Sick Kid Etiquette
By Halina Newberry Grant
It’s happened to all of us. Your kid is finally over the flu, and this time you and your spouse managed to avoid catching it yourself, by some small miracle. She has vomited her last, her fever is down, and she has had one full day of acting almost like herself. She’s been isolated for about four days, wearing you out mentally, physically and emotionally. But you can finally take her to daycare, and return to your life as normal.
You arrive, her bag with diapers and snacks over your shoulder. She runs off to find her favorite kids and toys, and as you turn to leave, there he is: that three year old with a runny nose. Again. It’s like his whole face is covered with slime that won’t wipe away, no matter how many tissues are scraped across his skin, chapping it and making it red. Let’s call him Cellophane Face.
He’s always there, lurking in the corner, with a slug trail on his sleeve. Cellophane Face is never over his cold, and for this reason, your kid isn’t either. You’ve never heard him speak, only seen him in the corner, watching you. Watching your kid.
You don’t know who to be mad at; it’s not the Cellophane’s fault, but in the absence of his parents–whom you’ve never met—you secretly direct your rage to his snotty little face.
Maybe the daycare is to blame. Maybe they should have a “sick room” where under-the-weather kids are cordoned off. But that’s unrealistic. Square footage is premium when you run a business.
It’s his parent’s fault, right? But maybe he has a single working mom who doesn’t have sick days, who works paycheck to paycheck, and is barely floating paying for the bills and for daycare with her meager take-home pay. Can you really be mad at her?
So maybe the answer is legislation! Maybe there should be laws for working parents—a minimum number of sick days for the employee, and additional “family wellness” days, where staff are permitted a certain number of consecutive days off with notes from a pediatrician confirming their child’s illness.
Whatever the solution, what about etiquette?
It seems like the same flu bug and cold migrated from house to house in our community this last winter, hitting each home over and over again. Most parents were resigned, knowing that there’s really nothing that can be done to stop it. So we all hunkered down, our houses stocked with remedy suggestions from honey/vinegar/garlic elixirs to homeopathy to zinc to apple cider vinegar to children’s Tylenol. There were six-hour trips to the emergency room with wired toddlers unable to sleep under the fluorescent lights–because surely three days of vomiting had to be more serious than a flu bug, right?
Then there’s the “it builds their immune system” adage. Sure, sure. Her immune system must be getting stronger every day with this never ending puke and snot and cough and fever and sleepless nights! Right? Right!? Hello!? Are you there, Science? It’s me, a mom of a toddler.
Single, working parents aside, let’s agree on something: it is bad, bad form for you to drop your kid off at school, daycare, gymnastics, ballet, soccer etc. when they are sick. Whatever rationale you are using is worthless. You know this as you wipe that face as clean as it can get and rush in and out, leaving a bewildered care-giver or teacher who only notices that snot trail ten minutes after you left. You know what you did, and you know it was wrong, and you don’t care. And that makes you the worst.
I’ve heard of daycares that have policies; if the child has been sick within the last four days, they are not allowed. I imagine this is impossible to enforce. I’ve heard of schools calling home when a teacher has reported an ill child to the office, forcing the parents to come collect Johnny or Janey, who tells mom “the jig is up.” It’s inconvenient, but a totally appropriate response.
I myself work from home part time. A few days a week, I drop my daughter off at daycare and spend the day luxuriating in front of the computer without distraction, without her trying to climb into my lap every time I sit down (“Up! Up! Up!”) and without having every sentence and thought interrupted.
This week she was sick with a cold, so I couldn’t take her to daycare. That meant five days straight of clingy, snottiness. Days when I couldn’t even fill my water bottle, make a phone call or finish a cup of coffee I reheated three times. This also meant that I got no work done this week, which meant I made no money this week. Point being; I get it. I get why parents do the drop and dash. Sick kids are exhausting, and sometimes we are willing to break every rule to get a break.
Who knows what the answer is? There’s nothing black and white about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with this. Are you someone who, out of desperation, will drop off a sick kid? Do you drop and dash? Does your care provider/school have clear policies? Do people follow them? What’s your worst “my kid got sick at daycare” story?