The voice of my twelve year-old daughter chimes sweetly, her eyes probing slyly sideways for a hint of my reaction.
“We have square dancing in gym class tomorrow, and I’d rather die than do square dancing. Can you write me a note that says that I sprained my ankle or something so I don’t have to go? Please?”
This is how conversations often go as we walk the dog along the river in the afternoon after school. It’s a beautiful mid-March day, the air is pleasantly warm. We are in no hurry.
“Why, did you sprain your ankle?”
“Well no then, of course not.”
She is silent for a moment, deep in thought, searching for a new, more successful strategy. The dog barks twice and dives madly into the river chasing two ducks riding the river current on the other side. The ducks take flight and the dog stops barking, hauling herself onto shore shaking out a rainbow. My daughter settles on persistence.
“Well, mostly because it won’t work,” I say. “It’s a lame excuse. And besides, then you’ll have to hobble around school all day faking a bum ankle.”
She looks up, sensing a turn in the conversation.
“What you need,” I continue , “is a religious excuse. A religious excuse is iron-clad. It’s solid. You can take it to the bank. NOBODY messes with a religious
Treading lightly on what suddenly appears to be good fortune swinging in her direction, she points out: “But we’re not religious.”
She has a point. Even though we hope that we install basic moral values and social principles in our daughter, the need to band together with others under the guise of god-worshipping is not part of that package. Life is wondrous and mysterious enough without turning personal spirituality into an episode of “Deal Or No Deal”.
“You don’t necessarily have to be religious to have a religious excuse…” I offer. She looks at me. I look at her. We smile. We’ve been here before. Mischief is brewing. It appears that basic moral values and social principles may be out the window on this one. “Let me think about that one for a while,” I wink. And with that, the conversation turns from square dancing and potentially sprained ankles to other matters of equal import.
And so that night, after my daughter goes to bed, I sit down and write the following letter:
Dear (gym teacher):
Our family’s spiritual advisor, the Left Reverend Aloysius P. Schmittmacher of the Unorthodox Octocostal Church of The Holy Moly (UOCHM) has indicated that he feels that the practice of square dancing, or any expression of free-form fun and hilarity, invites the devil into one’s soul and waylays
them from the path of righteousness. Obviously, any deviation from the path of righteousness on the part of our dear daughter is deeply troublesome.
For this reason, and with tongue held firmly in cheek, we must adhere to the teachings of UOCHM, and the advice of Rev. Schmittmacher and ask that Hyla be excused from square dancing. Instead of holding hands with strange boys and doe-say-doe-ing around in a circle, our daughter will more appropriately sit in the bleachers, quietly reading “The Hobbit” and singing hymns of devotion.
Thank you in advance for your consideration in this matter. I firmly believe that if more parents took the time to waste your time with this sort of nonsense the world would be an even stranger place.
Against my better judgment, and to my daughter’s everlasting delight, I slip the letter next to her bowl of Blueberry Crunch cereal in the morning. “Try this,” I tell her, “it probably won’t work but, hey…”
She reads through the letter; her eyes grow as large as saucers. “Can I show my friends?”
“I think you should probably wait until after gym class. The element of surprise is about all you have going for you on this one.” (That and a religious excuse.)
She gives me that wise-beyond-her-years look that I love so much and nods back in agreement. Grabbing her bags and whisking out the door, she runs to catch the bus. “Thanks Dad!”
As I watch her walk down the road, re-reading the letter, I think to myself: “I’m gonna end up regretting
• • •
Just before the bus arrives in the afternoon, the phone rings. It is 3:05p.m. and school has just ended. “Hello,” I offer, “this is Jeff.”
“Hello,” says a tentative voice on the other end, “is this Mr. Howe?”
“Yes…” I say.
“Mr. Howe, this is (Ms. gym teacher) at the Middle School calling, is your daughter in gym class?”
(My heart leaps. Has she fallen? Is she in the hospital?) “Yes…” I repeat.
“Mr. Howe, did you write a letter excusing your daughter from gym class today.”
(Oh-oh, this can’t be good.)
“Mr. Howe, may I ask you… was that meant to be a joke?”
(Busted! Now they’re going to haul me in front of the parent police and grill me.)
There is a long pause as I wait for the other shoe to drop. “Oh good,” she says, relieved,“Mr. Howe, in my 32 years of teaching, that is the funniest thing I have ever read! Do you mind if I post it in the teacher’s lounge?”
• • •
The door swings open and my daughter breezes in all smiles and full of vim and vinegar. “DAD! DAD! she hollers excitedly, “It worked! I didn’t have to go to square dancing!”
“I know Sweet Pea,” I smile, “I know.”
©2012 – Jeff L. Howe, all rights