Yep, I said it. Out loud for the world to hear—and I’m sure for half of it to gasp. But before you judge, hear me out.
This year, my kids transitioned to an upper-elementary school. I went to the parent orientation feeling a bit like a kid myself—a little resistant to all the changes coming, yet excited about new beginnings. The principal got up to speak and clicked open his Power Point. There were only three bullets on the list. Three major topics that he felt were the absolute most important things to address with parents who are new to his school. Safety, teachers and staff, and missed school days. The instant that third bullet point appeared, I could feel my friends around the room turn to look at me and chuckle as I plastered on my “don’t mess with momma” face.
Now, I understand laws are laws and children must attend a specified number of days of school in the year or the authorities will show up on my doorstep. And I’m not condoning letting Junior stay home on the couch to watch TV to avoid a spelling test. But last time I checked, I gave birth to these children. I carried them for nine long months, taught them to walk, talk, eat, and poop. I feed them daily (sometimes even three balanced meals), I buy them clothing, sign them up for activities, and log the miles of a racecar driver taking them to and from practices. I clean up their vomit, I endure temper tantrums, I enforce unpopular punishments, make them eat their veggies and even attempt to help with Common Core math.
Guess what else I do? I take them out of school whenever I damn well please.
I know there are parents who are shaking their heads, and teachers who probably talk about me behind my back, but they aren’t my priority—my kids are. And I never take them out of school unless I believe the benefits outweigh the costs.
Year after year, I sit down with teachers and explain up front how committed I am to ensuring my kids make education a priority. That they work hard, are kind and respectful, and that they always try their best. School is extremely important, make no bones about it. But in our house, family comes first. Period. End of sentence. That means when we have an opportunity to take a trip that will create memories that last well beyond third grade math—we are going to take it. Or, if there is a special occasion happening with our extended family—all of whom live over 1,000 miles away—we are going to go. Even if it doesn’t fit within the confines of President’s Day weekend or spring break.
Don’t get me wrong, I make every effort to be as respectful as possible and I do not expect the teachers to “pay the price” for my child’s absence. I always give plenty of advance notice. I always request that they send home any work that they would like completed on the trip. And I always ensure them that whatever work is given when we return will be completed in a reasonable amount of time. I recognize that as my kids get older, this will become more of a challenge, but rest assured I will always make the best choice for my children—and I don’t need school calendars to tell me what that is.
Besides being able to spend time together as a family and strengthen the bond we share, I firmly believe that there is no better way to learn than through hands-on experience. What’s more impactful—reading about Roman history or walking through the Colosseum? Watching a YouTube video about how glaciers formed or learning about it by hiking an actual glacier? Completing math worksheets or figuring out how many dollars are in a euro? In addition to the history and information that can be absorbed, traveling also opens your eyes to new places and cultures. It teaches you to become more inclusive, understanding and empathetic. And it forces you to roll with the punches—all lifelong skills.
Plus, the learning isn’t limited to the trip itself. Whether it’s doing online research about a place, planning a day of the trip itself, or journaling throughout the adventure, there are so many opportunities for children to expand their minds. I’ve even made my kiddos put together Power Point presentations of what they learned to show to their class (I know, I’m mean).
My job as a mom is to keep my kids safe, make them feel loved, and to teach them. If they go to school for 160 days instead of 180, but are able to spend a day with their 97-year-old great-grandmother learning about the icebox she had growing up, or form lifelong bonds with cousins they rarely see, or eat gelato on the streets of Italy, I’ll call it a parenting win.
And that is why I feel zero guilt when I decide that the school calendar that works for the state isn’t the same calendar that works for my kids.