It’s been two weeks since I last posted on this site, and in that time, our lives have changed irreparably. Certainly, when I chose this photograph to use as my next blog entry, I had no idea how ironic it would be. Pajamas, after all, are a daily event at many homes right now, in the shadow of coronavirus.
In life as we knew it, though, Pajama Day in my school was probably the students’ – and teachers’ – favorite day of the year. Most students showed up in their coziest p.j.s,, which meant lots of flannel and fuzzy blends, though some simply wore sweats from top to bottom. Many years ago, when I first started teaching, students would also show up in slippers, but that practice was stopped due to being too dangerous down slippery halls. In recent years, the p.j.s had gotten increasingly more elaborate, including cozy one-pieces – what we used to call Doctor Dentons – which both boys and girls happily wore. Most participated, which certainly wasn’t the case for almost any other school spirit activities we did.
And yet there was always something about wearing pajamas to school that didn’t sit well with me. I saw this, in a way, as encouraging sleepiness, which was the exact opposite of what we needed in school; our students were sleepy enough on their own, especially in those early a.m. mods. I know: It isn’t as if wearing p.j.s is so dramatically different than typical school dress these days, especially for those students who might rewear the same tee shirt and jeans many days over – but unless a district requires school uniforms, there’s nothing to be done about that.
When my own children were in middle school many years ago, there was no school-designated “Pajama Day”; kids would just tell each other to come to school wearing pajamas from time to time. I remember my younger daughter begging me to let her wear her p.j.s to school during one of these informal days – and I wouldn’t allow it. Okay, she may have brought p.j.s in and changed in the bathroom, but at least I didn’t send her to school that way. It wasn’t such a big deal, but for some reason, I couldn’t get past it.
Certainly, based on these feelings, I never wore pajamas to school myself, even when many of my colleagues did. The kids could certainly get away with it, but I wasn’t so sure the adults – especially older adults like me – could, or should.
My anti-Pajama Day rigidity was atypical for me, as I tend to be somewhat of a non-conformist and a hippie at heart. Even in my own junior high school days in the late ’60s, I was a strong supporter of the slightly older girls who refused to follow the dress code that required all females to wear dresses or skirts to school; they were sent home time and time again to change out of their “slacks” – not even jeans! – and into proper garb, until they finally changed the rules for good.
Fast forward to 2019: Because it was my last year before retiring, I finally decided to give Pajama Day a try. I mean, I had also bought a pretty cute pair of p.j.s with dogs on them, but more than anything else, I really wanted to experience how it would feel to come into school dressed this way. Would I have a pajama mindset? Could I teach when my clothing said bedtime?
Let me just say that the experience was . . . magical. I didn’t walk, but, instead, floated through the halls, even without slippers. I was delightfully, wonderfully loose – much more comfortable than when I wore jeans and tee shirts for our school dress-down days. I felt myself giggling a lot and high five-ing students who were dressed like me and wanted to high five me back. And though I didn’t have the nerve to do an errand on the way home in my p.j.s like some of my colleagues, I enjoyed feeling like I was playing hooky.
It was a very, very good day.
Of course, since I was retiring, I knew I was never going to have this experience again. But it did make me think of the constraints I had put on myself due to societal norms. Why had I waited so long?
Today, in our new normal of social distancing and shuttered school buildings, there are, no doubt, many students – and teachers – who have chosen to remain in pajamas all day long, or in sweats, maybe changing to a new set after showering (which, we can only hope, is still continuing). Every day is, in effect, Pajama Day. And it’s no longer fun.
My former colleagues, my daughter and her colleagues – teachers everywhere – are sweating through creating virtual lessons and activities that will keep their students engaged and working with a minimum of confusion. They are figuring out what they need to teach, what they should teach, and what they can teach. Hasty laptop distribution to families without technology and free Internet access is being offered in hopes that the students will be able to take part in distance learning.
And it’s not easy for anyone: the families with three and four siblings who don’t have enough of the technology to make this work, the teachers who are trying to develop lessons and doing new kinds of teaching with their own children at their feet, trying to learn, or with younger children who no longer can be dropped at daycare. At the same time, there are many other parents who are trying to work at their jobs out of their homes and supervise this learning – and, of course, those who no longer have jobs and are worrying about paychecks drying up. There are, as well, health care workers, and others, dropping their children off with grandparents and other relatives, not sure when they will next see them in person – and not sure of how well those grandparents will do with the requirements of distance learning that change daily.
It’s not all about academics, of course. For too many students, school and the individuals who work there – whether these are teachers, or aides, or guidance counselors, or lunch ladies – are their lifelines. Teachers are trying to keep in touch, setting up Google hangouts and other video chats, but they are often breaking down. Are the students able to get onto that video chat, or are their older siblings hijacking the technology? Do they have to watch younger brothers and sisters instead of the Zoom classes their teachers have set up? Do they see this as an opportunity to watch video games all day, without supervision? – which may be absent because the parents or guardians are absent, in mind if not in body.
One day, this will all be over. One day – though, probably, not this academic year – students and educators will be back in school. Many lessons will have been learned – and maybe even some good ones, about resilience, and strength, and helping each other. But meanwhile, there will be some threads that are broken forever. And yes – there will be sickness, and there will be death.
I am trying not to despair. Instead, I am imagining today’s children in their pajamas, dreaming of a day when they can get excited about picking out an outfit, or getting a special hair tie to spice up a school uniform, or showing off (or even hiding from others because of) a new haircut. Hoping for the day when they can be back at school, where some of them never thought they’d want to be.
Let’s hope our children and educators are long out of pajamas by the time the next school year comes around so they can enjoy the break in routine of getting back into them for a Pajama Day celebration.
And if you have the chance, celebrate Pajama Day whenever it comes around in the future. I wish I had.