Sick kids put parents in unhealthy spot

At the start of cold and flu season, the school sent home information concerning the circumstances under which parents should keep their child at home. I’m glad school officials try to keep on top of the situation. Well, as on top of it as it as they can.

Coming from a family of teachers, I’ve heard many horror stories of ill children being shipped off to school only to toss their cookies long before lunch and end up as wards of the school secretary, who is forced into playing nurse along with juggling her regular work, policing well children, keeping track of lost mittens, and tracking down the sick child’s emergency contact person.

In my defense, I’m easy to locate and Kate’s vomiting rarely reaches projectile level.

The information the school sent home addressed the times an illness is most contagious and described symptoms to look for, such as elevated temperature and productive cough. It covered proper coughing technique and hand washing to curb germ spread.

It didn’t, however, mention how to hold down your job and pay the bills while your child recuperated. That remains a mystery. And parents who have contracted with a daycare provider have the added joy of paying for a service they cannot use.

“Let me get this straight,” said a 30-something friend whose wife is trying to conceive. “Parents who don’t get paid because they are missing work STILL have to pay for the daycare they can’t send their sick child to?” Yep. His wife called me later wondering what I had said to completely extinguish his libido.

Back on my home front, Kate began waving the dreaded red flag symptoms of flu. I followed the school’s protocol and kept her home that day. Straying slightly from the good parent script, I smoothed her hair as she was lying listlessly on the couch and informed she had exactly 24 hours to get over what ailed her because I needed to get back to work.

Did I consider medicating the heck out of Kate and sending her to school the next day, despite knowing she was too sick to go? Heck yes! What parent hasn’t fantasized about it, if not done it at least once? When they really, really, really couldn’t afford to miss work. Which is most of the time for most of us.

But Kate’s Irish heritage keeps me honest. Her skin is so fair and eyes so clear that when she’s sick, you know immediately from the cherry cheeks and dazed glaze. There’s no way she could fake feeling fine with telltale illness written across her face. Even if I could cover up the complexion issue, there’d be no disguising her predilection toward spiking 104 degree temperatures. And then there’s the vomiting thing. Always with Kate.

While it was the right thing to do, keeping Kate home from school posed a hardship on our family. Kate’s father, step-father and I all stayed home from work multiple days to care for her. My mother, our chief back-up plan, had just had foot surgery. She also covered a day, against better judgment, because she knew our desperation.

I felt envious of the rarely an option for anyone these days stay-at-home mom system, for which a sick kid is a minor inconvenience, but not a devastating blow. I had extra empathy for those working in jobs with no paid days off. Missed work means pay loss and possible job loss. I know that from my years of waitressing.

My current employer gives ample paid time off, but I’ve needed it for surgery and follow-up medical appointments, as well as taking family members for their various medical, optical, dental, and surgical appointments. That means the next time I get sick, I will have to medicate the heck out of myself and ship off to work.

The ultimate irony came shortly after Kate returned to school, when I received a letter regarding her absences and the importance of regularly sending my child to school. My temperature (and blood pressure!) spiked and I vomited. But I got over it faster than you can say, “The school is my babysitter.” Couldn’t afford to miss any more work.


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