For many Americans, federal holidays such as today's Columbus Day commemoration can easily go unnoticed -- unless a trip to the bank, post office or motor vehicle agency is on the day's to-do list.

Columbus Day, observed on the second Monday in October to mark Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas, is among several federal holidays that many private employers don't honor. Others include Veteran's Day (Nov. 11) and Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday (the third Monday in January).

That lack of recognition of such holidays is hardly trivial: It can wreak havoc on working parents' schedules because most school districts honor federal holidays. That's especially true if the day in question creeps up with little notice, leaving some moms and dads to wonder why their little Jasons and Jessicas are arguing for more sleep time in the early morning instead of prepping themselves for school.

'Panic Parents'

Parents generally fall into two categories when it comes to being aware of which days their kids won't be in school, says Wendy Kaufman, CEO at Balancing Life's Issues, a provider of training that helps workers meet the demands of work and family life.

Some parents familiarize themselves with school calendars and have backup plans, whether that means taking the day off from work and arranging to drop kids at daycare or someplace else where they can be watched. Then there's what Kaufman calls the "panic parents," who find themselves suddenly having to deal with having a child home for the day.

Beyond federal holidays, there's also Christmas and spring breaks to plan for, Kaufman says. "It's not just a few days a year that this becomes an issue." For two-parent households, Kaufman says dealing with days when children will be home often means weighing "whose job is more important" in determining who takes the day off, if necessary.

Within her own small company, Kaufman and her own employees meet to determine and plan who'll take the day off, she says, noting that at her firm Columbus Day is a work day. They divide the days, taking into account that some employees are single parents and don't have a spouse to help out.

Parents who successfully navigate such bumps in the road are those who have planned -- and that's key in not only maintaining order at home but on the job, too. Supervisors aren't keen on employees who suddenly request a day off because "'I didn't know it was Columbus Day,'" Kaufman says. Ultimately keeping track of kids' schedules isn't just about planning, it also involves maintaining credibility with the boss.

Monday's Other Holiday

As noted, Columbus Day isn't fixed to a specific date. This year it happens to fall on Oct. 11, which is also National Coming Out Day. The annual celebration by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people got its start in 1987 as a march on Washington in reaction to the alarming number of deaths within the community caused by AIDS.

Twenty years on, the day is one filled with activities geared toward helping gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to come out from the shadows and be who they are, including in the workplace. This year, the event takes on special meaning and urgency in light of the recent spate of suicides by gay youth, linked to anti-gay bullying.

National Coming Out Day is motivated in part by a simple but important concept: People who are acquainted with someone who is gay are more likely to accept gay people, generally. Today, in societies worldwide, gay people are still all too often reviled and demonized because of a lack of understanding about human nature.

On these combined holidays, my hope is that many more Americans discover ways to be accepting of their LGBT brothers and sisters. That will help move us all toward a brighter future.

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