Sunday, May 23, 2010

On My Mind...

Our general family policy is that when we're sick, we do our best to stay away from other people. Not that we've never shared germs, unfortunately, but we really do try to contain them. I believe there's enough misery, sickness, stress, difficulty in the world without us consciously spreading more. I think there are too many mothers (myself included all too often) who can only just manage what's on her plate -- adding something so simple as a cold, which translates to even less sleep, to the mix due to a child not being able to breathe through her nose adds stress that she doesn't need. How often I've experienced feeling like I'm managing quite well when someone gets sick and our level of peace/joy/serenity decreases in the household. I think eventually colds and flus and such will not seem like such a big deal (hoping?! ha!) but I also think that people with olders forget what it's like to have littles -- the lack of sleep, the constant giving every ounce of ourselves, that feeling that an illness could just be the last straw... And to be clear! I do not believe sickness is inherently a bad thing: to the contrary! I believe sickness can often be a gift to force us to slow down in a too-busy week, land us in bed together reading instead of running to yet another thing. I believe minor sicknesses in children primes their immune system and helps ensure health later in life. But I also believe that there are enough germs in the world that we will all get our share of minor colds and flus without consciously sharing ours with our friends and family. The most contagious time in an illness is that day or two before the symptoms manifest, when we're just not quite feeling ourselves, but often haven't given in to the need to rest. We all have to BE in the world, and so the germs from those contagious times are everywhere. And that's the argument of many people in my life -- if you're going to get sick, you're going to get sick, so why should I change my plans just to prevent you from getting MY germs???
Okay, but then why is it that we can usually trace an illness we get to a friend or relative who was symptomatic the last we saw them? Is it because our minds are conscious of the sickness and thus manifest the illness? I don't think so. I really don't. Biology degree talking now: my child sits in a grocery cart that no doubt has had a child or 5 in it that day with sniffles. But the cart has been sitting out, germs getting cold, dying by the thousands before my kid gets in and licks the handle. Viral load is pretty low, but still my child can (and does, occasionally) get sick if her immune system is focusing on something else or she was just run down that day we went out. Drastic difference from being in the same room with someone, sneezing, coughing, generating thousands of germs everytime they breathe. Viral load is VERY high, fresh, and persistent. It's like being in a grocery cart SURROUNDED with a fresh germ machine attached right to the handle.
I want to model respect and consideration to my children. It's way high on my list of who I want my children to be as adults. And not just for other mothers and other children... definitely not just my child or managing what I can handle that I'm thinking of. I'm thinking of the grandmothers and grandfathers who are battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy and really really NEED TO NOT get sick. I take my snotty child to the grocery store, their grandchild gets in next, and now that grandparent can't see their own grandchild. All because I didn't stay home when my child was sick. I'm thinking of people recovering from heart surgery, same deal. I'm thinking of the parents we know who have multiple sclerosis and other immune-suppressing diseases, where a sickness is a real blow, not just an inconvenience, and does NOT ever feel like a gift.
And so...
We try our best not to go out, not to spread the germs we KNOW we have.
It feels like modeling this to my children is helping model respect and consideration. Am I successful at my goal 100% of the time? Nope. Sometimes, like just this last round, miss Heidi got a bad cold that lasted 3 weeks. The first week, we stayed away from everyone, thinking we were all going to get it. But none of us did. We assumed it was a cold that only small children get (must be a very common one) and did attend a few of our activities, but stayed away from gener l public or anyone who had small children. Perfect? nope. Doing our best? yep.
And SO!
Recently it's become apparent that I need to find a way to voice this family policy in a way that inspires others to show some consideration to my family in the same way. Do we have any immune-suppressing diseases? No. But in the words of my wise daughter, "should we have to be the only ones who cancel all our activities for a couple of weeks just because they {sick people} don't want to cancel theirs?"
Here's why this has come to a head...
Recently a mother knowingly sent her child to my house with headlice. Yep.
Whose head she combed out 3 dead lice (killed by the chemical treatment she'd just applied) that very morning. That wasn't the worst part, because she actually told me about it so I could at least manage the fall-out. That said, told me AFTER my children had already been exposed... The worst part was that our kids had played together 5 days earlier and she hadn't told me anything about it. Timeline: She discovered the headlice on Tuesday, our kids played together on Sunday (with nothing said of lice), we arranged that day for a playdate on following Friday, picked child up and was told then. When pressed, as to why she wouldn't have given me the option of exposing ourselves, she said she felt she was managing the risk for me. She was "treating" the child, so felt that was enough. (Biology: no way to tell when knits are going to hatch, no way to tell when lice are present as they are rarely seen alive, absolutely no way to manage risk of passing along the little buggers (!) until all knits are absent from said head, which usually takes 3 aggressive weeks of treatment) She felt no need to give me a heads-up, so to speak. Interesting enough, this same mother was absolutely FURIOUS that her school hadn't told her that lice was going around the school, even though it wasn't actually in her child's classroom (yet). When I voiced concern about wanting to manage my own risks for my children, she said she thought lice was something everyone had to go through anyway...
This is the same person who sent her boy with a bad cold out with us trick or treating the year we were leaving for Maui 3 days later. We didn't know he was sick and shared our water with him as he was very thirsty (and only 2 years old at the time!) And sure enough, Pedar ended up with a bad cold, a terrible ear infection (which always accompanied colds for wee P in those days) and had to stay in the condo for the first 3 days of our holiday. Since then, we've been "gifted" with probably 90% of our illnesses from said family.

"When people show you who they are, believe them," says Maya Angelou.

But when it's family, and you believe that cousins playing together is a beautiful thing, what to do? Do you think it's offensive to start each conversation about spending time together with "Do your kids have colds? Do they have flus? Do they have lice? Do they have anything contagious that I haven't asked about?" Because of swine flu swirling around our community this past Autumn, I did leave a voicemail to that effect on Halloween day. We have a tradition of meeting after trick-or-treating at grandparents house to watch the fireworks together (they can see 3 sets, Lavington, BX and Coldstream from their huge living room windows). I got a call back saying "that was a pretty ridiculous message that you left. I don't take my kids out when they're sick!!!" Um. Actually you do. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
So how do you move, touch or inspire someone to act differently when they don't see how they really are?
And what is your family policy when it comes to sickness?


ange said...


Marcine said...

We are a hole-up and stay home family. I even got a little "chat" from my boss at school for missing too much work when I was home with sick kids. I don't care. I am not taking them out, or sending them to school. We do not, however, do a very good job of keeping them away from each other -I've never had the heart to keep the child in their room alone when sick like many mothers do. We sleep with sick kids, and I make a throne for them wherever I am working so I can keep them with me all the time.