Monday, December 18, 2000

Cold weather

How sick is too sick to go to school?

Tell me now, because my son is coughing and I’m going to have to decide within the next hour whether he’s ailing sufficiently to earn bedroom time or whether he’s well enough to go to school and cough on his classmates.

If it was up to me, I’d rely on the equations that have defined illness for me since I was 7 years old myself: Fever = sick = stay home. No fever = well enough = get your butt out of bed. I know I’m not alone in this understanding of what it means to be sick, because there have certainly been enough movie and TV scenes of kids doctoring thermometers in order to attain the magic 100+ figure that allows them to cancel class. And considering how many days of snotty, sniffling grossness a kid can amass of a winter without actually breaking 98.6, the fever benchmark has seemed essential in keeping children in school long enough to actually learn something.

But it’s felt at times as if school personnel have not shared my zeal to keep my mildly ailing kids in their seats. One winter, when my son’s snottiness had reached biohazard levels, his teacher asked me to keep him home when he had a cold. I pointed out that he had had a cold since October, and would probably have it until February, and did she want to come to the house and tutor him? Moreover, being as he’s in special-ed, he gets all his much-needed physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy at school. How could I keep him home if he was alert enough to attend, ooze or no? I did keep him home a few days, then sent him back. Our pediatrician’s advice was to not panic or bring him to the doctor unless he’d been oozing for weeks. Then again, seeing the SRO state of the waiting room that winter, she may have had her own agenda.

And I may have mine. I like sending my kids off to school. I like it a lot. I need the break. I need to work, and whether I’m working at home or working in the office, a kid-free state is preferable. Even when my son was only in school half-days, those half-days were gold to me. I don’t give them up easily. If the kids are really, debilitatingly, feverishly sick, there’s no question I’ll keep them home and care for them. But it’s those days on the borderline, where they’re not quite well and not quite sick, where judgment comes into play. I judge them well enough. The school judges them gross and disgusting.

I don’t suppose I can blame them. They’re concerned for the health of the other kids (who in fairness probably gave the cold to mine) and for their own as well. My feeling is that if you don’t want to be around snot, you probably shouldn’t go into early childhood education, but that’s just me. Truth be told, I don’t particularly want to be around sickish kids either. That’s why I send them to school.

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