Playing Hooky: What Killer Whales and Floor Hockey Have in Common

“We went whale watching and we didn’t see any whales, Papa!” Emmett reported to his grandfather this morning, a day after our family played hooky to catch the grey whale migration. Whale watching was high on the list of “stuff to do in 2012” that Emmett came up with as 2011 faded into its final midnight. And while I get queasy from looking at a boat moored to a dock, whale watching sounded cool, and I did not want to miss seeing Emmett and Aaron seeing their first whales.

Their Dad’s January birthday seemed the perfect opportunity to look for gray whales moving toward warmer waters to have their babies. No matter that the birthday fell on a school day — all the better! I am a proponent of playing hooky – with one caveat: I can’t shush my inner voice that says there ought to be some kind of enriching element to it. God forbid we take a day to goof off. (Not all moms are so serious. I have a friend whose mom took him out of school every time a new Star Wars movie came out, so they could be at the very first screening on the very first day. That is ultra cool. I am who I am.)

That said, I’m getting better. Rather than sending the boys to school for two hours before our expedition, as we’d planned, I let them sleep in. (I warned them they’d better remember how nice I was being, even as I heard my words detracting from said niceness.) We spent the morning playing 2-on-2 floor hockey. Kids beat parents in a nail-biter, 15-14. Then it was off to Long Beach, for a three-hour tour that left all of us a little woozy by the end.

Back to this morning. “You didn’t see any whales?” Papa asked Emmett, puzzled.

“Nope.” Emmett smiled, his too-big-for-his-face front teeth separated by a gaping space, a beautiful smile that will someday be ruined by a well-meaning orthodontist and parental co-conspirators.


“Weren’t you on a whale watching boat?” Papa pressed.

“Yep.” That smile again.

“What did you see?” Papa continued the friendly direct examination.

“We saw all kinds of sea animals!” Emmett exploded. “Sea lions, two kinds of dolphins, and the most rare kind of animal ever seen in the water …” he paused for dramatic effect… “ORCAS!”

He looked at me for confirmation. I nodded, adding “The naturalist said she’d only seen this kind twice in 25 years.”

“Wow. But, aren’t those whales?” Papa asked Emmett.

“No…they’re dolphins!” Emmett shouted his punchline. Then he lowered his eyelids, gave a lips-closed self-satisfied smile, and turned to go find his brother.

The absence note I gave his teacher this morning said, “Please excuse Emmett’s absences on January 18 due to illness, and January 19 due to a home school field trip.” (I didn’t mention the floor hockey.) I wasn’t sure how his teacher would take the “field trip” excuse. For a fleeting moment I considered saying he was sick both days and leaving it at that. But honesty, and I confess, a measure of pride, held sway. It’ a good thing, too. The first thing his teacher said to me this morning was, through her broad smile, “Was Emmett well enough to go whale watching yesterday?”

“Yes,” I replied, my own broad smile covering my relief. Without me knowing, he’d outed us days before, his anticipation for the whale watching too big to contain. As big as the whales we didn’t see.


6 thoughts on “Playing Hooky: What Killer Whales and Floor Hockey Have in Common

  1. Well, Laura, tell your three boys that I had it even worse. We took a trip to a part of Mexico that was “guaranteed” to take you right up to the whales to pet them! Honest! We flew in a small plane from our resort location and spent, Oh my God, about $1,000 a couple. We got on a small boat (a large row boat, really) with a guide who shared how wonderful this experience would be and … guess what? NO WHALES! The guide was astonished! We were sooo disappointed. Not only did we spent that $1,000, the entire trip was planned around this one-day excursion. Oh well — it’s one of those stories that will live on in forever! And, lucky you, you still saw sea lions, dolphins, ORCAS (really, NOT whales?) and there are so many more adventures to come! Happy Birthday, Christopher!

    1. Sharla, I seem to have given you the wrong impression — we all had a GREAT time! Orcas!!!! We can see those gray whales any time here in So Cal. It was simply a matter of having to choose between the rare off-shore orca sighting and the gray whales, because the Harbor Cruise boat (named Christopher, as luck would have it) needed to get back to shore for its 3:00 p.m. tour.

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