Note: There will be multiple references to magic, and many places where this text seems to turn around and bite itself in the ass and be self-contradictory. Don’t let any of it throw you off, just read it to enjoy it and when you come out the other side you will probably be okay.
I’m starting this at around 10 AM on Tuesday, February 28th, 2023. Normally at this time, I would be wrapping up an activity with two students who qualify for extra support services to reinforce their skills in the area of mathematics. Instead, I am home in my pajama bottoms and a favorite St. Lawrence University t-shirt, with my tootsies wrapped in thick wintry socks that are like soft little blankets for my feet. My belly has a few “sea waffles” (little waffles shaped like sea horses, crabs, and dolphins) in it. Only real maple syrup will do for those, and I finished off the pot of coffee by adding a little cream and some cocoa mix to it.
It’s all part of the spell. Snow Day Magic. So special it deserves to be capitalized like that and for more reasons than I can probably get to here. But I am going to try. Also, I might try to get to other types of very important magic, as well as explain why none of it is actual magic, before telling why we should all be casting more spells.
Let’s start at the beginning
It isn’t really “the beginning”, in terms of magic, but if we’re talking Snow Day Magic I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on 2014 for a moment. My three daughters always enjoyed a snow day, other than me blazing into their room as soon as I got the news to pounce on their bed, bounce them awake, scaring the bajeepers 1 out of them with the good news before hastily running out and into the next room for a repeat performance-daring them to try and get back to sleep.
Clearly, as a teacher, I like snow days too. I have come to learn that there are rituals one should observe if calling in a snow day is the goal. Now, I don’t remember any of these rituals from my own childhood, but kids these days have a list of “to-dos” for when the weather looks as if it might lean in that direction. Give Mother Nature a little nudge, you know. The rituals I am most familiar with are listed below2.
- Wearing your pj’s inside out
- Putting a cotton ball under your pillow
- Placing a pencil in the freezer
- Flushing an ice cube down the toilet
- Doing the Snow Day Dance™
I can get into the actual scientific principles that are involved in the cause-effect dynamic between these rituals and the results but you first have to understand that it’s not an actual science and the causal relationship probably can’t be validated.
But boy is the pretending fun, and isn’t that what magic is all about?
So here I am, or there I was as it were in 2014, wanting to gift my girls (and me) with a surprise day off. I didn’t just wear my pajamas inside out. I wore them inside out and backward. I didn’t just sleep with a cotton ball under my pillow, I did so with four-one for each of my three girls and one for me. Same with how many pencils went in the freezer and how many ice cubes down the toilet. Last but not least: the dance. In the past, I had just “winged it”-making up some on-the-spot wiggly stuff. This time it was carefully choreographed and included a chant of sorts. Arm motions, ninety-degree twist, step, kick…A little regrettable in terms of things you might see a grown man do, but good magic can be good while being ugly too. That might be why I have always been a fan of Penn and Teller.
In the end, the results spoke for themselves. I felt obligated to let people know of my involvement in the weather event that resulted, both out of a sense of responsibility and as a warning intended to inform anyone else’s future efforts involving Snow Day Magic.
Fast forward to Monday, February 27th, 2023
Holy cow, what happened to me? I went and got old and two of my daughters are off to college, living life and all…Damn. If I Could Save Time in a Bottle, you know. (*sniff*). Apparently, my youngest daughter has internalized what was learned in 2014 because as I type this, I, my pajamas, and my driveway bear witness to the very real but nonexistent magic this family is capable of.
So here is what happened:
Last night we pulled into the driveway after having to cut Drama Club rehearsal a little short because our school, as others around us had, was shutting down after-school activities to send folks home to safety. Apparently, bad weather and dangerous driving conditions were on their way. Pulling into our driveway, and putting the car in PARK, I say to my littlest angel, Ella:
“You know, we might just have to work up some Snow Day Magic.”
And yes, I even speak it capitalized like that. Seems like it can’t possibly be true, and it isn’t, but that’s really how I do it.
Ella says, “You know you better not say something like that because if it doesn’t…”
I don’t remember the exact words but it was a translation of don’t go getting my hopes up because she sorta believes.
