I am not a germaphobe. I don't own hand sanitizer. I almost never make my son wash his hands before dinner. I am convinced that the only reason he's never had lice is because I rarely shampoo his hair. I remember chicken pox parties and think they were a good thing. That's why I really hope my son's teachers aren't reading this. Because, as the new school year begins, I have to ask: Does anyone adhere to the "Don't send your kids to school sick" rule?
I'm not talking about letting your child go to school throwing-up -- when vomit is involved, I require a day in bed sipping ginger ale. Ditto for high fevers, pneumonia and the measles. But what about a cough? A mild fever? A slight case of diarrhea? Don't kids' immune systems get stronger by being exposed to common illnesses? And what about the time I let my three-year old go to school when I suspected he might have a stomach bug, but had no real proof? (For the record, he did, and I got a call from the school two hours later to bring him home. Karma is a bitch.)
My son is up to date on his vaccinations (although that's an entirely separate post) and I'm not looking to subject his pre-school to the plague -- teachers who thrust themselves into cauldrons of icky child-germs on a daily basis armed only with hand sanitizer, Kleenex and a wish for sneezes to stay at knee-level deserve nothing but admiration. I don't want my boy to infect his classmates and I certainly don't want their parents coming after me with pitchforks. Still, don't we have a lot of leeway to decide when a kid is "healthy enough" to go to school?
Case in point: the chest cold my little guy picked up during his first week of school. The symphony of coughs on the playground suggests he's not alone and since no one else in our family has it, I'm pretty confident he picked it up from his classmates, which means someone like me sent their Bundle of Joy in sick.
I'm not complaining, mind you. I expect sleepless nights soothing a feverish child and I'm getting my share. To be honest, some of the sweetest times I've had with my son have involved rocking him for hours when he's been really ill. And we do our best to keep him healthy. I breastfed him for a year to make sure he'd have a superhero's constitution, and he had two and a half years at home with a nanny before we sent him off into the big bad world.
Those days are over, though. My son's immune system is on its own.
I'm hoping he grows up to be like his dad and big brother who could both walk into a TB ward and emerge unscathed. On the off-chance that my subpar genes are running the show, I try to throw my own version of a chicken pox party whenever I can. I let a friend visit recently even though her daughter had just come down with a cold. They stayed for the weekend, and the kids swapped germs like they worked for the CDC.
The way I see it, childhood is the Olympics for white blood cells. And in the face of the slew of vaccinations kids get, and the dearth of parents who share my blasé approach to communal illness, those opportunities are harder and harder to come by -- all of which is why I did a happy dance when I started seeing articles on the hygiene hypothesis and the potential downside to being "too-clean." (I have others if you don't like either of these). Apparently, someone else out there thinks that we can be too protected from bacteria, microbes and other seemingly "bad" things. Without knowing it, I was ahead of the curve when I let my six-month-old eat dirt. Exposure to germs is good!
Here's a shout-out to the scientists who dared to follow their passion for investigating the effects of intestinal parasites. I am forever in your debt. And I'm doing my best to spread your words of truth (or at least a few germs) throughout suburban America. However, I'm running into resistance converting the masses. Seems parents today enjoy having children who aren't constantly hacking up a lung or going through a box of Kleenex in an hour. So I'm going rogue. As long as my kid's not throwing-up on my shoes or able to fry an egg on his skin, he's going to school.