01 March 2011


Sarah made a triumphant return to school this week after an almost two week absence. Two weeks ago, she began complaining of amorphous symptoms: sore throat, headache, stomachache, but had no fever. A stomach virus was ripping through town, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt, and picked her up early on Monday. This was my first mistake. 

She was lethargic and continued to complain about symptoms, so I let her stay home on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This was my second mistake.

I had a lovely week with Sarah. We lazed about the house watching television and reading quietly together, baking cookies and a chocolate frosted layer cake crowned with fairy dust gold sanding sugar that appeared to her in a vision. As I consider this more a tactical error than a full-blown mistake, I will call it mistake 2.5.

By week’s end we were veering into home schooling territory. I’d called school so often to report absences that I’d memorized the phone number, which is more than I can say for anyone in my immediate family.

I brought her in late on Friday morning, and was not surprised when she texted me asking to come home. Instead of taking a firm line against this I suggested she could tough it out. This was my third mistake.

Sensing my equivocation, she replied that her stomach was kiiilling her and pleeese could I pick her up? Had she been to the nurse? Of course not, and BTW she was now in French, FYI, so I could save everyone the trouble of having locate her. I may have mentioned before that she is extremely efficient, and an excellent project manager. Because she is just such damn delightful company, and an all around pleasure to have around, I relented. Mistake number four.

By now I was highly suspect of her claims of illness. I had many clues all week, most recently that morning, when she declared her intention to go into town after school, which clearly did not reconcile with a need to convalesce. I didn't doubt that she perceived her symptoms to be real, but it seemed increasingly likely that they were more psychosomatic than viral. I give my children perhaps too wide a berth in this regard — I am overly concerned that they know that I hear them, and also highly susceptible to the flattery implicit in their desire to be with me.

I was in a bind, because now I knew I'd been making the wrong calls all week, and further compounded this by agreeing to pick Sarah up. I was complicit in her deception, and in jeopardy of losing my claim to authority. I called David to get his opinion as to how to proceed, but he was not at his desk. So I resorted to Plan B, and called my wife, aka my friend Sharon, who, taking a harder line than me on such matters, put me straight.

I texted Sarah to say I'd changed my mind; she was to stay at school and rest when she got home. I pointed out that as she was not allowed to use her phone at school, if I received another message I would take away her phone.

I did not hear from her again for the rest of the day. The mysterious illness disappeared, not without leaving me with the knowledge that I’d been thoroughly hoodwinked.

I comforted myself by remembering one of the central tenets of child-rearing: do not fret when you handle a situation wrong, as you will have ample opportunities to take a different approach the next time your children try pulling the same bullshit, as they surely will, and probably sooner than you think.

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