I have a couple of friends that are really rather neurotic about illnesses. They stay as close to home as possible all cold and flu season and compulsively sanitize everything their children come in contact with outside the home. One of them even sanitizes anything that comes into her home from the outside.
We have always played pretty loose and dangerous with cooties. My husband, after all, is a nurse, and once upon a time so was I. Coming into contact with all manner of cooties is pretty much inevitable when you are a nurse,,,even the coughing up blood flesh eating ones that certain authors make their fortunes writing novels about. After spending the first half of nursing school pretty wigged about all of that, you learn that most reasonably healthy people can fight off most cooties and you get over it. Even after having a child, I wasn't one to worry much about germs. I would dismiss such overprotectiveness as silly,,,"This is how children build their immune systems," I would say with smug authority, "And, you are building resistant bacteria by throwing all of that antiseptic stuff around."
Then, last winter happened. We all got the flu. I was pregnant and very sick, and Jack and I literally spent three days in bed together, just shivering and sleeping. I alternated worrying about whether or not my high fever would hurt my unborn baby with jonesing for some Nyquil that I wasn't allowed to have. We had several rounds of illness blow through the house, each one taking us out of commission for weeks at a time while it cycled through each child, causing me to cancel important committments I had made and bringing rumbles of mutiny from the unsick children that were going insane with boredom over their forced confinements. Kain, especially, was quite ill each time, having managed to impress even his seasoned pediatrician when he managed to spike 105.8 fever the night he tested positive for both flu *and* strep. Yes, he did get a flu shot.
So now, I am facing another cold and flu season, and we've had our first brush with cooties, albiet a pretty benign one. I realize now that the people I thought were too neurotic about keeping their kids germ-free all had large families. It was bad enough with three kids...now we have four, and I can't imagine doing this with six or seven! When you have one child, an illness may keep you out of commission for a few days, but when you have four kids, it can keep you at home for weeks at a time. And if mom gets sick during that time...uh oh. I find myself thinking in terms of preparation now, wanting to keep up with the housework and keep a certain amount of necessities in the house so that we can manage a fall to illness as easily as possible, because nothing is worse than dragging sick little children to the store at 11pm when someone spikes a fever and you are out of juice and Tylenol. I'm toying with the idea of stashing some movies and board games aside to whip out when the inevitable fall comes.
There is something, however tiny, kind of satisfying about caring for my sick children. We are forced to slow down and stay home, but that brings advantages sometimes. I am forced to spend a lot of time sitting in a rocking chair snuggling too-warm bodies...but that brings advantages sometimes too. But still, sitting here, looking down the barrel of a new cold and flu season, I'm having trouble thinking positively. I try to put my energy into preventative measures, keeping everyone eating well and resting well and taking in extra Vitamin C when I know they've been exposed to something. Mostly I try not to flinch and picture all manner of crawlies on my husband when he comes home from work.
Anyway, I still realize that children need to build their immune systems. But I think they can wait to build them when they are older...say, when they are able to accept comfort from dad or an older sibling instead of only wanting to be in Momma's lap 24 hours a day for days on end, so that maybe sick Momma can rest a little too. Or, at the very least, when they learn to vomit into the toilet, or at least into a bowl, instead of all over my bed.