Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Your Germs, Your Problem

My son is not going back to school. He's 18 months old, so I've got another year or two on my hands before preschool and SAT prep courses begin. That said, my Facebook feed is packed to the hilt with misty-eyed mamas and fresh-faced kids waiting for the first school bus of the year. Oh those bright, young things, looking smart in their new khakis and stiff shoes -- the world is their oyster. And oysters, as we all know, can contain unique and precious pearls, as well as flesh-eating bacteria.

But you want your kid to get the pearl, not the necrotizing fasciitis. Your child's flesh is important to you. Yada yada yada. Dry your eyes and log off of WebMD; I know how to make things better. Not perfect, mind you, not even easy, but better -- more pearls and less disfigurement all around. Here goes, moms and dads: Keep your sick kid home. Yes, your kid. And, yes, in your home. 

Oh, but you have a major deadline to meet at work? Too bad. Keep your sick kid home.

What's that? You're battling your own head cold/stomach flu/bladder infection? Tough break. Keep your sick kid home.

Damn. Your leave is rapidly drying up and there are still 6 months left in the year? Sucks to be you. Keep your sick kid home.

But you've already kept your kid home for 2 days and you're all going batshit crazy and -- would ya look that -- the gym has a yoga class and free child care? Don't be an asshole. Keep your sick kid home.

My husband likes to joke that my immune system and that of our son is less of a defense than a welcome mat. Despite constant hand washing, a regular sleep schedule, vitamins, vegetables, and a live chicken sacrifice, Pork Chop and I pick up every single sniffle, cough, and rash. If I were to hear about a zombie virus on Monday, I can guarantee you that my son and I would be making a meal of my husband and the family dog by Wednesday. This year alone, I have paid for weeks (not days, but weeks) of daycare that my son couldn't even use because he was sick.

Yet, Pork Chop and I are still relatively hardy. We have yet to experience any long-lasting effects from our maladies, and with the exception of my one bean-sprout-induced E. coli infection, we've avoided the hospital. The same cannot always be said for infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and folks with compromised immune systems. One middle schooler's annoying bout of the flu could easily be a newborn's fatal illness.

But you knew that, didn't you, moms and dads? Yet you still dropped Junior off at kindergarten with a fever and a cough.

My family is also financially hardy. If I suddenly lose my job, we will still be able to pay most of our bills. We won't lose heat or water, and certainly not our home. (Although paying for daycare would be a different story entirely.) But I don't expect to lose my job. I have accrued sick days and vacation days. My schedule is somewhat flexible. My company is family friendly, and my boss is understanding. The story, however, can be quite different for single parents, for moms and dads who are paid by the hour, for folks laboring away at companies that think personal leave is akin to personal weakness.

But you still handed your toddler over to her daycare provider, right folks? Despite the night-long vomiting that you failed to mention?

Come the ever-loving-hell on, people. When you knowingly send your sick kid to school or to daycare, when you cart your sick child to the library or to tumbling class or to a play group, you are being careless. Worse, you are being selfish. You are tired. I get it. You have a job. I get it. You don't have backup child care. I get it. I get it. I get it. But that doesn't make your germs someone else's problem.

I'm not typically a soap box kind of gal. I like to tell a good poop story, to keep things light and low class. But I'm sick of being sick. I'm sick of my kid being sick. Can we please attempt to see past our own noses? When we choose to send a sick kid to school or daycare, we are placing our needs above the physical and financial health of others.

Don't let his abs fool you; he's no match for a bad cold.

About this time last year, Pork Chop was in a daycare center while I worked full time in an office park across the street. I got to know many of the women who worked there, and most were either single moms or seasoned grandmothers -- all paid a paltry hourly wage to care for our precious children. And they did care. Day in and day out, they sang to my son, comforted him through new teeth, changed his leaky diapers, and soothed him to sleep in their arms. I am forever grateful to those women, who did nothing less than raise my child 8 hours per day, 5 days per week.

Then, one morning, after I'd dropped Pork Chop off to roll around with his baby cohorts, I overheard a mom chatting on her cellphone in the parking lot.

"Yeah, I gotta run. Need to get into the office ASAP. I'll be lucky to get in 4 hours of work before they call me," she said.

Someone's expecting some important news, I thought to myself.

"Everywhere," she went on. "It was everywhere. All night long. And he just wouldn't stop screaming for me."

Oh my. That sounds juicy, I thought to myself.

"Yeah. Yeah. I know. But I don't have much of a choice. The client rep is really riding me. And I can't take care of two miserable assholes at the same time, ya know. Hahaha!"

My god, we're at a daycare center, lady, I thought to myself. Go be a pervert in some other parking lot.

