"You said it's okay to let a child skip school," writes a lady in Wheaton, "but you didn't say how a child ever learns that he is supposed to hang in when the going gets tough, or where I would get a babysitter in the 20 minutes left before I leave for work.
"Personally, I'm for your Option No. 1 -- the one where you say, 'Nonsense,' and send him sniveling out of the door. As you say, I may feel guilty about it all day -- especially when the school nurse calls and he's really sick -- but at least he doesn't thingk I'm a patsy."
A. There are a lot worse things than being a patsy -- like being rigid, for instance. Every day is not like every other one and a child needs a parent to be sensitive to that. An occasional day off doesn't mean that a child is a wastrel. If he asks for it he is telling you (and maybe himself) that school is more than he can handle just now. Unless you're indispensable at work, the holiday he spends with you -- not with a sitter -- will give him time to let his ideas catch up in his head, so he can be more productive than he has been.
This may mean taking your child to work with you, treating him as adult-like as you can and going out to lunch together, but it is generally better if he can putz around the house with you. He needs to take it quiet and easy with a few chores, no pressure and little television or record playing -- all techniques to help a child feel free enough to talk about the problems that niggle his mind.
This is also the day your child can learn a lot of things that aren't taught in school. This then, is a day to Fool Around: to take your child marketing -- not to the Safeway, but to Al's Farm Market, at 8006 Flower Ave. in Takoma Park, where the Seventh Day Adventist owner sells beautiful produce -- and pork chops made of nuts;
To the German Deli at 814 Eleventh St. NW, where English is the second language, sausages are fantastic and foil-wrapped chocolates come in a hundred shapes. If you like Italian better, try A. Littero's, at 517 Morse St. NE, the most fragrant store in the D.C. Farmer's Market. Here are all the ingredients for subs -- including the loaves; spaghetti made of pure semolina; phyllo and Greek figs; palm oil and olive oil and the ton of sausage they make every day.
It may be a day to take the hour-long drive to Lexington Market in Baltimore, where horseradish and coconut are grated fresh, oysters and beer are sold at the raw bar and ethnicity is so strong it could be packaged by the pound.
Each of these small adventures tells a child, "Hey, there are a lot of different folks in this world." It's education like this that helps a child empathize with others around him -- even parents.
Fooling around together is the time when you sit down together to fix the photograph album, with five years of snapshots to mark, one by one. You remember the time you went to Great Falls for the seventh birthday party and when you had that breakfast picnic on the Mall. There is the picture of Cousin Sadi, long forgotten and Uncle Tom, who never could be, and the strange and funny stories about them that your child has never heard.
Although the album barely gets started, the time is well spent. When a child knows who he is and where he fits, he fills one of the most primitive needs he ever will have: He finds his place.
Obviously, if your child pulls the schoolitis number more than once a month you have got to wonder if there is a serious problem or just a temporary case of rotten character, easily cured by spending a day or two at home with absolutely nothing of interest to do. There's nothing like boredom to make school look good.
Certainly you won't feel like placating your child every time he wants to stay home, which is fine. Parents can get schoolitis too -- that's when you send your child out the door, sniveling -- and without feeling one it guilty about it.