she said. “But we still have hockey. Hockey has not been canceled.” Of course.
One downtown Minneapolis firm has invited employees to bring their children to work. The Colle McVoy creative agency has staff and teenage sitters organize games, crafts and movies in the agency’s cafe.
“It’s almost like a polar vortex day camp,” said Jen Stack, Colle McVoy director of communications.
It allows employees to get some work done and know their children are supervised and having fun, Stack said.
Colle McVoy CEO Christine Fruechte came up with the bring-your-kids-to-work idea back during the polar vortex of 2014.
“She is our wonderful, caring leader who thinks about these things and knows how hard it is to be a parent,” Stack said.
Grandparents help out
Wayzata working mom Julie Hansen said she’s fortunate that grandparents are eager to watch her two kids, ages 11 and 13.
She’s hopeful time with Grandma will mean less screen time.
“They are obsessed with electronics,” Hansen said. “I don’t want that to be the babysitter.”
Alica Whitmore, outreach coordinator at the nonprofit Prepare + Prosper, brought her daughter, Eleanore, to the office Monday where she helped with brochures.
For the safety of its employees, volunteers and clients, the nonprofit closed its doors Tuesday and Wednesday. Whitmore used the paid time off to take her daughter to the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park at Mall of America on Tuesday afternoon. They were joined by other families from around the metro who had the same idea — turn the polar vortex into a mini-vacation.
Whitmore, a single mom from Minneapolis, said she’s grateful to work for a place that accommodates families.
“I do love that about my job. They are really flexible,” she said.