The Tantrum, Part 2: Should you pull your kid out of school for vacation?

December 14th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in The Tantrum  |  5 Comments

(This is the Tantrum, in which Dadwagon’s writers debate one question over the course of a week. For previous Tantrums, click here.)

cartoon_family_vacation_CoolClips_cart0768Of all the ‘wagoneers, I am the one probably least prepared to answer this vital question, and not just because my daughter, Sasha, is only 2, and has yet to embark upon an academic schedule so rigorous that interrupting it precipitates a dilemma on par with the Venkman-Spengler “crossing the streams” conundrum.

Because for me, it’s a non-question. Of course you interrupt school! Yes, school is important, but school is preparation for life, and life happens when mom and dad pluck from the drudgery of Social Studies and plop you down on, say, an organic fruit farm in Malaysia or take you trekking across the frozen tundra of Kazakhstan. Homework, schmomework. For the smart, talented child (and I have no doubt Sasha will be one), it just won’t matter.

But remember! I am also a hypocrite, and in fact Jean and I are struggling to deal with the preschool version of this problem. Which is: Two years into Sasha’s young life, we’ve established a damn good routine for her. Up around 7, milk, a bit of playing, get dressed, off to Preschool of America, home from Preschool of America, a bit of playing, bathtime, 25 minutes of quasi-educational videotainment, milk, teethbrushing, bedtime stories, bedtime at just about 8 p.m. With very subtle variations, this is how it works, and it works beautifully. No fuss, no fighting each step of the way, no lingering feelings of guilt or inadequacy when the kid’s finally wrestled to bed. Many parents would probably kill to have such an easy time of it.

The problem with schedules is that they’re also prisons. Disrupt them enough and you create havoc among the inmates, and so you do everything in your power to make sure the schedule is maintained.

And yet, we need to disrupt them sometimes, and we’re finding ourselves wanting to more and more often, whether it’s dinner out at a friend’s place (we could bring her, but how to handle bed, etc.?), or odd mealtimes on weekends, or the temptation to, once in a while, skip the bath or, if she’s been naughty, put her to bed without a reading (in a funny voice) of “The Monster at the End of This Book.” But most of the time, we don’t. We bow to the schedule. It’s easier for Sasha, and easier for us, even if we’re sacrificing our social lives to an arbitrary agenda.

I hate it, though. And not just because it constrains our non-Sasha lives. I hate that principle, that as parents we sacrifice absolutely everything for the good of our children, that the benefits of regularity outweigh those of erraticism. Hell, my life has been based on randomness and unschedulability for decades, and things have turned out all right for me. Surely it’ll be okay for Sasha, right?

Maybe. Maybe we’re just waiting a little long, until she’s older and, we hope, more capable of handling sudden changes in routine. Till then we can just give her a taste, on occasion, of randomness and cross our fingers she doesn’t freak out, and someday she’ll be ready to be whisked from first grade onto the snowy Alps or the Great Barrier Reef. To hell with her teachers—she’ll be okay. After all, it’s public school.


  1. Alana says:

    December 14th, 2010at 1:15 pm(#)

    With the very big disclaimer that it all depends on the kid…

    We have twins. We have a routine, like most families, and we try to make it one that is easily transportable. We push naptime a bit here and there, bedtime a bit here and there, lunch, dinner, etc. But we do go places with our kids. They are 18 months old and have been to several different places so far by means of planes, trains, buses, and cars. They’ve stayed in hotels. They’ve been put to bed in strangers’ houses. For the most part, it goes well. We figure if we get them used to traveling early, used to the fact that sometimes we pack bags and hop on a plane or in the car, that it will be normal for them. We hope this will prepare them to be good travelers as they get older. But we’ll see if/how it actually works. Will we take them out of school for a special trip? Hell yes we will! I can’t wait!

  2. Christy says:

    December 14th, 2010at 5:21 pm(#)

    Our first international trip with our son was when he was six weeks old, and his second was at five months. He’s been on more plane trips than some adults I know, and at 3 1/2 is a great little traveler. We took advantage of the ‘free kids under 2’ as much as possible. He’s learning to snow ski and hangs out with us on a dive boat in Mexico.

    Different kids handle change in routine differently, and we’re very lucky that our little guy is good at being flexible. His first ski trip we opted for just a five-day trip (he was not quite two) since we weren’t sure he would like the cold, but he loved it and the next year he was in ski school and learning the basics.

    Start out with a short trip, maybe a long weekend, and see how she handles it. It’s nice to be able to take advantage of the off-peak travel dates while you can, because while I will take him out of school for some travel later (assuming that he is capable of making up the work and not getting behind), I think we will try to minimize the number of days he misses.

  3. Matt says:

    December 14th, 2010at 6:51 pm(#)

    @Christy: The situation was the same for us: First overseas trip at six weeks <>, and many more after that. And frankly, we’re less worried about trips that upend the routine entirely. It’s more that we want to bend and break it for a day, or even a few hours, here and there. That somehow seems harder to deal with and recover from.


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