Wednesday, December 07, 2011

In St. Louis, Bill McClellan is known for his opinion pieces that run in the Post Dispatch. He uses a dry sense of humor and a kind of every-man approach to tackle tough subjects. I enjoy his columns in part because he talks about issues that I just don't see elsewhere, and in part because I can never predict what the next one will be about. Today he isn't trying to save a criminal from unjust prosecution or to help a family struggling with unfair medical insurance decisions. Today, he told sick employees to go home. Work can survive without you.

Its a timely discussion given that my husband and I spend a great deal of energy negotiating sick kids and deadlines. We did so this week, even, as Trystan got his first ear infection of the cold season. (Plus a cough and some wheezing. Par for the course).

McClellan got many of the facts dead-on. That schools are a petri dish of infection (things are improving now that we are out of the daycare age). How parents have to decide whose work is more important ("My deadline is in three days and we are behind" "I have a conference call that will determine whether my contract is renewed").  But he missed one rather important fact: Sick days are a scarce commodity for parents.

I miss sick days. Days where I, myself, am allowed to stay in bed until the throbbing head subsides or the cough abates. I think its been two or three years since I last called in sick on my own behalf (whenever Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was in theaters, because I drugged myself up and sat in a mostly empty theater sipping soda before the Dr appointment that diagnosed a particularly nasty strep ear/throat infection...figured I could convalesce at the theater as well as at home in that case and I get few chances to go enjoy a movie).

With my work schedule, I get about 8 sick days and about 9-10 vacation days a year (there are strange little decimals involved there because it's a percentage of another number). I already negotiated a 4-day a week schedule to be able to handle the whopping 37 days off school that the kids get every year. With full time work, I would need a nanny (which I would have to work overtime to pay for), as between my husband and I we don't have enough days off to cover the kids. And that's just the healthy time off. 8 sick days doesn't go very far when you count tonsilectomies, 2-3 ear and/or throat infections, the odd flu and RSV, times two children.Oh yeah, plus the regular doctor appointments (pesky doctors don't like to work on Labor Day or Thanksgiving either).

Once parents have traded off sick-days-with-junior two to three times in one week (For the first child. And repeated it the following week for the second child.), there is little left in the bank to draw from when you come down with your own scratchy throat and chills. 

I would love to never infect my coworkers with the various and sundry viruses that my children so kindly cough into my face. And maybe someday, both Corporate America and Education will agree on a standard set of "days off" for both parents and children thereby making "working mom" not feel so much like a circus juggling act. Maybe I should just plan on winning the lottery instead. To help pay for all the hand sanitizer that I need to disinfect my cube so that I don't make anyone sick.

Anyway, I enjoyed McClellan's column. I just felt compelled to add my own commentary to his commentary. And to remind everyone to be kind to the parent who's hacking up a lung in the next cube over. Chances are, she doesn't want to be spewing disease around the place any more than you do.


Kathy G said...

Ironically, I'd just read the column ten minutes before I read your post I agree it was a good one, as were your additions to it.

I was fortunate that I didn't have a full time job when my boys were young. When they got old enough and I had to go to work when they were sick, I'd leave them with the phone next to the bed and a stack of DVDs and wish I could be there.

Bethany said...

One of my students was particularly stressed about this today. She's on public assistance to finish her GED, but any day that she misses school her social worker can dock her attendance, and potentially take away her benefits. She has 2 kids, the youngest has severe asthma and ear aches (he had surgery a few months ago for this).

Because of how the system works here, when the preschool calls to say that her son is sick, they won't readmit him without a doctor's note. A doctor's note seems to mean a visit to the hospital here (I'm not really clear on why a normal doctor won't do) which also means a few hours wait. Recently the preschool has been calling frequently. She's show me the doctor's notes (she's using them to excuse her own absences). In the past week she's been out or left school early every day this week. First the childcare worker thought her son had pinkeye (he didn't) and had a cold (he did, but didn't have a fever), and most recently because he had a nose bleed. They wanted her to leave school to pick him up because of the nosebleed, even though it had already stopped...I cannot even possibly imagine how a professional working adult would put up with something like that.

I told her to look into alternative daycare centers, but she claimed it's the only one within walking distance of her house.

Kristi Lea said...

I hate to say it, Bet, but the daycare's actions sound familiar to me. We've had the false pinkeye claims (Trystan's eyes get goopy when he has a is gross and snotty, but not pinkeye). They usually didn't call about a "cold", but for a fever you had to have a doctor's note or be fever free for at least 24 hours before returning to work, which always meant a minimum day-and-a-half off work unless we were lucky enough to get kiddos picked up, to the doctor, and the problem was treatable with antibiotics (i.e. ear infection instead of a virus).

I'm not sure why your student is using a hospital, unless there is some issue with getting regular office appointments to see a family doctor/pediatrician (maybe something with whatever insurance she's relying on?).

The only way our family puts up with all that mess from schools/daycares is because I negotiated to work fewer hours than my coworkers. It sucks, some days, because my peers regularly work twice as many hours as I do, and I'm struggling to get all my time in.