Just as we all know there are two types of pickle eaters in the world—sweet versus dill, and ne’er the twain shall meet—there are two types of moms in the world: the ones who think it’s okay for their kids to take a day off school when they’re clearly not sick, and the ones who don’t.
At first glance, there appears to exist a vast, howling chasm of darkness between these mothers, down which all sorts of credible arguments for both sides fall splat upon the floor of expectations wrought by umpteen generations of mothers who came before and laid down that family’s particular “To Play Hooky or Not Play Hooky?” law.
When I was a kid, a couple times a year, I’d skip school with my parents’ blessing. In fact, they’re the ones who thought of the idea in the first place. My parents were hard-working, responsible people who also happened to enjoy flouting rules they found oppressive and unreasonable. Nothing bad ever happened to me as a result from skipping school except that I developed a mild scorn for strict rule followers. I was of the mindset that rules are to be followed usually, not always. I’m still this way–for good reason, as I hope this post will prove (but probably won’t for those moms on the other side of the giant crevasse).
I usually give my kids one freebie day a year to stay home from school, and it can’t be on a day they have a project due or a big test. Sometimes I give them two days a year, one before and one after Christmas. Note: not every child takes me up on this generous offer of two days—but they all say yes to the one day.
Whenever moms on the other side present to me all their great arguments about how kids need to take responsibility and show up, I watch with brazen indifference as the arguments they lob at me take a nose-dive in that abyss separating us. And then they do the same for me. They just don’t get how a mom can possibly let her child be irresponsible—not only that, encourage the child to be irresponsible!
Well, here’s the big irony: My end goal is actually the same as the no-hooky mothers: I want my kids to survive—and thrive–in the big, scary world.
Beneath my slothful exterior lies a shrewd—Darwinists might say cunning–mindset. Let me back up a minute to explain: I’m all about educating my children, but it’s got to be a whole education, beyond the paradoxically myopic world of academia.
Damn if those brilliant intellectuals can’t cross a street without getting hit!
Which is one reason I think my parents tried to give us some street cred. We were a family of A-students. There’s nothing more annoying than being around a smartypants out of touch with the real world. And there’s nothing more dangerous than being a smartypants out of touch with the real world.
In other words, the classroom is not enough–and that goes for everyone, A-student or not. We’re all annoying and dangerous when we’re out of touch with the real world.
So not only do I want my kids to know why E=MC-squared and how to dissect a frog or a sonnet, I also want them to be able to survive the sturm und drang of life–you know, the times that Shakespeare or Einstein will fall short of preparing them for a crisis.
The main thing they’ll need is flexibility. I teach my children that no one can survive a storm without bending; that skill keeps you in the game. Bending means you’re seeking out other options, and you have to be of the mindset that there are always options. Always. It’s up to us to sniff around and find them.
Sometimes, when school gets heavy or tedious, kids need a fresh outlook on life so they can go back to the old grindstone with a renewed spirit. But how do you get a fresh outlook on life when you’re in the pit of despair or boredom?
You have to find something within yourself to get yourself out—that’s the ticket. And it’s oh, so hard to do. It requires practice–
Which is why I let our kids have a day off!
Some people call it a mental health day. My goal is to get them flexing the “I can get outta here if I need to and still survive and thrive” muscle. Later, they’ll use this reflex in their own adult environments. They’ll recognize signs of stagnation. They’ll know they have to do something about it. And sometimes—sometimes—that will mean a temporary, or even permanent, turn in another direction.
My older kids have had brushes with serious issues, and I’m sorry—nothing they learned in the classroom was able to yank them by the proverbial collar out of their crises. The one with Asperger’s was very depressed at one point his freshman year in college after being cyber-bullied (he wound up transferring to another school). And the other, a perfectionist a year younger than my Asperger’s child, the girl who only wanted to cause no trouble because she witnessed so much pain and stress in the life of her older brother, developed anxiety her junior year in high school and succumbed to an eating disorder.
Let’s face a sad fact: some people don’t recover from depression or eating disorders. But when my children realized how severely they were becoming trapped, their old flexibility training came through. They remembered:
Options. You always have options. You never need to feel trapped. You can turn in another direction….renew. Recharge. Then go back and slay those dragons or go conquer new ones.
Both my kids remembered that rule and went to an adult they trusted and asked for help. They knew that the one-way ticket to doom that depression and eating disorders can be wasn’t their only option. I’m not saying that they could see clearly what the other options were.
They simply knew they existed.
They knew. Hallelujah. They knew to have hope. They knew there was an escape hatch. They knew—because we’d drilled it into them since they were babies—that nothing was written in stone. Nothing. Except the existence and power of love.
Everything else is negotiable, transient, do-able…but not of everlasting importance.
So okay, that may seem a little wild and wacky a reason to let my kids play hooky, but from the very beginning, I was planting a seed. I taught them that letting go—turning in a different direction—was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, recognizing that pivotal juncture in a crisis shows you understand that flexibility is as much a survival skill as having a sense of responsibility…in fact, more so.
Flexibility, my friends, is everything.
So I wish my sturdy oak mom friends well. They’re teaching valuable lessons in persistence and responsibility. And they are important. To survive and thrive in today’s world, our kids will need those traits. I like to think that I have been teaching my children those same things.
But our family is also a bunch of reeds. We bend in those hurricane-force winds that are sure to hit every life at one point or another. And we spring back up, ready to grow again. That was the point all along.
Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. I try to teach my kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job.
My oldest guy, Dragon, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a junior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college sophomore; and my youngest, Nighthawk, is in ninth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy.