You know what is one of the hardest things about parenting for me? Making the executive decision that my child is sick. It’s hard to believe that such a thing exists but in our family it does.
When I was a kid, no one declared me “sick” except for myself. I knew when I didn’t feel good. I told my mother, she believed me and so I stayed home until I felt better. If I didn’t recover in an acceptable period of time, Mom took me to the doctor for the diagnosis and medication to make it better. If the doctor determined your ailment needed treatment, you stayed home until you recovered. Friends brought your books home and all extra-curricular activities just had to wait – besides I wasn’t so all important that if I missed something, the world would end.
That isn’t how it works anymore. Unless you are running a fever or throwing up you better be at school, sports practice, rehearsals, meetings or whatever else is on your agenda that day. Sore throat? Run over to CVS and get a quick strep test – if it’s not strep get to wherever you need to be ASAP. Headache and Congestion? Let the doc check you for a sinus infection, take your ibuprofen and jump back on that treadmill. Bronchitis? Cover your mouth when you cough and don’t miss a beat. Influenza? Well you might stay home a day but that is about all that can be tolerated. Get back out into the world and share those germs, People! Move it! Move it! Hut 2-3-4…
Somewhere along the line our society deemed sickness unacceptable. Sometime over the past 2 decades sickness became rated on a scale from 1 to 10 and unless you were knocking on death’s door or barfing up a lung you go to school, to work, or wherever you would have been gone prior to the germ. Sickness has become unacceptable. And the levels of illness highly scrutinized.
Last week a headache and sore throat virus swept through our household. Now I don’t really know that it was a virus – but there were no fevers so that was my judgment call. Asthma coughs kicked in a bit here and there just to further alert me that there was illness amongst our family. But no one missed any school. Sore throat, congestion, headache, swollen lymph nodes…those just aren’t important enough symptoms to call yourself “sick.” Those are the kinds of symptoms you keep working through. Why is that? Why couldn’t they just take a day to not feel well, rest, drink some OJ and get back into their A game? Why didn’t I feel that I could allow them that time?
This week Son #2 awoke on Wednesday morning and said, “Mom, I have Pink Eye.” I immediately thought “Crap. He is going to have to miss school for this one.” I told him to take a shower and clean it out and maybe it would be better. <Wishful Thinking> After his shower, I looked at it…pink, irritated, swollen with crusty stuff. FAB-U-LOUS ! I immediately went to my medicine cabinet to the land of past unfinished medications (don’t act shocked, you know you have one of these too) and tried to find a bottle of eye drops that I as mother and recently deemed myself doctor, could begin to administer. Nope. No such luck. To the doctor we would have to go. Son #2 wears contact lenses so we would need to deal with this one. No short cuts.
After visiting the doctor, he is diagnosed with Conjunctivitis. (Score one for Mom. Too bad I don’t get the money!) We get the prescription and are told he is contagious and cannot return to school until possibly Friday and that is at my discretion based on the symptoms because it is highly contagious. DUH?! So now I have a 15 year old who is already in a cast with a broken ankle home for 2 days while he is going completely loony with boredom because he has a seeping eye that cannot be shared with the masses.
Thursday afternoon after lunch, my daughter informs me that her stomach doesn’t feel well. A few minutes later, she tells me again. Then again. Finally she retreats to her bed. I know that this is not a good sign. About an hour later I go upstairs to check on her and find her asleep. This is REALLY not a good sign. I give it some more time. After 3 hours I know I have to make some decisions. I know that 3 other girls at the dance studio have had a stomach virus in the past week.
Do I declare her sick or not? No fever. No vomiting. Yet my 10 year old daughter is in her bed sleepy and holding her stomach complaining of extreme nausea. Does this count as sick? Well, in some households I suppose it wouldn’t really need a declaration. But that evening will bring a private lesson to prepare for an upcoming dance performance and a tap class that she has already missed a great deal of due to a broken foot earlier in the year. So it is my duty to dissect the situation.
I want nothing more than to say, “You don’t feel good – fine, we’ll just stay home tonight.” But honestly that is not the truth. Because I have to determine HOW sick she really IS. Why? I don’t know – because somewhere the “powers that be “ decided that this is how we go about it now. So I continue to check on her. 30 minutes later: “How do you feel now? Better? Worse? Sick? Pain?” Instead of just allowing my daughter to be under the weather in peace, I am bombarding her with questions trying to decide whether I need to inform others that she is unable to make it to her activities. Why is it so hard for me to just say, “She is sick?” Mostly because I’m not sure how sick she is…again there is no fever or vomiting. Does not feeling well count as “sick”?
