Excuses, Excuses

I used to think that, in order to be considered a true champion of the lame excuse, you had to either be a hung-over college student or an over-booked contractor. Because, theoretically, only someone with a few years of experience and almost zero sense of accountability should be able to keep a straight face (or at least a straight voice–the best excuses are usually given over the phone) while uttering such stinkers as: “I can’t come in to work this morning because my room-mate found a centipede in the kitchen, and I was up all night worrying about it,” or, “I won’t be able to finish that job at your house today after all because my dog broke his toenail.” Other classics include “I can’t come to work because my dog bit my brother’s probation officer and I have to go get him out of the pound (the dog, not the brother),” and “I didn’t call when I said I would last night because I was caught in a bear trap.” (Note: none of these excuses are made up–at least not by me. They are all 100% true lies.)

My thinking, in excluding children from the pantheon of great lame excuse artists, was that only an adult would have the chutzpah necessary to follow through on a really lame excuse. Let’s face it: almost anyone can come up with a whopper, but it takes a certain kind of cold-blooded indifference to see one through to the end. This is where it usually falls apart for kids, because while they are completely capable of coming up with a stunner (“my dog ate my homework,” anyone?), when pushed they will usually panic and blurt out the truth.

In fact, children are usually so bad at lying (and yet, perversely, so willing to attempt it) that you could almost measure a child’s movement into adolescence to the minute by their reaction to that old parental chestnut: “Tell me the truth; you know I can always tell when you’re lying.” (See what I mean? Only an adult could pull off that one and still keep a straight face.)

This link between creative truth management and approaching adulthood was the reason, then, that I was both melancholy and excited when, a few weeks ago, my daughter, Clementine managed to not only offer up a truly terrible lame excuse (like the child she is), but to stand resolutely behind it (like the adult she will become)–all the while keeping a straight face. A full grown politician couldn’t have done better. And, if that wasn’t enough to make me swell up with pride, there was also the fact that this excuse was not only lame, it was original. No “the dog ate my homework” for my girl (or even one of it’s more believable–for our house at least–cousins, such as “my brother’s rat made a nest out of my homework”), but rather a lame excuse that was, all at once, original, local, and timely (see: that’s how you know it’s true). In short, the latest entry into the lame excuse Hall of Fame was the following:

“I can’t clean my room this week because I’m nervous about taking the AIMS test.”

Here was an excuse that, while palpably bogus, was just cutting edge enough to give you pause. After all, the school had been sending home notes all week imploring parents to not only feed their children on test days, but to also allow them to sleep beforehand (something I had heretofore never realized was optional); maybe all that hype really had been enough to overwhelm a young girl’s nervous system. Maybe, I thought, I should let her slide on her chores this week.

Then again, maybe not. But you have to admit: it was a really nice try.

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