Rain, Rain, Go Away--Until Parents Are More Prepared

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It rained, and rained, for 40 days-ies, days-ies...

--"Children of the Lord"

And just what do you suppose all those biblical-era moms and dads--OK, let's be honest, probably it was mostly the moms--did with their kids while all that wet stuff was falling from the sky?

How many times did they play Uncle Wiggly before completely wigging out? How loudly did they yell about muddy footprints in the front hall? Exactly what tortuous thoughts crossed their minds when the video store was out of everything, even "Godzilla Meets G.I. Joe"?

Did parents then shop early, or did they, too, wait for the first terrible storm to discover that every store was sold out of anything resembling rain gear? Did their children go on strike if their umbrellas featured the wrong season's Disney characters?

These days, certainly, violent weather forces all manners of creative coping strategies. There is the school-cancellation component, for example. There's the nanny-transportation issue, when the baby-sitter's car battery is dead, or when she can't make it out of her own driveway. There are clothing considerations, such as the knee-high rubber boots that are far from standard in most sunny Southern California wardrobes.

And there is epidemic-level cabin fever, the dreaded condition marked by the window-shattering whine, "I'm bored!"

"Yes, it's awful. Yes, it's a pain in the neck. Yes, the kids are home," said a modern-day mother of two, Meryl Perutz of Montecito.

But what are you going to do, Perutz asked. "Tell Mother Nature to stop raining?"

Transplanted New Yorkers, Perutz and her husband regard mud/slime/rain days as "exactly like snow days," a standard fixture of Eastern winters. The one difference is, "you can't hire someone to shovel out the rocks and debris" brought by January's torrential rains.

But if snowbound children celebrate their days away from the classroom by pelting each other with chilly white stuff, "my son and his two friends had the best time yesterday. They spent the entire day outside, slinging mud at each other," Perutz said.

Nine-year-old Max Perutz and his sister, Jamie, 3, were well outfitted for the occasion, Perutz said, because after the tectonic amusements of Jan. 17, 1994, she thought to include slickers in the family's earthquake-preparedness kit.

"My husband razzed me to death about that," said Perutz, who, with her husband, Tony, designs interactive computer games. "The only thing I didn't think of was rain boots for my son."

Farther down the coast, on L.A.'s Westside, Ruth Cohnen was also lamenting the lack of rain boots in her three children's closets. "We don't own galoshes. We live in California," Cohnen said. "It never rains here--haven't you heard?"

One day this week, each child went through three pairs of sneakers. Cohnen herself sloshed through four pairs of canvas shoes on a single day.

"We don't like weather in California," she said, explaining how climatic denial has kept her from resorting to overnight catalogue shopping to keep her family's feet dry. "Weather is not acceptable."

Anyway, she said, wet feet or not, "my kids will live."

For some parents, the prognosis was less certain.

"I'm killing myself!" Joanna Lennon of Berkeley screamed into her car phone. Power outages closed her two sons' schools, she said, throwing the family's schedule into chaos. Local museums, malls and indoor play areas were packed, they discovered. "It's hyper-ville," she said. "All these kids running around with all this energy."

In desperation, she and her husband outfitted the boys in ski clothes--the closest thing they could find to waterproof attire--and took them for a soggy two-hour walk in the neighborhood. One thing they observed was how many people were navigating by canoe.

"We never knew so many people had boats," Lennon said.

In the Sunset Park section of Santa Monica, Paula Chestnut also resorted to bundling up her two boys, Henry, 4, and Taylor, 2, and sloshing out for a walk. The stream that normally runs down their hill had swelled to river proportions, providing a special marvel, Chestnut said.

"When you're a boy, and you're 2 and 4, a big stream is pretty amazing," she pointed out.

While Chestnut was exhausting many of the suggestions in her favorite rainy-day book, "365 Creative Things to Do With Your Child," Janine Jagodowicz of Mandeville Canyon was staging "numerous tea parties" with Adam, 13 months, and Amanda, 4.

So active was their salon social life that Jagodowicz ran out of herbal tea. "The last time," she recalled, "I made the mistake of using caffeinated," which meant she spent most of the night scraping her kids off the ceiling.

Like many water-weary parents, Jagodowicz said the rain forced her to "break down on my TV limitation rule." Suddenly, to their delight, her kids were allowed more than 60 minutes per day in front of the tube.

"You hate to cave, but you just have to," she said. "You have to preserve your sanity."

At the Crestwood Hills Nursery School in Kenter Canyon, a co-op where Chestnut and Jagodowicz send their children, director Rose Selznick said many mothers and fathers in the parent-run school described the two days of rain-forced closure as "kind of an adventure."

Ad hoc play groups flourished, she said, and parents called each other to trade rainy-day ideas in a way that, generations ago, they might have exchanged recipes.

"The time was limited," Selznick said, "and in a way it became kind of fun."

Secretly, said Selznick, "I love the rain."

It's a change, she said. And in a way it harks back to her childhood in Indiana.

"I know what snow means," she said, laughing. "Which is why I'm out here."

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