When I was a kid and complained that my head hurt or my stomach hurt or I just plain didn’t feel well, my mother gave the thermometer final authority over whether I went to school or stayed home.
If I didn’t have a fever—101°F or above—and didn’t throw up before the bus arrived, I went.
This was partially because perfect attendance was a bragging point among parents back then—far more important than keeping one’s germs at home—and partially because I had a habit of visiting the nurse’s office every Monday morning with all the symptoms of a kid who did not want to spend another single second in school.
Jane often doesn’t want to be in school, either. So when she complained yesterday morning that her head hurt, I did as my mother did before me and turned to our thermometer like a magical, medical 8-ball, while quizzing her about any tests or assignments
or boys she might be avoiding.
Her temperature was absolutely normal. Mine was higher than hers.
So, again in the family tradition, I dosed her with Tylenol—I didn’t doubt she had a bit of a headache, since we share DNA and it was starting to rain—and dropped her off.
A couple hours later, while I was at the library helping several of my co-workers to wrestle general fiction back to its permanent home, the school called and told me that Jane had complained about having a bad headache, though their thermometer also claimed she didn’t have a fever.
I sympathized, glanced at the clock, and asked them to give her a half dose of the Tylenol I’d sent along with her inhaler at the beginning of the year and send her back to class.
Thirty minutes later, as I was struggling to get an overloaded cart into the elevator without tipping it, the school called again to report that the meds hadn’t made a dent and Jane seemed pretty out of it. It was suggested that since she wouldn’t be able to concentrate today, she might take her lack of concentration home, in case it was contagious and/or suddenly invaded her digestive system.
Jane came on the line. I told her, as my mother had told me, that if she came home, there would be no TV, no electronics, and homework would be completed.
Her “Okay, Mom.” was subdued.
My guilt warred with the distinct feeling that I was being played and joined forces with the guilt over suspecting my own
devious spawn beloved offspring of trying to play me.
And succeeding. Because when the thermometer lets you down, what other avenues do you have?
My husband had classes all day, so I told them to gather her homework, threw myself on the mercy of my boss, assumed custody of the patient from the school’s administrative assistant (who did not seem overly impressed by my apparent lack of parental sympathy), took her home, and stayed with her.
Jane fell heavily asleep for four hours, woke up, had some soup, did her homework, welcomed her little sister home with the customary noogie, and was her usual delightfully obnoxious self for the rest of the day.
Was she actually sick? Or just sleepy?
I don’t know.
Had I actually been sick, all those years ago?
Does it really matter, in the greater scheme of things?
Not a clue.
But it’s clear that parenting paradigms have changed and maybe my parenting methods–and attitude—should change with them.
To start, I’ll be swapping our thermometer for a magic 8-ball for the tough calls.
If Jane doesn’t shake it more than once to get the answer she wants, she’s definitely sick.