The other day, my five-year-old son, Max, came home from school upset.
There are any number of reasons a five-year-old might be upset: His best friend wouldn’t play with him. I didn’t give him the dessert he wanted in his lunch. He had the one substitute teacher in the entire district that only allows the children to drink from the water fountain for a count of three. (“1...2...3… SOME FOR ME,” because dehydration is GREAT.) Like I said, any number of reasons. Most of the time, the reasons are pretty benign, but this time, I could feel my blood starting to boil at the sight of his downturned face.
Why was he upset? Because he didn’t get to participate in the “Perfect Attendance Reward Activity” — which, in this case, happened to be watching a movie.
Why didn’t he get to participate in the “Perfect Attendance Reward Activity?” Because he didn’t have perfect attendance.
Why didn't he have perfect attendance? Because he got sick a few weeks ago and I didn’t send him to school.
Because he was sick.
And when you are sick, you know where you shouldn’t be? SCHOOL.
Or work. Or really anywhere you don’t absolutely have to be.
The flu is rampant right now. I mean, it is covering the country in a blanket of fever, chills, and malaise.
This map gives you an idea of how widespread it is:
In case you need a little health class refresher from a Registered Nurse, here you go: Illnesses (like the flu) are what we call "communicable." That means they are communicated from person to person — usually via airborne droplets (also known as YOUR SNOT) or contact (which also comes from YOUR SNOT and/or other body fluids). YOUR SNOT can travel up to about three feet from your body, which is far enough to infect any person who you could reach out to touch.
Max didn’t have the flu (in fact, and I’ll probably be sorry for saying this, he’s never had the flu, I’ve also never had the flu, and my older kids — I think — also have never had the flu, because apparently we have some alien immunity or something.*)
*Now I’ll probably get it.
Anyway, Max didn’t have the flu, but he was sick. Knowing what I know about illness (which took a total of about 15 minutes of nursing school to learn), I know that the best way to keep other people from getting whatever dreadful thing you have is to stay away from other people.
Perfect attendance is bullshit.
Going to work when you are sick is bullshit.
This country, our social structure, the way we thrive on suffering like it is some kind of badge of miserable honor, is bullshit.
Here's a song about it (by my husband):
As a point of reference, let’s take a look at the flu map of Europe:
So, while America is drowning in its own germs, most of Europe is doing okay. (Except Italy. Maybe it’s all the kissing?)
Why is Europe shades of yellow, while America (when given the same color coding) looks like it’s engaging in some kind of perverse blood ritual?
Because of perfect attendance. And no sick days. And inadequate health care. And so on. Because people can't stay home. Because we just won't let them.
We are so industrialized that we’re barbaric.
When you take your flu to work or school or church, you give that flu to my child. That (theoretical) child (one of five, in my case) brings that flu home and gives it to their four siblings. One of them gives it to my husband — thus inciting the Man Cold. And because I am not getting any rest taking care of everyone else, someone gives it to me. I am then sick for a month after everyone else has recovered, and look at what you started with your whole “I’m tougher than this illness” crap. Stop acting like it’s So Awesome to trudge through illness like you're some kind of Flu Martyr and go the f&*k to bed.
I know you have to work. I know there are bills to be paid. I know that you don’t have great childcare (or maybe any childcare). I know that it’s not necessarily your fault that you have to go to work or send your kids to school sick, but that doesn’t mean we should go gently into that proverbial dark night of snot.
As a country, we need to do better than this. As individuals, we need to vote for folks who will see to it that we do better than this. As parents, we need to stop telling our kids that being at school is more important that being well. We need to tell ourselves the same thing.
As for Max? He gets to pick whatever movie he wants to watch at home.