Monday, July 9, 2012

Sometimes there's a more important lesson

Perfect attendance. One year in school I got that award. But only once. Sometime during each year, I usually had a cold or got the flu or pretended I had an ailment to get out of gym class or a science test.

As a mom, I've always made school a priority. Sometimes I get a little soft. Sometimes I'm a little too rigid. There have been times I have let them stay home when they may not have been vomiting, but seemed to genuinely not feel good and it may have been more emotional than physical. And there have been times they whined that they didn't feel like going to school, but I told them that if they didn't have a fever or I didn't see them throw up, they were going to march out the door and go to school.

My kids have had some quarters or semesters where they've had perfect attendance. There has even been a couple years in there where one or more of them had perfect attendance. Early in their educational careers, I really strived for that. I thought it was really important to show that you're committed to your education. I still believe it, but I also believe that sometimes there's a greater lesson that will make more of an impact than what they may miss in a day at school.

There was one time I recall when I wasn't sick, but my parents excused me from school. It was an election year and one of the contenders was having a political rally not far from home. My dad thought it would be a good lesson for his teenage daughters and we all went together. The school even fought him and told him it would be an unexcused absence, but he persisted and said he was taking us on an educational field trip. They finally changed it to "excused," which allowed us to make up our work. And since one of my sisters was competing for the top spot in her class, it was a big deal that she be able to make up the work and get a grade for it. It was a cool experience and I'm so glad my dad did that. I remember it much more than anything I learned in a book that year.

I remember the first time I let my kids miss school for something that wasn't for illness. It was 2006. I was home schooling my oldest. My second son was in first grade. My third one was in preschool and I had an almost 3-year-old and an almost 1-year-old not yet in school. We had been talking about taking a vacation that summer. Most of our trips until that point had been under a week in length. We traveled a lot, but mostly for overnight getaways or long weekend trips not too far from home. We'd taken a 10-day trip through Wisconsin, Michigan and Canada when my oldest was a year old. And then another 10 or so day trip when he was 3 through Tennessee and Kentucky. It had been 9 years since that trip and would be our first long trip with all five of our kids.

My husband, on the recommendation of a co-worker planned a trip to South Carolina. It would be our kids' first experience seeing the ocean. It would be a week at a beachside resort and then we decided that on our way back, we'd spend a few days in the Smokey Mountains. When we started pricing it out, we knew it wouldn't be possible. Until we looked at the off-season rates. There was a significant discount if we'd go before June 1st. I was torn about them missing school, but we figured we could go the week before Memorial Day and minimize the days missed. Since our oldest was homeschooled, I could work his lessons around it. And the preschool year was almost done. My son would only miss two days, but would also miss the end of the year picnic. My first grader would miss a whole week of school. We'd leave on Friday right after school and we'd be gone 11 days, but he'd miss five school days. I talked to the teacher about my concerns. She said that he was in no way struggling with anything she was teaching. She said that the end of the year was mostly review and he wouldn't miss anything significant. She's a great teacher and great person and put my mind at ease. I let go of the guilt of him missing some school for the trip. I knew he'd be missing some lessons, but in place of that would be wonderful family memories and a ton of new experiences. I finally felt it was okay. He's 13 now and still talks about that trip. It was well worth him missing a week of first grade.

Since then, there have been a few times I've allowed my boys to miss school. Once I knew my son was having a hard time at school with classmates. I knew he needed a break. I called him off school one day and he, my husband and I took a day trip and went to lunch together. He's a good student and wasn't having any issues with learning anything at school. I thought that a day like that was what he needed and I needed that time with him, too. He went back the next day feeling much better and more confident.

I let one of my sons miss school one day to take him to a baseball game. Not just any baseball game. I had four tickets, compliments of my sister, to take a lady and her son to a game. She was someone we met through sending care packages overseas when she was deployed to Afghanistan with the Illinois National Guard. In our correspondence, I found out she was a Cubs fan and now that she was home, she wanted to meet me and I arranged for us to go to the game. We had a great time. It was an honor to meet her. Our sons had a good time together. It was an experience and lesson I thought took precedence over whatever history or math lesson was being taught that day. And I'd totally do it over again in a second.

Today I did it again. Two of my boys are taking summer enrichment classes. It's nothing mandatory, just something I enrolled them in to keep them busy this summer. However, they do stress the importance of attendance and the boys have been surprisingly eager about going each day. When my youngest got an invite to spend the night at Grandpa's, I didn't hesitate to let him miss a day. He's seven. He's taking a fun class where he's learning about sea creatures and underwater adventures. He's not missing ACT prep. Today, spending time with his 74-year-old grandfather, who in the past 3 years has had two heart surgeries and lung cancer is more important than a lesson on aquatic animals. Ten years ago, I may not have made that call. I may have denied my son's request in favor of perfect attendance. But I know now that crucial lessons and experiences take place outside of the classroom as well. And making significant people in your life a priority is an important lesson in itself.


Motherhood on the Rocks said...

We all need a day off now and then. :)

Emily Sung said...

I truly believe some of the most important lessons happen outside of the classroom!

I also wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award so please stop by and "pick up" your award!