Friday, December 19, 2008

The Secret Power of Pajamas

Note from author: Today, we had our first snow day of the year. To mark this momentous occasion, I thought I would post an article I wrote last January about "snow day rituals."

The article ran in the
Hartford Courant on January 20, 2008. Somehow, the piece was picked up by National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation." Two days later, I was interviewed live on the air by the venerable Neal Conan. You can still listen to the interview at

When I stop and think about, the story surrounding this piece really is a testament to the awesome power of the written word: two girls casually mention something to me one morning in a Connecticut high school; I write an article, which is published in a Connecticut newspaper; someone in Washington D.C. reads it and books me on a radio program, which is heard by people across the nation. Like I said, awesome.

Anyway, here's the piece...

I am a high school English teacher, which also makes me a learner. My students teach me quite a few things. Granted, they're usually things no man in his late 30s has any business knowing (new and illegal ways to download music or the term "fo' shizzle"). But recently, my students taught me to something I'll keep with me for the rest of my professional life: the Pajamas-Inside-Out, Spoon-Under-the-Pillow-Snow-Day Ritual.

I learned about this phenomenon in December, the morning after our first snow day. One of my students, still basking in the post-snow glow, said, "I was so sure we were going to school. I mean, I didn't even put my pajamas on inside out the night before!"

"Wait, what are you talking about?" I asked, with my typical air of cluelessness.

"On a night before there's a chance of snow," she explained, "you wear your pajamas inside out and put a spoon under your pillow. The next morning, you'll get a snow day."

"Really? This is a thing?"

"Oh, yeah!" her friend responded with giddy enthusiasm. (These were seniors in high school.) "See for yourself," the first girl said. "Look it up online."

I did, and my eyes were opened. This is not a passing fad, but a way of life. My Internet sleuthing revealed that students from Hillsborough, N.J., to Rochester, N.Y., and on to Fauquier County, Va., practice the Pajamas-Inside-Out, Spoon-Under-the-Pillow-Snow-Day Ritual, or what I will henceforth call PIOSUPSDR.

I discovered that people have done this for years. I uncovered a reference to a Tennessee schoolteacher who learned about the PIOSUPSDR during her first year of teaching, 25 years ago. Other teachers told her, which means the tradition goes back even further.

I also learned that the PIOSUPSDR has some variations. Some students eat an oatmeal cookie before putting on their pajamas inside out. Others lick the spoon before placing it under the pillow.

Even after my exhaustive research, one fundamental question remained: Why in the heck are people doing this in the first place? How could sleeping in inside-out pajamas with a spoon under your pillow possibly influence the weather?

The PJ thing I could sort of understand. Wearing clothes inside out has long been a sign of good luck. (Think rally caps.) But the spoon? I even skimmed through a book of old superstitions, trying to find something that links spoons with weather. I found one that advises couples hoping to conceive a girl to put a wooden spoon under their pillow. But I didn't see the connection to the PIOSUPSDR.

Because my research took me only so far, I went back to my students with my lingering questions. Here's what they had to say:

Question: "Do you wear the pajamas inside out, or inside out and backward?"

Answer: "Just inside out. Once I wore them inside out and backward and the big tag kept scratching my neck and chin all night. The next morning, I had school and a rash on my neck."

Question: "Can I do this in, like, May?"

Answer: "Sorry, but you can only do it when they are actually predicting snow."

Question: "While online, I read that some people throw ice cubes in the toilet in the hopes of getting a snow day. What do you think about that?"

Answer: "Well, that's just silly."

But when I asked if the pajamas/spoon combo works, I got several different answers. Some students squealed, "Yes, definitely!" and had anecdotal evidence to prove it. Others admitted, "Only sometimes" - but even those doubters still do it.

And therein, I think, lies the key. Think about it: we live in a world where multimillion-dollar geostationary weather satellites, orbiting 22,000 miles above our heads, can tell us the weather conditions anywhere on the planet.

All that technology should be enough for anyone, but especially for teenagers, who rely on technology for pretty much everything.

Consider, for a moment, your Typical Teen: When her ear isn't occupied by an iPod, she's got a cellphone up to it. And, when she isn't talking to her friends on her cell, she's IM-ing them about the new photos she uploaded to her Facebook page. While online, she may at some point click back over to her U.S. history term paper, which she can research and write without entering a library or opening a book. She is, in short, inextricably bound to technology.

And yet that same girl, when she hears about a potential nor'easter, will push aside all her electronics, grab a decidedly low-tech spoon and embrace the deliciously irrational possibility of magic and wonder. And there's something sweet about that. Don't get me wrong: The idea of an 18-year-old sleeping in inside-out pajamas with a spoon under her pillow is still kooky. But it's also sweet, and refreshingly innocent.

So yes, this winter my students taught me an important lesson - allow for more magic in your life. Next time they're predicting snow, I'm taking my chances with the spoon.


rebecca said...

I am totally impressed with the NPR interview ~ didn't know about that.
And since there is a teenage girl living in my brain, I will forever be wearing my pj's backwards with the spoon under my pillow at every mention of snow!

Emily and Elizabeth said...

It's true, it's true!