Why I Let My Kid Skip School (to come to My Defense)

The school-skipping offender – and his pup

I let my son skip the first day of his high school junior year this week.

I’m pretty sure it was a more difficult decision for me than for him.

Like most parents who care about their kids’ success, I didn’t want my son to miss out on any key information – like his new locker combination.

I didn’t want him to get behind before the school year had even started – especially behind some cute little gal who’d swing her hair all over his desk during the school year because he missed getting a seat up front, near the teacher. (Surely, that’s where he always tries to sit.)

I didn’t want him to miss out on the excitement of those first few magical moments of a new school year – the high-fashion runway reunions that are only surpassed by the final few hours of summer bum hang-out plans that will now have to wait until about 300 days into the future.

But my son wasn’t having it any other way. He wasn’t going to take ‘No’ for an answer.

Do you think that makes me a weak-minded parent?

If so –

Let me take you back 5 years, to the beginning of his first day in middle school.

That’s when we began our new journeys together. He was transitioning into a new school, where he didn’t know anyone…and so was his mom. (Different school, different anyones.)

He was entering a world where the development of personal organizational skills would be just as imperative as grasping the meaning of girls’ eyes being batted at him with curves trickier than hard hit baseballs – to which he was only otherwise accustomed.

I was entering a world where my batting average of organizational skills would be the only means by which I was going to stay in the game of academia. No sooner had I dropped my son off for that first week of school and gotten my work day in, than I was sitting in a classroom of new colleagues myself. My class was on its way to forming robust doctoral candidates – and sturdy support systems for one another.

I’m happy to report that both my son and I made immediate and long-lasting friends during our week of firsts…and we’ve both honed our organizational and study skills over these past 5 years (while he’s apparently honed his girl-reading skills during that time too). Much of that (not the girl-stuff) came from many study sessions and hours of commiserating – not always solely with our peers, but quite often with one another.

I can think back to one evening at the table when my 7th grade son discovered that, with his new-found algebraic skills, he could easily perform my graduate statistics textbook equations. From there, he double-checked my homework answers for me, assuring me I should get a 100% on my assignment.

I can think back to an 8th grade science project where my son tapped into the collegiate research process to develop his research poster methodology, which he then had to explain in detail to his science teacher to receive a grade. (The more popular ‘swiping water faucets for germs experiment’ doesn’t generally require mixed methods of study.)

And I think back on my past few years of ‘bleacher classes’ – all of those evenings when my textbooks, articles, and my own research work were strewn across seasons of both indoor and outdoor bleachers – just so I could attend all of my son’s sporting events to cheer on his stellar athletic feats. (Yes, I’m a mom. Of course they were all stellar. No, I don’t ordinarily work the word ‘strewn’ into my everyday conversations.)

From the beginning, my son understood that my goal was to beat him – meaning that I hoped to graduate before he did. We might have even gotten a little competitive about it on occasion. There were times when I wasn’t sure I would make that goal. But as of this week, my day finally came. After a huge push of collecting the final data in my longitudinal study, carefully analyzing the information, and working to best communicate the results during this past year…

My Day of Defense Arrived!

Unfortunately, my dissertation defense was scheduled later than I had anticipated, what with research never quite going as planned, the scheduling of my own students’ graduation, and then some of my committee members out of town (or even out of the country).

I was extremely disappointed when I learned that my defense wouldn’t take place until the morning of my son’s first day of school. I had wanted him to be there to experience my defense – to see the final product of the past several years of our educational journey together…but not at the cost of him missing his first day of school. I come from a long line of teachers, you see, so this was pretty much a commandment growing up: “Thou shalt not miss school.” That rule was so ingrained in me that I even stayed at my desk at the age of 10, doubled over with a fever – at least until my appendix eventually gave way and exploded.

Despite me pulling out the engraved commandment stone (albeit cracked from misuse at some point during my mid-teen years), my son wasn’t going to have it any other way. He argued that he would only be missing 2 or 3 morning classes. He argued that he wouldn’t be missing any information that he couldn’t gather the next day. He argued that even his teachers would agree it was important for him to see a doctoral defense – that it would inspire him in his own post-high school education. And then, when all else failed, he pulled out the big guns and aimed. He argued that we had started this journey together, and he wanted to see it to completion. Didn’t I, after all, plan on being there for him when his school years concluded?

On the morning of my defense, there he sat – along with other family members who surprised me by changing their work schedules drastically (meaning they were supposed to be in other cities and states) to be there in a showing of support for me. As I took my first breath to begin my defense, I knew immediately that all was well. Had I stumbled over my words or my feet, had I bumbled the entire presentation and been at a complete loss for words, I realized that none of that truly mattered. This day was complete. I was supported greatly in love.

My youngest son wasted no time getting a ride back from my colleagues the minute my presentation was over – since I had to stay to meet with my dissertation committee for a final time. In his lack of words, I heard the message. My son was assuring me that his academics were important to him too.

I didn’t see him again until late that evening, when he finally came in from his football practice – hot, tired, and hungry. As he sat his backpack and gym bag down, he walked over to me, hugged me up and said, “Mom, you did a great job today. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.”

I’m pretty sure it was his way of saying that he was glad I’d let him skip school – and maybe (just maybe) that I’d even beaten him to graduation.