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What Do Working Parents' Do With Kids During Snow?

Mary Jane Pontes had spent two snow days at home with her kids, and she was already eager to get back to work - as a schoolteacher.

''Today I'm sort of wishing that I was spending my day with 22 kids in the classroom instead of my three,'' she said. ''Even they're saying they're sick of it.''

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At least Ms. Pontes could watch over her children without penalty. When a blizzard closed schools Monday and Tuesday from Virginia to Massachusetts, other parents had to make hard choices between going to work and staying home with their kids.

Many parents tried frantically to find a place to leave their children.

''We haven't had something like this in, I can't even remember when,'' says Marsha Cooper, managing director of Caregivers on Call, a New York-based emergency baby-sitting service that was flooded with appeals from parents - at a price of more than $85 a day for in-home baby-sitting. ''Everybody calling in is giving clear indications that the reason is the snow.''

Experts say the scramble for child care during recent snowstorms clearly points out some trends of the '90s: more parents working, more of them single, and simply more kids, thanks to a baby boomlet.

''There definitely are many more problems for families when schools close than there used to be,'' says Thomas Consolati, president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. His own Southern Berkshire Regional School District remained closed Tuesday, after Monday's snowstorm.

''We do get questioned more frequently when we close school, and it's usually because of the inability to secure safe and appropriate child care,'' Mr. Consolati says. ''Parents are caught between ... responsibility at work and responsibility at home.''

Some employers do make provisions for parents on snow days.

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Publisher Little Brown & Co. subsidizes emergency baby-sitting. Judy Graham, director of corporate operations in Boston says that before the company pitched in for baby-sitting in emergencies, employees called in sick to stay home with their children. ''We wanted to be honest with people, and we wanted people to be honest and up-front with us,'' says Ms. Graham, whose own 13-year-old son accompanied her to the office Tuesday when his school closed. ''I think there's a real uplifting of morale when companies do this.''

At Boston-based John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, employees can use two personal days, then take vacation days when their children's schools are closed.

''The real dilemma with snow days is that they arrive out of the blue,'' says Kathy Hazzard, manager of work and family programs. ''Of course, as a working parent myself, the thought of using all my vacation and having none left this summer is looming pretty big.''

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