Fast forward 2 days: After an otherwise uneventful shift at work, I waltz into the daycare center to pick up my son and am greeted by a horror movie scene. Puke. Rivers, streams, and lakes of puke. Children crying and puking. Daycare workers running, clutching paper towels, rending their clothes in sheer terror.

A realization dawned on me, albeit tardily. Ooooooh, I thought to myself, so she wasn't talking about sex.

The daycare manager stopped me before I even made it to Pork Chop's room.

"We've had an outbreak," she explained, gesturing to the room assistant in rubber gloves and a face mask, "We're bleaching everything. Get your son home, give him a bath, burn his clothes, and hope for the best."

In the days that followed, one kid after another came down with the stomach flu. Our office population dipped for a week, as parents burned sick leave to care for their ailing little ones. The daycare staffers were not spared either; the same women who cared so tenderly for my son were stuck at home, presumably trying to care for themselves.

And it didn't have to happen.

Don't think for a minute that I lack sympathy for the parents -- for the single mom who really needs to be on time for her new job, for the stay-at-home dad who just needs a break from being cooped up in the house for days, for the working parents without any family in the area to lend a hand. I have buckets and toilets and bed pans worth of sympathy. I was holed up in the house for over a week during Pork Chop's hand-foot-and-mouth episode. I have been sick with bronchitis at the same time that my son had the croup. Yes, yes, I admit it: It would be so much easier to hand my kid off to someone else so that I could work or recuperate or just have a moment free of bodily fluids. But my kid, my germs, my problem. My deadline or demanding boss or total exhaustion simply do not take priority over your kid's health.

We can talk about the need to change corporate attitudes toward families. We can talk about better and cheaper access to health care and child care. We can talk about forming communities, ones that support parents in need. And we should talk about it, but in the meantime, remember that talking won't stop people from getting sick.

So do me and the other folks a solid: If you know your child is sick, keep your kid home. (Pork Chop and I are one more runny nose away from becoming a CDC case study.)


  1. YES! I agree, Jess. And if people start missing work b/c their kids are sick, perhaps the corporate culture would adjust (since it is made up presumably of people who are also prone to infection periodically). I hate it when I see sick kids at school. I come from the family who made us stay home an extra day without a fever for 24 hours before going back...thanks for posting this. I hope people see and hear :)

    1. That's a really good point about corporate culture. I thank my lucky stars that I have an understanding boss and a company that allows flexible schedules. Trying to work (or go to school) while I was sick only ever had one result: I was sick for a lot longer.

  2. Thank Heavens someone is telling it like it is!!! I remember my single parent days (decades ago) and the all the colds, flu, tummy bugs, measles, etc. Much of what my kids got was caught in day care or school from other kids. You are soooo right when you say it is selfish and inconsiderate of others for any parent to send their kids to school when sick. Bravo Jess!

    1. Thank you! My heart really goes out to single parents. At least Shelby and I can trade off on nurse duty when Pork Chop isn't feeling well. And of course I'm right! ;)

  3. Heartily agree with you up on that soapbox (triclosan-free soap, I'm assuming?). It sucks to have to stay home, sucks to have to juggle, sucks to have to make up the time, but those are the breaks. And maybe it would help people realize that the world won't come to a screeching halt if they're not at their desks, hacking and sneezing, every single day. (Though, man, I wish those hourly workers could get more access to paid sick time so they'd feel safe taking the time they need for both themselves and their kids to get healthy.)

    1. Yes! The world will go on while you are away from your desk. During Snowpacolypse, I drove my tiny Civic over barely plowed roads to get to work. I was nearly crushed by a bus that spun out on the highway. When I arrived at the office, literally shaking and crying, I found that exactly 20 people had shown up in the ENTIRE company. I'm an editor, remember. The comma splices would have been okay without me for a few days. (So, that had nothing to do with being sick, I guess. But fun story, right?)

  4. O.M.G. SO feelin this one!

    My Geel started a new preschool on Tuesday and on Wednesday afternoon we got an email saying one of the kids (in the AM class --thank god she's in PM!) has hand, foot and mouth. Better yet my friend (who's little one IS in the AM class) HEARD the mother mentioning that she wasn't sure what the little bumps were on junior but she had a made a doctor's appointment for later that day. W? T? F? If you made a dr's appt for LATER THAT DAY--DON'T drop your kid at preschool, genius!
    Yeah, so needless to say, I was not happy. What kind of idiot thinks whatever their kid has warrants a dr's appt, but still brings them to preschool. I guess that would be the idiots in my town.

    1. See, now that's exactly what I'm talking about. Yeah, some illnesses just don't reveal themselves until it's too late. But if your kid is covered in oozy blisters (I know exactly what hand, foot, and mouth looks like) AND you are worried enough to see the doc, don't be a jerk! Keep your sick kid home. Well, the school year is in full swing everywhere. My the powers of vitamin C be with you and your little one!