Remember when you were a kid and you didn’t feel 100% but you weren’t quite sure if that meant you were genuinely sick and could get a day off, or if you would have to play it up a bit? And so you put on the croaky voice and try to look pale, and your mum looked all kind and sympathetic, and tucked you up in bed with a nice glass of lemon squash and a good book? And when your dad came home he brought magazines for you to read? And the next day you were still off and if you felt a bit better you could get up and lie on the sofa and watch telly in the afternoon? And you’d start to feel bored and grotty and eventually be grateful to go back to school?
Here’s what it’s really like. Parents generally have no idea if these low-level coughs and colds are for real. We have to figure it out based on how much more than usual the kid is sleeping, and it’s so hard to detect genuine whininess when whine is their standard mode of communication. Kids’ foreheads feel hot all the time, and they get very lethargic when they don’t want to do stuff like go to school in the morning, so that doesn’t tell you anything.
If you send them to school you feel bad all day and worry about them until hometime, then let them lie on the sofa and bring them drinks and biscuits.
If you keep them home, you give calpol which perks them up a bit and then they start playing normally and claiming to feel fine even though you keep saying “are you warm enough?” “are you drinking enough?” Then they don’t eat any lunch so you realise you were right to keep them home because it was cheese and biscuits and they love that. You let them lie on the sofa and play on their tab at the same time as watching tedious tear-jerking animated movies, and tuck them up with a blanket. At half past three they ask if they can go round and play at their friend’s house and you just laugh, coldly.
And you spend the day pottering about, unable to leave the house, unable to focus on anything much, doing petty chores and refreshing facebook. The hours drag, to the soundtrack of Minion Rush and Disney orchestras. You try to calculate whether, dosed up on calpol, they could get through school the next day and free you up to go to a meeting. And then you feel guilty. Whatever you do, you end up feeling guilty.