We’re in the bathroom because it’s the only room with a door, and we’re whispering. “Well, she did say her stomach hurt last night. What if she has to spend the whole day on the couch, no TV?” The other parent nods. “Right, OK, that sounds good.”
It’s a dance parents around the world know all too well. The kid says they’re sick, but how sick are they, really?
Sick enough to miss a day of school? Or just sick and tired of having to get up early and hoping for a day off worksheets?
There are high stakes to getting this wrong. Your kid could be patient zero for the latest bug to sweep the school, reducing class sizes to almost non-existent. Or they could be a total faker.
Sometimes there are signs. My daughter’s eyes tend to get glassy when she’s sick. She doesn’t talk much, doesn’t argue. She’s unfocused, a shell of herself.
Or the quiet and lassitude could just be the vestiges of tweenagerhood. How do you tell?
If there’s a fever, things get easier. Your decision is made, and you settle them on the couch with a pile of books and a cup of ginger ale.
If the thermometer reads 98.6, you’re on your own. You have to go with your gut, and sometimes it will fail you.
That couch encampment you’ve created will be thrust on the floor by 10 a.m., as they’re bouncing off the walls. You consider the message you’ve sent: that fakery will get them everywhere, and you groan because that’s all you can do. You’ve been had.
Or worse, you gamble and force them out the door and on to a bus, only to get that call you’ve been dreading two hours later. “Your daughter just threw up all over the gymnasium floor. Please come pick her up.”
You’re already out the door and on your way, and you’ll beat yourself up over this for a good week or so, your child milking your guilt for all its worth.
When it’s the real thing, when people in your house are dropping like flies, it’s tempting to rail at the parents of the real patient zero, to curse them for sending their germ-infested child into the fold and casting this plague upon your house.
But just remember the dance, the gamble … we’ve all been there.