I skipped going to the gym on Monday because I had to take #2 son to the dentist, and on Tuesday because — since I didn’t have to take #2 son to school, it being conference day — I needed to finish hemming my curtains and shovel out the house a bit in order to avoid embarrassment in front of my Easter guests.
On Wednesday I was back at the gym, finishing up a half hour’s stroll on the treadmill, when the teacher of the cardiopump class came up. “Are you coming to class today?” she asked sweetly.
“No,” I said “I have to go to work. And with rehearsals this week, I’m just getting in 30 minutes on the treadmill.”
Rehearsals?! I do usually have extra rehearsals at this time of year, but this year I just have one extra this week — two total for the week. The week’s calendar shows two extra church services, several appointments with my kids, a workshop, a meeting, housework and baking, and knitting that I was hoping to do, but what came out of my mouth was “rehearsals.”
She looked a little confused, as well she might.
I could have said, “Well, I have a rehearsal tonight, which is making me feel that I need to get home and put dinner on and do something about the garden and clean that back bathroom and do my Lenten study which I have totally been ignoring, and also I have to have a second cup of tea before I go to work, and plus just the fact of having to go places every single day the way that I have been for the past six weeks and will be for the next six weeks makes me feel kind of oppressed, so no way am I going to come in there and do 800 crunches with you, thanks anyway.”
Nope. I did not say that. I left as fast as possible and came home for my tea and getting ready for work. I pulled four weeds, read three paragraphs of Quantum Grace, cleaned up four or five things in various places in the house. Really, for all I accomplished, I might as well have gone to the class.
I am going to that class this morning. But the interaction made me think about excuses.
An excuse is not the same as a reason. A stupid mathematical error is the reason for my early debacle with the Jasmine sweaters. I have no excuse.
I am pretty intolerant of excuses. That doesn’t stop me from blurting them out when I feel pressed, obviously. It doesn’t stop them from coming to my mind, either.
I was bad with excuses when I was a kid. I can remember, even into my teens, using excuses to try to escape getting into trouble, or to avoid conflicts. That is still where they come up for me.
When I think about my upcoming doctor’s appointment, and the possibility that my lipids profile might not be as great as it was last year (both The Empress and The Poster Queen had rises in their cholesterol numbers, so naturally if illogically I am worrying about mine), I find excuses crowding into my mind. Birthdays, holidays, traveling, my family’s lack of support for that whole no-saturated-fat, no-simple-carbohydrates bit, appointments interfering with gym time — I have rafts of them. All excuses, not reasons. I behave, at least mentally, as though my doctor were my parole officer, and revert to the bad habit of coming up with excuses to stay out of trouble with him.
However, I will not be using those excuses. I think of them, but at least I keep myself from saying them. Because I know that I have had 30 minutes every day in which I could have exercised, and on some days I have just chosen to use them in other ways. And I know that I have chosen to enjoy sausage and cake of my own free will, and I don’t regret it, either.
But I think that is another reason people use excuses: to avoid making changes.
I hear a lot of excuses, and many of them do seem to be about avoiding confrontation (the grown-up equivalent of getting into trouble). Stories about why a customer has to keep us late or why an order was delayed seem to me to be about that. But people also tell us plenty of excuses for why they don’t read, why they don’t spend enough time with their children — why they don’t get to the gym, for that matter. They tell us their excuses for overspending or for having bad relationships with their kids’ other parent or for choosing not to volunteer.
I used to wonder why they were telling us these things. I am there to help them choose a book or outfit their classroom, and beyond that, I don’t really care.
But of course I collaborate in their excuses. I listen sympathetically, nod and murmur agreement, help them flesh out the story if they are having trouble with that. Someone they know might call them on it, but we never do.
So, having told us the story and had it validated, they can go on out and continue to do what they wanted to do in the first place, with their guilt assuaged.
Regret and remorse cause us discomfort, but only actual repentance causes us to make changes in our behavior. Excuses keep us from moving from regret to repentance.
I don’t regret a few missed exercise sessions, and I feel no remorse for eating barbecue. I do regret making excuses, whenever I catch myself doing so. Fortunately, I also repent of it, and rarely do it.
So, looking at the clever schedule I worked out that would ensure my finishing the Regal Orchid Jasmine sweater by the end of April and seeing that I am three balls of yarn behind, I feel no temptation to offer excuses. A reason, yes. It has been a very busy month chez fibermom. That’s it. I always think that multiple reasons equals an excuse.