I finally say the words to her. “You are staying home tonight.” I have decided FOR her that she is sick. Her tired eyes set deep inside her pale face appear lifeless. She shrugs her shoulders and says, “Ok.” She could care less that I have given her permission to be sick now.
I make all of the necessary contacts and inform them that she is sick and unable to attend this evening. I feel ambivalent about the decision. “What if she isn’t really THAT sick? “Maybe I should have expected her to suck it up for the benefit of the performance or the others in the class.” Why do I feel like that? Why isn’t it enough for me to know that my 10 year old is in her bed telling me she doesn’t feel well? Mostly because I know I will be questioned about her absence and I am worried about who she might be letting down.
After an evening of waiting for the vomiting to begin and questioning my diagnosis when it doesn’t, I head off to bed. Prior to going to bed, I warn Son #2 to be prepared to go to school in the morning. Son #2 responds, “We’ll see how my eye is in the morning.” My response? “I’m sure you’ll be fine and you can get back to school. You’ve already missed 2 days.”
Friday morning rolls around and Son #2 brings his crusty, glued shut swollen eye to my bedroom. It is obviously not better. He is still obviously contagious. The doctor said he couldn’t go back until it was better. So what do I do? I begin texting my husband…
Me: “His eye doesn’t look better. Should I just send him anyhow?”
Husband: “What did the doctor say?”
Me: “She said he shouldn’t go if it isn’t better because he is still contagious.”
Husband: “You are looking at it. It is your call.”
Good grief!!! I have to decide if he still is contagious. I have to decide if he should stay home or go to school. I hate this!!! I want to send him. Why? Because he has already missed 3 days about 2 ½ weeks ago for his broken ankle. Are we REALLY going to miss 3 days of school for Pink Eye? He doesn’t have a fever. He isn’t out of commission feeling unwell. He simply has a seriously gross eye. Hmm. I weigh my pros and cons. Then Son #2 asks me, “Does it look bad?” Well, yes, I am afraid it does. I deem him unable to return to school with the wave of my magic mommy wand.
Now the stress begins again because I have to notify the school that he will be absent….AGAIN! I can hear the words now:
“Um. Yes. My son will be out of school again today. Yes, it is the 3rd day. Yes, pink eye. Mhm. Well, yes, I have been giving him the drops. Um. No, apparently they are not working.“
Later my daughter wakes up since she went to bed rolling around her bed with a nauseous tummy. She tells me she feels worse than the evening before. She is very pale. An awful shade of white – a “Twilight” shade of white actually. I take her temperature. No fever, still. She tells me it is hard to stand up because she feels weak and dizzy and climbs back into bed. Ok. No fever. No vomiting. I am still trying to decide if I will grant her another sick day. Will I diagnose her as ill?
While thinking about all of this, my husband informs me that he is not feeling well. That he awoke with an upset stomach during the night and he still did not feel well. So I say to him, “Do you think you are sick?” He begins to go into an explanation of his symptoms and signs. But he is having trouble declaring himself “sick.” But he is expressing his stomach upset as a way to justify our daughter’s ailment. But he doesn’t know if he himself is “SICK.”
So again we begin the debate. She has another evening dance rehearsal to prepare for an upcoming competition date. “Do you think she can go?” “Should I send her?” “Do you think she’ll throw up?” “Should I give her some food?” “Do you think she is sick?”
Then I heard myself…
“Do you think she is sick?” Do. I. Think. She. Is. Sick.
What 10 year old decides to lay in bed for 24 hours eating nothing and missing their very favorite activity two nights in a row?
What in the world am I thinking?
Of course she is sick.
But again, it is time to make the phone calls to let people know that she is not well. I begin to worry about who she will disappoint or if it is going to be a problem that she is absent.
So I give them the option – she is not feeling well – but no fever or vomiting – do you want her to come?
No one wants her to come.
I am so relieved to be able to grant her my permission to be sick for another day. As I lightly touch her with my magic mommy wand on her left shoulder and then her right, I announce that indeed "She is sick."