On morning last week, a surprise collection of emotions caught me by the throat, gut and tear ducts.
Kids get sick; it’s a fact of life. With few pieces of armor or habits to protect them, they are on the front line of any germ invasion. In this house we follow the school rule: They stay home until they’re fever- or digestive-ailment free for 24 hours.
It’s what we would want from other parents, although we take it a little farther than some: If a kid truly appears sick, even if there’s no concrete, visible evidence, we keep them home that morning. If they perk up by 11:00, off to school they go.
This system has served us well, but I work from home — it’s a little easier than it is for parents who can’t afford to take a day off, because their kid had only been fever-free for 10 hours. I’ll also acknowledge a little coddling and admit that sending them is a good way to impart the work-ethic lesson that feeling a little crummy is no excuse to miss school.
Even though it’s a rule, that doesn’t mean that it lacks subjectivity.
Noah, our seventh-grader, had gone to bed early one night and twice got up to report vague symptoms. At 5:00 a.m., he woke me again with a request. “Mom, can I sleep in? I still feel sick to my stomach.”
He didn’t have a fever and hadn’t given me any illness evidence, but I agreed.
Within two hours, I had my evidence.
We have a protocol for sick days:
1. Confirm illness.
2. Get kid set up with necessary items for symptom control.
3. Call school to report the absence.
That day I followed Vollenweider protocol without much thought or emotion — I’ve been at this gig for 21 years, so I’ve streamlined my actions. But that day, number three tripped me up.
Taped inside a cabinet near our kitchen phone is a business card. It’s been there since our oldest started kindergarten 16 years ago. While the phone numbers for our town’s two elementary schools and bus service are printed on it, we’ve written more numbers as needed: the boys’ preschool, the middle school, the high school.
That number-filled business card is taped onto a messy sheet of paper with neighbors’ names and phone numbers.
Yes, we still have a landline and, as an old dog with a new trick, I’ve never added the school numbers into my cell-phone contacts. The system wasn’t broken! Besides, I’m so practiced that my eyes go immediately to the card then the number I need.
I’ve done it hundreds of times: Open cabinet, put eyes on needed number, dial phone, close cabinet. But that day was different: my eyes drifted to the other school numbers then to the messy neighbor list.
I got walloped with a gut-punch of emotions that began with a wash of school memories — aching sadness that they were finished mixed with a warmth of their existence — and ended with staccato memory flashes of neighborhood antics and longing to catch up with those people.
I realized that we will never again need either of the elementary numbers; after one more year, we’ll be done with middle school; four years after that ... we won’t need any.
The phone list of the neighbors? Only three still live nearby and none of the numbers are still in use.
I had a housekeeping thought of transferring the two school numbers to a Post-It and taking down the mess of paper and old tape.
But it wasn’t just paper, tape and pen, it was a family artifact that took years of memories to build.
I closed the cabinet. The point of a sick day is to feel better, not worse.
Susan Vollenweider lives in the Northland. She is co-host of both The History Chicks and The Recappery podcasts. To listen to them or read more of her work visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com.