Steal this excuse
My younger son, who’s in fourth grade this year, sometimes eschews the school bus and walks home instead. If he doesn’t dawdle, he beats the bus; if he walks a roundabout way with a kid who lives nearby, he shows up a few moments later. I don’t start fretting until the bus pulls away and the kids from our stop fan out and vanish. Invariably, when I go to the front door to peer anxiously down the street, I see his familiar little figure striding up the sidewalk. When he spots me, he always breaks into a happy run.
One day last week, he was late. It was a gorgeous afternoon, most of which I’d spent reading on the porch in lieu of working, so I felt both guilty and relieved when I heard the bus arrive at the corner. Kids tumbled out onto the street shouting, and then their voices dwindled away. Five minutes went by, then ten. Where was he? I checked the street, checked the clock, went back out on the porch to check the back yard, in case he’d taken a shortcut across our neighbors’ property, but no one was there. In our town, where fences are rare, nearly everyone’s yard is considered a right-of-way for shortcuts; people walk through our yard and down my neighbors’ driveway all the time. But every yard as far as I could see was empty, except for a few leaves sifting gently to the ground. I lunged back into the house and grabbed the phone to call the school; just then, the front door opened. “Hi, Mom,” a familiar voice sang out. “Guess why I’m late?”
“Because you walked with Anthony?” I said, setting the phone down, awash in relief.
“Nope!” He let the screen door slam, flung his backpack aside, started to wiggle out of his shoes. “Guess again!”
“Because you stopped at Dad’s to go to the bathroom?” My children go to great pains to avoid the school toilets for any serious business, and while I can’t say that I blame them, I’m torn between disapproving of their habit of using their father’s house as a pit stop, and secretly hoping they forget to flush.
“No!” He was practically vibrating with glee. “Because I saw a stag!”
We have a deer problem in our town, whose population is composed mainly of academics, white-haired avid gardeners, conscientious parents, and Quaker pacifists. The local newspaper, which comes out once a week, dutifully recounts in mind-numbing detail the various borough meetings at which, say, the pruning of municipal trees or a five-cent raise in metered parking rates is endlessly debated. This fall, however, all contingencies were able to suspend their ideological differences and vote unanimously on a motion to lure the deer, next mating season, to a location deemed appropriate, then have hired snipers shoot them with high-powered rifles. Meanwhile, the deer continue to wander the town unmolested, browsing on expensive shrubbery, crossing the street in groups of six or seven, nursing their fawns shamelessly in driveways. A few weeks ago I watched as a stag strolled magnificently around the part of our yard reserved for wiffleball for the better part of half an hour. (He eventually shat while maintaining eye contact, right on the third baseline.) But I wasn’t going to burst my son’s bubble by pointing out that deer, in our neck of the woods, are almost as common as dogs. “A stag! How exciting,” I said, ruffling his hair affectionately. “So you stayed to watch him, and that’s why you were late?”
My son shook his head vehemently. “I couldn’t watch,” he said, in the tone of someone explaining the painfully obvious. “I had to drop down to my knees and pretend to eat grass so he wouldn’t charge me!”
To all editors who wonder where in the hell my copy is, and to loyal readers who wonder where I’ve been for the past several weeks, after leaving you hanging, after failing to appear as scheduled: I’ve been on my hands and knees, pretending to eat grass. You wouldn’t want me to be charged by a stag, would you?