Growing up, my school was really into perfect attendance. For a minuscule minority of students, this meant that at the end of year assembly, their names would be called, they’d parade in front of the rest of the population and get a special award. The perfect attendance awards were not just certificates printed on pretty paper — they included a fancy pin with a panther on it (our school’s mascot) so that those who had earned this award could wear them each day the following year and really rub it in than they had been there every single day. As a child, I couldn’t read between the lines. It never occurred to me, for example, that the reason I kept getting strep throat over and over is because Derek’s* parents sent him to school sick. I also never thought about what that meant for poor Derek, even when my mother argued with me about how I needed to stay home despite my desire for a perfect attendance. I still remember her words, “What kind of mother would I be if I sent you to school when you feel so terrible? Lousy, and I don’t want to be a lousy mom.” There she was, basically calling Derek’s mom a lousy mom, and I didn’t realize it.
Perfect attendance was a goal I struggled to achieve from the moment I heard of it. I never got that perfect attendance. I was a sickly little kid. If there was a germ within 500 yards of me, it would find me. It didn’t seem to matter to the evil germs that there were other little kids it could have glued itself to. In the third grade, I even managed to catch mono. I missed almost two months of school, which normally would have been grounds for grade repeat. It took me two days to make up all that work. Yeah, I was a gifted kid too. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
For a few lucky kids, perfect attendance isn’t hard. There are those rare individuals who never seem to get sick as children. But for the most part, this also means they’re probably not being seen by a dentist twice a year, probably never going to an optometrist, and definitely not getting regular pediatrician visits. For Derek this was absolutely the case. I grew up in rural Wyoming. The nearest hospital was 40 miles away, along with the nearest dentist, pediatrician and optometrist. Derek had issues and was probably an ADHD kid, but his parents wouldn’t have considered counselling. There was a stigma attached to that there, and in a community that small, where everybody knows what color each other’s poop is (okay not literally) there wouldn’t have been anyway to keep that under wraps. No, Derek’s parents chose the “beat it out of him” method. You can tell that Derek and I knew each other really well, can’t you?
As a homeschooler, Pumpkin can have a doctor’s appointment and still get a perfect attendance award. Also, I can make it as fancy as I want. If he’s sick, I can pop in an educational video and still call it school, or I can declare it a holiday and have make up days whenever. No calls from some principal if he’s late or absent. Tardy slips are obsolete. I can adjust the day however. Granted, a perfect attendance isn’t really the amazing achievement I believed it was when I was a kid, but then I think putting such an emphasis on it probably did more damage than good anyway. Sickly children like me believed there was something severely wrong with us because we couldn’t be there every single day. And the one child in my class who had a real debilitating disease never had a chance at earning that award. That was never fair.
*not his real name