Recently, I was presented the opportunity for an exciting business meeting in New York City. Fortunately, my daughter Ophelia was home on college break and available to watch her siblings, thereby saving me the vast and unwelcome expense of a babysitter for two overnights.
School morning No. 1 went very well. Morning No. 2 didn’t go quite as well and I received a panicked call from my eldest at 8 a.m., relaying the information that the bus had come and gone without her two younger brothers getting aboard.
This news did not delight me, and I lamented the plight of single mothers everywhere: it’s not easy being a solo show.
After taking a very deep breath and finding a friend to drive my boys to school, I made the long-distance call to the school office that many parents dread – the “my child is going to be coming in late” call. Otherwise known as the “you’re a naughty parent” interrogation.
As a woman who is possibly too honest at times, I explained our plight: the 19-year-old sister, the malfunctioning alarm clock, and the fact that I was more than 300 miles away. As I shared my story with a mix of disdain and humor, I heard silence – and then a tiny chuckle on the other end of the phone.
I found that my explanation had counted for nothing. My son was punished for his tardiness by not being allowed to participate in swim team practice that day.
This type of school policy ridiculousness annoys me to no end. And I’m not putting the blame on the otherwise lovely school secretaries. They are just the messengers.
Being penalized by not being permitted to compete in an athletic event that day is one thing – but a practice? Really? And more importantly, when did our parental word cease being a valid excuse?
I refuse to reveal my sources, but I know of adults in the school system who have advised our children to “just always lie and say you were feeling sick, or it’ll be unexcused.” Obviously, many students and parents feel forced to fib.
What a good lesson for our youngsters.
I don’t make excuses for my children if their tardiness is due to intentionally poor behavior on their part, like spending 35 minutes in the shower. But is it necessary for our kids to be shivering in their skateboard sneakers because a parent hasn’t used the fake stomach-ache excuse?
When did vouching for our own children become meaningless?
I understand it if a teenager arrives at the high school two hours late, smelling of cigarettes and strawberry-frosted Dunkin’ Donuts, or if a parent calls four out of five days each week claiming alarm-clock issues. That would clearly warrant intervention. But our town isn’t inhabited by parents smoking crack on street corners, and I believe parents here are well intentioned and doing their best, for the most part.
If my child truly requires 20 minutes extra sleep, or is emotionally upset and I prescribe some “mental health” time before beginning another pressure-filled school day, I believe that to be an uber-valid excuse. I’m the parent. I know my child, and I’m tired of being treated like a crime suspect. Acts of God should obviously also qualify.
Parent: “Hello. This is Timothy’s mother. I’m going to be bringing him in 17 minutes late this morning.”
School: “And why is that? Does Timothy have a life-threatening illness? The bubonic plague?”
Parent: “No. But a 40-foot conifer fell on our house last night and we had to use an axe to break down the front door in order to get to our car, so we’re running late.”
School: “Oh. I see.” (unspoken message: “Sorry but that won’t cut it sister.”)
And so it goes.
Please. Let’s reclaim our parental power. And it would also be nice if we could demonstrate that telling the truth doesn’t always result in punishment. In fact, I think we should earn points for not lying and saying our kid has a tummy ache when in fact, the dog really did eat the alarm clock.
No Sugar Added is Cape Elizabeth resident Sandi Amorello’s biweekly take on life, love, death, dating and single parenting. Get more of Sandi at irreverentwidow.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.