Anna was in junior kindergarten last year when she brought home a letter from her teacher. The concern: her lateness. During orientation, the principal noted that the school took the schedule very seriously and kids were expected to be on time, so the letter came as no surprise. But the awkward part is that my now-five-year-old daughter isn’t responsible for her arrival; I am. Therefore, the disciplinary letter was technically directed at me—and me alone. I’ve always taken a light approach to kids’ tardiness, and I wondered if there were other parents like me. A quick Google search revealed that, in fact, I’m not alone.
Seth King, a dad from Salt Lake City, Utah, writes humorous “excuse notes” in which he explains why kids are frequently late. King even created an Instagram account to document his creative letters. His notes recently went viral, earning laughs from both parents and teachers.
The letter sent home to me reported the number of times my daughter had been absent and went on to cite the Education Act and the importance of kids’ education. The letter seemed unnecessarily harsh, like it was meant to make me feel guilty. It was impersonal, but the situation is personal.
There are reasons why I’m often running late. I live with chronic pain. Anna and I are both terrible sleepers. We live out of the school catchment area and travel on an unreliable bus route. Some mornings, I consider it more important for Anna to get enough sleep than to arrive at school on time, especially given that she started school at the age of three. If I decide to let her catch a few extra winks of sleep or enjoy her breakfast, it doesn’t mean I don’t take her education seriously. I read all the forms she brings home, attend school meetings and occasionally volunteer. I ask Anna what she is learning in school and check in on her progress with her teacher. I even opt to go to the non-mandatory parent-teacher interviews for that extra bit of communication.
Last year, Anna’s co-parent and I briefly considered switching schools (for reasons of convenience) and attended an orientation for another location. I remember one kindergarten teacher’s response to a woman’s query about tardiness. The teacher said it was an adjustment for a lot of kids: They were still quite young, used to naps or had never been away from their parents before. More importantly, she assured the mom that she wouldn’t judge a parent for arriving late, especially if it allowed the kid a few extra minutes of sleep. It was so validating to have an educator back up my feelings.
I’ve worked from home for the entire time that Anna has been in school. My hours are flexible, so if I start late, it’s on me alone to catch up. If Anna were older, with more homework assignments, I’d make sure that she was caught up. As it stands, though, she is literally learning the same nursery rhymes as last year (she is currently in a junior and senior kindergarten split class). When we’re running late, I find myself regressing back to when I was a teenager and worrying about getting caught. I sometimes find myself lying about where we were in the morning. “Did Anna have an appointment?” “No, she had to come with me to one because we were running late.”
That being said, there has to be a middle ground. Her other parent is the type of person who shows up for a flight six hours before it departs. But once, when Anna and I were eating a snack between school and her gymnastics class, I told her she didn’t have to rush—that we were early—and she, for real, looked at me and asked what “early” meant.
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a five-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.