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Family Matters: Vacation Stress

It's not the stress you think it is.

As a very anxious person, I find it difficult to do something unexpected, different or outside the box. Rules are there for a reason. Schedules are there to be followed, so everything is always on time and structured.

I dream of living in Switzerland, a country famous for its watches, with people known for organization.

Writing all that about myself, I realize I don’t sound like a very fun person. OK, so maybe I’m not. After all, I was a librarian and am married to an actuary. Does that make you want to come over to our house to let loose? Maybe not, but you can count on me to be on time. And if you're looking for a book on my shelf, they are all alphabetized, making it very easy to find what you are looking for.

For all of these reasons, pulling my kids out of school for four days to go to Florida nearly sent me reeling. Having spent my school years boasting a perfect attendance record (OK, I may have skipped a few classes in college but only in the ones where they didn’t take attendance), I am trying desperately to pass that success rate on to my children.

My anxiety about pulling the kids from school for the President’s Weekend started a few weeks back, when I was talking to some colleagues at work. One woman, who is from China, said up until her kids were in high school, she used to pull them out for three weeks at a time to go back to China every year.

“Three weeks!” I exclaimed. “Every year! How did you do that?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, confused by my question. “When they were in high school, I only took them out for two weeks. You know, because of AP classes." 

“How could you just pull them out of school for three weeks? Didn’t they miss a ton of work? What about sports? What did they do?” and with each successive question, her head cocked more and more to the side.

“How old are your kids again?” chimed in another colleague, who had just returned from a similar month-long excursion with his son to his hometown in India.

“Ummm, kindergarten and first grade?” I said, a bit embarrassed.

“Oh,” he said, looking at me with more confusion. “So what are you worried about?”

“Well, they shouldn’t miss school, should they?” As I spoke, I began to realize how crazy I sounded.

“Why not?” he asked.

And I had no reason other than my own anxiety: just because they shouldn’t. Because they are supposed to be in school. It says so on the calendar. All three of my calendars.

Our flight to Florida left White Plains at 1:00 the Wednesday before the shortened long weekend. So of course, we sent the kids to school for two hours, picked them up and went straight to the airport.

“I didn’t even get my first snack!” exclaimed my daughter when she met me at the office, one of the secretaries still eating her breakfast.

“I can’t believe I have to miss the 100th day! We're making trail mix!” she continued when she got in the car. I totally understand, I thought to myself.

Arriving in steamy Florida, we shed our jackets and enjoyed the perfect vacation weather. Well, at least my kids did. When Monday rolled around, as I watched my family playing in the pool, I couldn’t help thinking that we should catch a flight out tonight because now we have school on Tuesday and maybe my daughter was getting her new spelling list?

I knew better than to share this with anyone, for fear of appearing like a completely unstable helicopter mom. And I swear my reasons had nothing to do with academics; it was more about just being where we were supposed to be and feeling guilty for not. What a great way to enjoy life, I thought. So I kept my mouth shut and climbed down the ladder in to the water, partially because I don’t like to jump in, but mostly because the sign said “No Jumping.”

When my kids got home from their first day back on Wednesday, even my little kindergartner had quite a bit of work he needed to do to catch up. See? I thought to myself. We should have come back yesterday!

But my kids seemed nonplussed about the stacks of papers and packets they had to complete.

“Mom, I don’t have to do it all tonight! My teacher said that!” my daughter informed me when she got home, and ran off to play.

So while I am sure that no one is going to suffer except for me from this mini-vacation, I can’t help wonder how I can curb some of my rule-following and let my hair down a bit.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pull my kids out of school for weeks at a time and not feel bad about it, but maybe I’ll purposely be five minutes late for my next appointment. I think I’ll start by un-sorting my books.

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