Get well soon Charlie…

Liz Fraser, 17th November 2009

I have a child off school today. This is a rare event indeed. In her seven years at primary school I think my eldest daughter had two days off sick. Two. The first time she was off was in Year 5, and I realised I had no idea what to do when a child was off sick, because it had never happened. For my son, whose turn it is to lie in bed all day today, this is his second day off in only three years, an increase that is largely due to the fact that I am getting softer, and the bugs are getting harder.

             It’s still a remarkably low hit-rate though, and the reason for this low incidence of days off sick is two-fold: firstly, my kids are – touch wood – pretty darned healthy. They each have their weak spots – one gets ear infections just by walking past a swimming pool, another seems to have a chest that invites bacteria round on an annual basis for a good gunge-up, and the third is Mrs Vomit and has been since she was born. She only has to think about being feeling sick, and up it all comes. (She’s the skinny one, wouldn’tcha know?)

But basically, the odd peculiarity aside, their immune-systems seem to be doing the job, and long may that last.

The second reason is that I’m a tough old mum who don’t take no shit, and my kids have to be ‘properly’ ill, or infectious, before I let them off school. A snivel doesn’t make the cut. Nor does a mild tummy ache, or ‘feeling a bit ill’, especially when there’s been a girlie tiff in Year 5 the day before. Yeah yeah, pull the other one, love. Off you go.

The reason I don’t keep them off school at the first sniff is quite simple: 90% of such minor complaints sort themselves out by first break, and they bound home full of beans, miraculously ‘cured’.

I’m not silly about it though: if they shouldn’t be at school they don’t go. Period. I seethe when I see a child coughing and spluttering their infectious little bugs over the whole of Key Stage 1, snot forming a crusty moustache of lurgy across their hot little faces. But sitting about feeling sorry for yourself when you’ve picked up a tiny little cold is a sure-fire way of getting really ill, and there’s nothing like forgetting about it over a play in the sandpit at school to bring about a miracle recovery.

What I do feel mostrously guilty about though, is this: the moment the ‘child staying off school’ notion raises its snotty head, my first thought is always: “Oh God – I’ll have to take the day off work.” Not, Oh poor little mite. Poor ME. How selfish is THAT?! But it’s true, and it’s true for thousands of working mums these days. Maybe even for you too…? A child off school means a day of achieving nothing on the work front, and guess who takes the time off approximately 99.9% of the time? Yup, it’s me, because I’m self-employed and therefore of the two of us who work, I can most easily ask my boss (me) for a day off. My boss is SUCH a pushover for days off, but she’s also a slave driver and will demand weekend overtime to make up for the loss…

This is one of the big sadnesses of our culture of two working parents. If Mum is at home all day, having a child off school is no bother. In fact, it’s quite nice to have the company and to care for them. But if Mum is supposed to be earning a crust in the office, a child’s illness becomes less a source of sympathy and love, than inconvenience. And what does the child feel about that: unloved, guilty and sad.

In my third book, A Spoonful of Sugar, ( ) I talked to my Granny about childhood illness and how we deal with it these days. She put it to me in her usual delicate way: “If our children had a fever, we kept them warm and in bed for a few days. We didn’t go to the doctor and demand pills – a child gets ill, so you nurse it better. If you can’t look after your own child when he’s ill, what sort of a mother are you, Elizabeth? Your primary role as parent is as carer, and a child how is unwell needs to be looked after. No job should come in the way of that.”

I’m tellin’ ya, she don’t take no shit either. Guess that’s where I got it from…

So today I’m going to listen to my Granny, do the right things and put myself and my work second. Today I have my sweet little boy at home with me, and I’m going to look after him, and spend some rare one-on-one time with him. I’m writing this before the day begins (he’s sleeping in my bed with his dad, coughing from time to time like a foghorn through the darkness and burning a pretty high fever) and now I’m going to put my laptop away for the day, and fix my mind on Monopoly, playing estate agents, wiping noses and keeping the manufacturers of Calpol in business. 

Get well soon Charlie.  xx

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