Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sick daze?

As a parent, I learned early that it’s not so easy to determine when a child’s sick enough to stay home from school. Sure, a high fever is a no-brainer. Ditto with vomiting. But what about the sore throat without a fever? What about the “really bad headache” or the queasy stomach that may or may not result in a rushed trip to the bathroom?

Over time, I’ve developed the motherly gut instinct that tells me when we’re dealing with a nervous gut and when we’re dealing with one about to be spilled. I’ve learned to say things like “If you stay home, you absolutely cannot play with any friends today, even if you’re feeling a lot better” and “OK, but you have to go to the doctor’s to be checked.” To be honest, though, I don’t particularly love to pay a $25 co-pay so that my doctor can say, “Yes, your child has a tummy ache.” My doctor probably doesn’t need to find time on her schedule for a minor inconvenience, either.

My mom had no such qualms. She sent us to school unless we were Really Sick. Maybe that’s why I’m a bit more lenient with my kids. I know how crummy it is to sit through class when your head feels as if it’s filled with rubber cement. I believe that a day of lying low can knock out a cold that might normally last for a week if you try to keep up with your routine. Plus, there’s the whole “don’t infect other kids” thing. I appreciate when other parents keep their kinda sick kids home, and I try to repay the favor.

That’s why our school system’s latest absentee policy has thrown me into a tizzy. If I understand it correctly, the new policy states that after seven unexcused absences, you get a sit down with the school nurse. After 12, you’re meeting with a prosecutor type. Sure, seven sounds like a generous policy. But unless you have a doctor’s note, almost every absence is unexcused. If your child is home for a couple of days with a sore throat that never progresses to strep, she’s unexcused. I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically run to the doctor when my child has a stomach flu or a sore throat with a low-grade fever. I keep her home, give her Gatorade for a day or two and send her back to school. Two more unexcused absences.

I’ll admit it. School nurses frighten me. No one seems to wield more power in the halls of education than the school nurse. Granted, I love the elementary school nurse. She knows our kids, knows which ones need to be sent home as soon as they admit something is wrong and which ones just need a hug. But the middle school nurse doesn’t know my older kid. She doesn’t know me. And she thinks the absentee policy is a great idea. After all, she says, adults don’t stay home from work for every sniffle. (Frankly, I’d appreciate it if more adults did stay home for the sniffles instead of coming in and sniffling on everyone else. But I digress.)

I understand the fine line that school officials must walk. I understand that excessive absenteeism can cut into the school’s efficiency, not to mention the government funds. But I also believe that our educational professionals are capable of discerning between a true truant and a child who’s lost the virus lottery this year. I believe that a child with five absences and slipping grades might be better served by a conference than the child with 12 absences who’s managed to keep on top of her schoolwork.

Mostly, I believe that parental involvement is key to a successful school experience. I believe schools should not undermine the parents’ authority to decide when their kids are sick and when they should go to school. Yes, if a pattern is developing or the child’s grades are slipping, by all means involve the parents. But I hope they also consider respecting the parents. My kids’ education is going to be a lot better if we’re working together, not fighting over whether a sore throat is a legitimate reason to stay home. We’re in this together.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How to eat candy

Everyone who blogs seems to be an expert at something. They're experts on parenting. Cooking experts. Political experts. Nobody wants to read what I think about politics, and my kids will tell you I'm no parenting expert. But I do have lots of life experience when it comes to eating candy. I've taken risks, like the time I was going through a bag of Hershey's Miniatures and discovered that the wrapper had fallen off the last Krackle in the bag. I've tried new things, like the Reese's Whipped Peanut Butter Cup bar, which doesn't measure up to the original at all. (The Reese's Big Cup, however, is divine.) I've stolen enough candy from my kids' Halloween bags to have an opinion on just about any brand.

So listen to the expert. Here's how you eat candy:

* Make it calorie worthy. Let's be honest. Generic candy, the kind that the kids bring home in their Valentine's Day goodie bags, is not calorie worthy. Leave those to the kids and treat yourself to a Butterfinger.
* When eating M&Ms or jelly beans, have some fun. Line them up on your desk by color until you have an equal number of each color. Eat the excess. You then have the option of eating one color at a time, or alternating colors.
* It is rude to only eat the jelly bean flavors you like. However, it is not rude to develop a steady hand that allows you to pull mostly reds and purples out of the candy dish. Luck of the draw, and all that.
* Everyone has an odd candy taste, one shared by no one else in the household. Capitalize on that. For me, it's dark chocolate. No one here likes dark chocolate. Sometimes I buy a bag of dark chocolate, knowing it's all mine mine MINE.
* Find a good hiding place for your candy, so your husband can't find it and say, "Why have you been hiding this?" (That's really a dumb question. I've been hiding it so I don't have to hear about how candy's not going to help me lose those 10 pounds I'm always complaining about.) Framed family photos on bookshelves are a good option. My Grandma's photo helped hide my M&Ms for years, until the kids discovered my secret stash. My SIL keeps her candy in her car.
* Everyone has at least one candy that they can take or leave. Keep that candy in mind when you're on a diet. You can calm a candy craving with this so-so selection, without devouring the package.
* Don't put candy in a dish on your desk unless you want a stomachache by 10 a.m.
* Plan your life around the candy holidays, which start in late August, when the Halloween candy arrives on the shelves. There used to be a window for Thanksgiving-themed candy, but nowadays we go from Halloween to Chrismtas selections. After Christmas, you have Valentine's Day candy, then Easter candy. Then we get a candy break, where we are all wearing shorts and need to lay off candies. Take advantage of sales. Trust me, a bag of green and red M&Ms taste as good in January as they did in December, and they're often 50 percent off.
* Don't listen to people who say they never eat candy or they prefer fresh fruit to a candy bar. They're misguided.
* If you've read this far, go out and treat yourself to your favorite candy. Do it for me.