Whether or not to send a self-reported sick child to school may be the most difficult decision in all of parentdom. We’re not talking about the puking, feverish, or spot-covered child. That’s an easy call. We’re talking about the kid who wakes in the morning without such tell-tale symptoms, but utters those most-loathed words, “I don’t feel good.”
With that begins a domino-like series of interconnected conundrums that have ripple effects into early retirement.
“Let’s see…if Johnny’s sick then I can’t go to work, which means that I can’t make that working lunch meeting with my boss that I’ve already cancelled twice. Now, I might be able to make the meeting if my wife can come home for an hour on her lunch break, but she was going to use that time to stop at the bank and pay the mortgage so our house doesn’t go into foreclosure. If it does, we’ll almost certainly end up in bankruptcy, living on the street, and selling fake Ray-Bans to try and make ends meet. Of course, we could join a communal cult. They’re wildly oppressive, but at least we’d have a place to stay…”
What’s maddening is that you just don’t know what’s going on inside the child. The child says they don’t feel good. OK, but last night this same child was so stuffed they couldn’t eat even one more bite of the broccoli casserole, only to discover 20 minutes later, they did somehow have room for an ice cream cone, four fun-size Crunch bars, and three bowls of popcorn. I’m not saying they lied. But the capacity of a child to affect their tummy based on what they want to do (or don’t want to do) is unbounded. They can think a stomachache into existence.
Now, you could tell them, “Look, just try to go to school, and if you start feeling worse, you can come home.” But why not just say, “Wait until I’ve just turned on my computer at work and then call me.”
You could invoke executive parental privilege and just make them go, but what if they are sick? You imagine the disapproving scowl of the school nurse when she sees your child lying on that naugahyde sick table in the office and thinks, “What sort of parent sends their child to school like this? Are they cruel or simply stupid?” Later the superintendent calls, “Hi, Mr. Mercer. Thanks for sending your sick kid to school today. Now the entire district has ebola.”
So maybe you’ll just keep them home. But then you begin conjuring up imaginary conversations with the office staff.
“Hi. Johnny won’t be at school today. He’s not feeling well,” you imagine saying.
“Does he have a fever?” you imagine the stone cold voice on the other end asking. “Has he puked? Is he feverish? Is he bleeding profusely?”
“Well, I mean, no, he just doesn’t feel well,” you reply sheepishly.
“All right. I’ll mark him down absent. And, by the way, the head of the President’s National Council on Truancy and Horrendous Parenting will be by to see you. Good day, sir.”
And all this time the clock keeps ticking. Do you send them or don’t you? Sick or not sick? Home or school? What do you do?!? Finally, you get so desperate and frustrated you find yourself with the bizarre, twisted desire that your child just go ahead and puke so you’ll have something concrete to go on.
“What have I become?” you ask yourself.
But, you know, if I’m honest, there’s a part of me deep down inside that’s happy when I have to (get to) stay home with a sick kid. It’s a fast-paced, scheduled world. Some one-on-one downtime isn’t all bad. And cuddling up on the couch to watch “Scooby-Doo” with one of those little guys who I just noticed is growing up so fast—well, that’s probably more important than what I was going to do at work anyway.
J. Shane Mercer is the digital marketing specialist at The Village Family Service Center. He and his wife, Amy, live in Fargo with their three children, Ariana (10), Talia (10), and Will (6).
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