Today around 9am I got a call from Jafta’s school. It was the nurse – letting me know that Jafta was in her office complaining of a stomach ache. Now, Jafta is prone to psychosomatic complaints and general dramatics, so I was a bit skeptical. The nurse offered for me to talk to him myself. In retrospect, this was probably not the best idea. He told me his stomach was hurting really bad, and then I made another mistake – I told him that he needed to go back to class, and if it was still hurting in an hour, that I would come and get him.
I don’t think Jafta had any fantasy that his trip to the nurse could involve a ticket home for the day. I think he was just enjoying a walk up to the office, a couple minutes out of class, and the thrill of calling me at home during a school day. But then I went and planted the idea that I might pick him up, and sure enough, not 15 minutes later I got a call from the nurse, saying that he had returned to class but was just in too much pain to stay.
Again, I had my doubts, but not wanting to seem like a mother completely devoid of sympathy, I agreed to come get him. As soon as I arrived, Jafta was all smiles. For a moment he seemed to recall that he was supposed to be sick, and made a show of clutching his stomach and looking miserable. But then he remembered that he had forgotten his backpack in the classroom, and I told him to go get it. He took off . . . SPRINTING. He came back with two friends who I guess had been assigned to walk him back to make sure he was okay. He had a sly smile like he was just loving this whole thing. He gave his friends enthusiastic hugs and then asked me if he would be able to watch tv at home.
I was more than a little annoyed, and determined to make the rest of his day COMPLETELY MISERABLE so as to not encourage or reward his malingering in any way. For Jafta, I knew it had to involve two things: social isolation and media deprivation. So, I set down the gauntlet. He had to be in his bed, for the duration of the school day. No tv. No interaction with his siblings. He could come out for lunch, and then back to his room.
Oh, the dramatics that ensued. He had to pee every 15 minutes during that 6-hour period. He peeked out every time, with the most forlorn glances he could muster. He decided he needed to hug each sibling after every trip to the bathroom. When I forbid that, he begged to give them high-fives before retreating to his exile. He made up elaborate excuses for coming out. He empathically told me how much better he was feeling. He admitted that he wasn’t really sick. He told me he was lonely. He argued and complained about how bored he was. On and on and on.
But still, I would not relent. As much as his misery was getting on my nerves, I took some small satisfaction in knowing: this kid will never fake an illness to stay home EVER AGAIN.