Lost in Suburbia: Diagnosing ‘I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school-itis’ and other ailments

Tracy Beckerman

When my daughter was young, she missed a number of school days with what I thought was the flu. It was winter. Flu was going around. It made sense to me. But it wasn’t long before I realized what she actually had was a bad case of “I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school-itis.”

In case you are not familiar with it, this ailment is highly contagious (my son contracted it minutes later), but very rarely life-threatening and usually clears up by the weekend, and sometimes even the same day at the stroke of 3 p.m. when school lets out.

I eventually figured out that the mere suggestion of a trip to the doctor and a shot would cure them of this sudden illness.

Still, it could sometimes be tough to distinguish between I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school-itis and some similar maladies. There is a bug that is in the same imaginary viral family called “I-didn’t-study-for­a-test-today-osis,” and another less infectious one called “I-didn’t-do-my-homework-coccus,” both of which my children have contracted at one point or another. Then there is the common “I-stayed-up-too-late-when-my-mother-told-me-not-to-enza,” as well as the “I-honesty-don’t-feel-well-because-I-ate-too-much-junkfood-asis.” Both of these are almost instantly cured by the threat of an earlier bedtime and a Dorito-free diet.

Although I didn’t go to medical school, I have become something of an expert in distinguishing between a real illness and a creative one. Typically, if my child does not have a temperature, red spots all over the body or the sudden emergence of an extra limb, I tend to doubt that they are suffering from anything you would find in the New England Journal of Medicine.

However, even the most astute mom can find herself wondering if her child has possibly contracted leprosy or dengue fever when they start complaining of headaches, sore throat, dizziness, chills, numbness and any other alarming symptom they can feasibly come up with after watching the latest episode of “House.”

The biggest problem, of course, is not identifying when they are faking it, but figuring out when they are really, actually sick. Such was the case during a school break when my daughter complained that she wasn’t feeling well. Since there was no school the next day, I immediately ruled out I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school-itis, as well as all of the other school-related ailments. There was still the possibility that she had suddenly contracted “I-don’t-want-to-set-the-table-for-dinner-osis” or “I-made-a-mess-in-my-room-and-don’t-want-to-clean-it-up-fever.” Since she just complained of a vague “ickiness,” and didn’t seem to be growing a second head, I chalked it up to “Too-much-hot-chocolate-and-marshmallows-syndrome” and sent her back to clean up her room.

Later that night, myself suffering from “I’m-exhausted-cause-the-kids-are-home-on-break-asia,” I fell into a sound sleep. I was jolted awake at 3 a.m. by a knock on the door. My son came in and informed me that my daughter was sick.

“Is it ‘I’m-not-tired-asis?’” I questioned.

“No,” he responded.

“I-want-some-attention-osis?” I wondered.

“No,” he said.

“Well what’s going on?” I said.

He shrugged. “Um, ‘She-threw-up-on-the-rug-and-you­have-to-clean-it-up-itis.’”

Tracy Beckerman’s book, “Rebel without a Minivan” is available online at www.rebelwithoutaminivan.com and Amazon.