51. Sick Days, Part One

You wake up. It looks like a good day. There’s a lot to do, but you’ve got it under control. If you drop the kids off at school a little early so you can beat the traffic and get to work early, you’ll get it done in time for that other thing you have to do. Strictly speaking, you’re not supposed to drop them off early, but there’s a few teachers who are always there early, and they have assured you that they’ll keep an eye on the kids for you – maybe even put them to work sharpening pencils, or doing something more creative. Life ain’t easy, but days like today are worth the struggle. And then one of your children enters the room, looking feverish.
It doesn’t look like such a good day any more. Your spouse, if you have one, also has a day full of tasks that can’t possibly be put off, and the old questions “Whose work is more important?” and “Aren’t these your kids, too?” have led to too many dead-end arguments. Your neighbor has an au pair, but you have already asked for too many favors. And your parents live in Cincinnati. So now what?
Wait a minute. Get a thermometer! Aha! The temperature is only 100o. That’s not so bad. Your child doesn’t want to go to school, but that’s not an acceptable symptom of illness. Here’s the deal: the child will go to school, and if the fever doesn’t break, you’ll get a call at work. It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s better than knocking yourself out to find a way to stay home, only to hear, perhaps at 9:00, “I feel better now. Can I go out and play?”
So your child goes to school, and you go to work. School personnel see your child and form opinions of your commitment to parenting. Even the teacher who just sent a sick daughter to school last week sits back inconspicuously and shakes a head disapprovingly. Your child shows up in the nurse’s office shortly after attendance is taken. There is a message waiting for you when you get to work.
I’m sure many of you have lived this nightmare. It’s easier to have a rule of thumb about children who don’t feel good if you live a relatively stress-free life. Simple – if the child has a fever or other obvious symptoms, the child stays home. School is so fascinating that your child would never fake it. Besides, if your child ever wanted to stay home just to hang out with you, or to take a break from routine, you’d allow that, so why feign illness? But most families have to balance several factors when a child is ill, and rules of thumb don’t work.

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