You see, “believing” is a thing that runs in my veins as it did my people before and my children today. “It’s a gift,” one might say3, and it’s one that keeps on giving despite the protests of family members, children, students, colleagues, strangers on the street… We believe in magic, in a sense. The rituals and the other weird stuff that happens around me bear some indirect power that outright silliness has for influencing impressive and amazing outcomes. It brings an audience in and inspires them to participate and believe, and the feeling of satisfaction and sometimes wonder inspires further participation…
When I first showed her the news of a two-hour delay this morning, her respect for the power was probably reinforced. When I returned a short while later with news of the full cancellation it was certainly cemented. She came downstairs about five minutes later, looked me in the eyes, and said “I think this calls for waffles.” The next hour was filled with me blasting my Dad-music, singing along with Elton John, Cat Stevens, and Billy Joel while my youngest and I consulted each other on mixing, measuring, and eating…
It was magic.
Non-believers sometimes find it unbearable. Which makes it all more fun.
Santa used to call my house to talk to my daughters back when my dead hippie friend and poker buddy Coop was still alive. I’ll always swear it was Santa and not Coop, but he could coincidentally do a really good gruff and not quite entirely appropriate Santa impersonation. To this day “Santa” (a different one that is busy typing right now) leaves notes for my family congratulating the girls on what amazing human beings they are, apologizing for the mess the reindeer left, the beer swiped from the fridge, thanking us for whatever snacks get left out and disparaging the behavior of the man of the house.
Apparently, he’s the only naughty one out of them all.
Jack Steam swipes messages on the bathroom mirror that reveal themselves when someone showers. Jack Frost does the same to cold-weather windows. I know both Jacks well. We go way back. The messages are sometimes a little wrong. Thankfully when the girls were little there were a couple of responsible parents to help debrief children exposed to such stuff.
Well, there was one responsible parent, at least.
Magic. All of it. The best kind of magic, too.
So sitting in the driveway with a hopeful daughter, what is a naughty dad to do?
Refer to that earlier list of rituals, except this time it was Ella hitting them hard! Sure, my pj’s ended up inside out and backward. Of course, I did the Snow Day Dance™. But it was Ella that put three pencils in the freezer, and she flushed five ice cubes down the toilet.
Again, let’s let the results speak for themselves.
You don’t have to believe in the magic, simply observe how it works. Because magic isn’t real and doesn’t really work magically. But in the same way that Penn and Teller know exactly what the #%$& they are doing (and know that magic isn’t really real and have spent much of their careers revealing so), they know how to make the end product seem powerful and magic. You can make great things happen when you believe you can make great things happen.
Now know that this Dad is also a teacher.
What if teachers were empowered to draw learners into a more exciting, engaging, and nurturing education instead of being compelled to force-feed children grit and rigor on a mind-numbing and unnatural daily schedule in order to pick apart and analyze what comes out the other side after endless scat-hunts?
What if schools were a preparation for life and engagement with real-world people, places, and opportunities?
What if educators could provide a truly “least restrictive environment”, as opposed to factories that measured, labeled, and used a cohort-to-standardize approach on little human beings?
I have had discussions where I suggest a more developmentally appropriate and humane approach to early education and sometimes these discussions end with “That’s fine for your girls, Dan, you could just sit them in a corner and they would learn,” or “Well, that’s (the factory model) what we’re told we have to do so we have no choice.”
Both things are true. You could sit my girls in a corner and they would still learn. We are being told we have to do that other thing.
Actually, I believe that only one of them is truly true.
My response: It wasn’t ever magic. Magic isn’t real. It’s called first engaging and then preparing independent lifelong learners. When you see the results you can’t deny that the results might seem magical, especially in this day and age where children seem less and less willing and capable of achieving outcomes realized by the highest achievers. But outcomes aren’t an accident, results speak for themselves, and shouldn’t real educators be empowered to work their magic with children who need that sort of “magic” the most?
I am not special, my ideas aren’t new or unusual, and many teachers I speak to agree, but fall back on the helplessness of weak-willed soldiers made to feel that they must comply with less-than-magical approaches. Has the time come for people who know better to demand the freedom to bring better?
- These are to be used cautiously. “With great power comes great responsibility,” and all. Engage with magic of this sort at your own risk.
- Or a curse, others might say.