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.