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How To Fake Sick

Illustration by Alexei Chtykhine
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Dear Knoxonomist:

The other day, my 12-year-old daughter pretended to be sick to avoid school. She’s a good kid so I took her at her word and let her stay home. That night I overheard her on the phone telling a friend that she had conned me. What should I do?

— Maggie from Mechanicsville

Dear Maggie,

Your kid made a rookie mistake, and unless you take action now, she may screw up worse as an adult.It’s the equivalent of staying home from work because of “sickness” and then posting Instagram photos of yourself paddle boarding under the Henley Street Bridge.

The technical term for feigning illness to avoid work, school, or anything else is “malingering.” Malingering with impunity is a crucial life skill, one that is important to develop early.

When the Knoxonomist was a wee lad, he decided one morning that he didn’t want to go to school. So he told his dad that he was sick. Dad, doing what he considered was his due diligence, fetched the thermometer and went back to reading his newspaper and drinking his coffee. The Knoxonomist was in a pickle; he knew he didn’t have a fever, so he lit a candle and heated up the thermometer, which he promptly showed to his dad. That worked …until the Knoxonomist’s mom got involved.

Mom took one look at the thermometer, shook it down, and then jabbed it under the Knoxonomist’s tongue and sat there watching her watch. Sure enough, no fever, and the Knoxonomist was told to get his butt out of bed and get ready for school.

Two important lessons were learned that day. The Knoxonomist learned his lessons: wait until mom is not around before getting “sick,” and keep your temperature between 100 and 101°F.

The Knoxonomist’s advice? Make it more difficult for your daughter to malinger. If she says she is sick, grab the thermometer and take her temperature. Threaten to take her to the doctor. Remind her that she can’t hang out with friends in the evening if she is sick in the morning. You need to make it far more difficult for your daughter to feign illness. How else is she going to learn the necessary skills and techniques to fool her boss when she’s older? Not teaching your daughter to successfully malinger is as bad as not teaching her how to balance a checkbook or to drive a stick shift.

The Knoxonomist wants to make it clear that while malingering is perfectly reasonable, being a hypochondriac or Munchausen is not. Both of those are, in the Knoxonomist’s opinion, unreasonable. Hypochondriacs believe they are sick when they are not, and Munchausens just lie about being sick without any specific reason. For those a bit shaky on their 18th Century German literature, Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia was inspired by the unbelievably outrageous stories about his life that the actual Baron Munchausen delighted in telling anyone he could corner.

Maggie in Mechanicsville, don’t let your daughter be a Munchausen. It is a mark of integrity not to lie without good reason. If you catch your daughter lying about being sick, ask yourself, was she trying to get out of school or chores? Was she trying to gain some type of advantage? If so, relax. She’s just a malingerer, and it is your job to make sure she perfects her malingering skills.

(To the editor: here you go. Sorry this is late. I’ve had a bad cold the last few days… *cough*.)

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