A reflection on the week that was...ugh. As published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, April 14/09.
The “My tummy hurts” alert
When I was a kid, my parents were World-Renowned Experts on Everything (WREEs). Up until I became a cantankerous teenager, I cannot remember ever doubting the WREEs. I turned to them for advice, comfort and, well, everything. They seemed to know exactly what they were doing as parents and had obviously taken the course.
Since then I have become a parent and it has come to my attention there is no course. Despite the fact there are days when I could seriously use a degree in child psychology or general medicine, I am only armed with a wee bit of accumulated experience, a smidgen of common sense, instinct and a Bachelor of Journalism and English. That means I can write about my observations fairly well.
As helpful as good communication skills are, they are sorely inadequate when it comes to making certain judgment calls, particularly when a kid is sick.
This winter and early spring have featured a bunch of weird little illnesses that have one thing in common: they are hard to shake. Perhaps you have dealt with the sinus infection that makes you feel as if your face is going to rot off for several weeks? Or the cold with the three-month nagging cough? Or the flu that was nasty for several days with mild aftershocks lingering for a few weeks?
Fortunately our household has (touch wood!) only been afflicted by some of these things. Last week, though, Boychild was felled by what I will lovingly call The Ick. The Ick is a tricky devil that tests such parental skills as communication, instinct and trust. In other words, is he really sick or does he just want to avoid school?
One of the hardest things I have found about parenting is making the judgment call about going to school. In general, I stick to a couple of key strategies: 1) fevers, rashes and barfies are a free ticket to stay home and 2) the kid will stay home for 24 hours after running a fever.
One of the grey areas is “the sore tummy.”
Some youngsters I know complain about a sore tummy if they are worried about something. One time last fall I was caught in that trap while escorting Boychild to school. We were standing in a hallway crowded with kids, teachers and other parents when Boychild, who I knew was anxious about something, started to cry and loudly announced, “But Mom, my tummy hurts! I think I might throw up!”
The entire school fell silent and 3,457 pairs of very wide eyes turned to me. “Get your barfy child out of here!” they silently implored.
You see, “My tummy hurts” or “I feel like I’m going to throw up” appear to be worldwide code for “Send this kid home,” and rightly so. On that day, the kid and I beat a hasty retreat, but after he got home, had a snack and started running around and bugging his sister, he was unceremoniously returned to the school for the remainder of the day – without incident. It was clearly a false alarm.
That’s why last week was so darned frustrating. The Ick appears to be one of those lingering bugs. The “sore tummy” code was activated at school last Monday, so Boychild came home. Just when we skeptical parents began to suspect we had been duped, a fever popped up. Then the fever went away, the sore tummy persisted and a headache joined the fray. Then everything left except the sore tummy, and doubt began to creep back. Still, our instincts told us to keep him home.
Any doubt was dispelled at the end of the long week when the sore tummy FINALLY made its concerns a little more tangible – in the middle of the night, of course. Yay.
I guess all of this is a long-winded, kinda gross way of affirming the usefulness of parental instincts, and also to congratulate my own parents. I now know there were plenty of times when they had no idea what they were doing, but they pulled it off. Hopefully Groom-boy and I can, too.