A week before the Catalina Foothills School District fall break, I emailed Preston's and Griffin's teachers to let them know that the boys would be missing the three half days preceding the two-day break, and I felt guilty.
My husband and I don't like to take the boys out of school because of a trip. But for that week in October, we were heading to Honolulu, Hawaii, with my parents to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday.
A friend told me, "Don't worry about it. They'll learn more on vacation than they will in those three half days." I wasn't so sure about that as the boys swam in the ocean and played in the sand.
Then we visited Pearl Harbor, site of the USS Arizona Memorial.
Our experience started in a theater where we watched a moving 23-minute documentary about the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. The film reviewed the events leading up to, and the reasons behind, the Japanese strike.
It showed footage from that day of the explosions and shared statistics about casualties. The film also showed how America came together as a country following the attack.
After the film, active-duty Navy servicemen ferried us out to the memorial, dedicated in 1962, over what remains of the USS Arizona. A park ranger reminded us that it serves as the final resting place for many of the 1,177 sailors killed on the battleship that day.
Our time was limited on the actual memorial, as about 4,500 people visit it each day. But it was enough time to see the sunken hull, the streaks of oil - referred to as "black tears" - that continue to leak from the ship, and wilting leis left by visitors.
We saw the long list of the names on a white wall of the men who are interred below. The list has grown since the memorial was dedicated - some members of the crew who survived that day made it their final wish to be cremated and to join their shipmates below.
Museum exhibits back on land were the final part of our visit. Artifacts include the remains of a Japanese missile, a bloodstained medic's uniform, and a typed draft of the speech with Franklin Delano Roosevelt's edits that he delivered to Congress about "a date that will live in infamy."
Many visitors that morning were Japanese. I'm sure in the years following the bombing this scene would have been unimaginable. It underscores how quickly the world can change, and how enemies can become allies.
Our visit sparked a lot of insightful observations and questions from Griffin, 6, and Preston, 9, about war and heroism, history and geography.
As it turns out, the boys were in a classroom of sorts that day, and learning a lesson I hope they never forget.
On StarNet: Read Kelley Helfand's recent columns at azstarnet.com/kelleyhelfand
E-mail Kelley Helfand at email@example.com