Joy of Parenting: Sick Kids

Wanda Sikes has a great bit in one of her comedy acts about parents with kids. She reveals how parents with kids lie to parents considering having kids so as to pull them into their shared misery. “Sure it can be work, but it’s WORTH it!“ It is all in good humor, and I admit I laughed out loud many times.

I have four beautiful children, who each in their own special way(s) provide me with new and interesting ways to learn life lessons. One of our favorite comics to read is Baby Blues because the humor is so applicable to our current station in life. There is no doubt the two authors of that strip are and have been parents of small children. Practically every panel we read, my wife and I turn to each other and laugh because we can think of an exact situation where our children have done the exact same thing.

Because there are so many things to laugh about with parenting in order not to go completely stark raving mad, I have decided to start the first of likely many posts about the “Joy of Parenting.” This will include things that happen typically as a result of our little bundles of joy going through their typical stages in life that bring a strained grin to our faces (with clenched teeth) or any number of other emotions.

Today the topic is the seemingly perpetual situation of sick kids.

My family has been experiencing some sort of sickness since just before Christmas. Having a bout of sickness in the house isn’t all that uncommon in the winter months, but this year has been a doozy. Nothing warms the heart and brings the joy of parenting like dealing with vomit spewed on every wall and floor surface within imaginable reach of a child’s bed. The smell alone drives me from the room, as it would any sane individual. I don’t lay claim to having the strongest stomach in the world, but what comes out of my kids could have some sort of military application I am sure.

It’s bad enough that our kids have made sure they have a “throw up bucket” as a permanent fixture in their rooms. Pleasant, eh? Fortunately these last few weeks have been only coughs, sneezes and plenty of fevers. This “fortunate” side of things is difficult to remember when it comes to trying to console a moaning and crying one year old at 1 am, 2 am, 3:30 am, etc. I don’t think my wife or I can remember that last time we had an uninterrupted, full nights sleep at home. We find ourselves planning short getaway vacations simply for the opportunity to get some decent sleep!
Before kids, I rarely caught any sickness. Granted, I lived a more physically active life at the time, but I like to attribute the bulk of my more frequent sickness to my kids. We ship them off each day to these germ breeding grounds we call the school, where they share all manner of sanitized gear and situations. After a day full of germs swapping they come back with fresh crops of infestations to share with the family.

Once the little bugs have found their way into your house, the fun begins. If your lucky, the whole family catches it and you endure a few days or a week of misery together. That’s if you’re lucky. More typically one or two people get it, get better while the others incubate the little bugger only to get sick a week or so later and start the cycle all over again. Round and round, like a fun little infection merry go round.

Kids exhibit their discomfort in their own, personal little ways. Since discomfort was part of that statement, you know they don’t jump for joy and exclaim their gratitude for their feelings of misery and discomfort. Some just whine and moan a bit, others get cranky and bring out their little devil inside. I feel the most sympathy for my baby. As I write this post she has been crying for an hour with my wife trying to comfort her. Not the cry that annoys you, but one that makes you feel bad because she really feels that awful.
In our house, there are little privileges that come with being sick. Meals in bed, regular supplies of movies and TV when you normally can’t watch them, etc. Of course because of these little treats, even when our kids have even a little cough they try to embellish it in hopes of gaining the “extras” as soon as possible. You know your kid isn’t faking it though when after days of not eating you get so desperate for them to eat anything you offer ice cream and they still refuse.

We used to frequent the pediatrician on way too regular a basis, but with some experience under our belts now we are well on our way to qualifying for our own degree of some kind. We can diagnose our kid’s ailments with a decent measure of accuracy, enough that our doctor respects our judgment to take it at face value. My wife can practically sense an ear infection coming days away…really. I’d call it a sixth sense, but she is well beyond the single digits on her built-in motherly super-abilities.
Yes, sickness is never fun, and as part of parenting, you get to experience in in abundance. Vomit, coughing and sneezing in my face and more bodily fluids than I knew could come out of every orifice than I thought possible. Paints a lovely picture, doesn’t it? It’s a good thing I love these little buggers.

Am I “Micro-managing” My Kids?

The “Mom”

The high school my son attends has implemented Edline, a program which allows students and parents online access to assignments, course calendars, grade sheets, absence reports, team practice schedules… essentially every aspect of the high school student’s academic and extra-curricular life. Of course I am thrilled with this new tool! It should help my son to manage his life. But really, I am thrilled because it’s easier for me to keep on top of what’s going on and what my son should be doing. It gives me more material for those daily chats. Instead of asking “What homework do you have tonight? Can you get it done before baseball practice?”, I can say “So, you have Math and Latin homework and a History test to study for, better get moving or you won’t be done in time to go to baseball practice. Oh, and by the way, you’d better plan on starting that Chem project this weekend.” And, to myself I am saying “Haha! There’s no hiding now!”

Again, I am thrilled with this! I am a control freak – and I know it. But I have this nagging concern. I know that my reminders help in the short run, but what about the long run? When does he learn to manage all of this for himself? Am I really doing him a favor when I “manage” this? If he doesn’t learn to juggle these things now, what happens when he goes off to college, where there will be even more distractions?

I certainly never had anyone making sure I got my homework done. Up until now I have sorted of prided myself on being so much more involved than my parents were, but now I wonder if that’s for the best. I know the answer is “a happy medium”…but I’m just not sure where to draw the line for “medium”.

The “Dad”

All too often, our kids see “communication” and “control” as pretty much the same thing, so yes – it’s our job to know what’s going on even if they’re not inclined to tell us, and not just about the juicy stuff like sex and drugs, but about the boring, everyday icky junk like history homework.

We’ve run into the Miracle of the Sliding Grades with all our girls at one point or another, most recently when the Elf, a consistent A/B student, brought home (no, wait – when they mailed home) a B-/C semester report card, and boy, did the fur fly (little Fluffy the Cat has never been quite the same). It wasn’t any major life-crisis, as it turned out; just The Elf easing up and getting lazy, but we were none the wiser until it was a little too late.

Hereabouts we’re not helped much by the schools; where they loved us and begged us to be involved in the classroom and curriculum during elementary school, by middle/high school were useful only as fund-raisers, and then only at arm’s length. It’s time, they tell us, for the kids to take responsibility for their homework and grades or they’ll never learn…and at the same time they’re telling us that grades and academic performance are hugely important, now more than ever, for college and life at large. So, what, we let them fail (and damage their lifetime-chances-options) so they can learn…once again, just a little too late?

I think the grade grubber 6000, or whatever that system is, is a nice compromise: you can spy on them just as you should without being intrusive, and offer help when they really need it, not just when you think they might (or just when you – I mean me – really wants to.) Go forth and kibbutz – guiltlessly!

“The Teen”

It’s cool technology, I’ll admit. But I think it’s a bad idea.

High school students have their whole days planned out by teachers. When we get home, we don’t want our parents telling us that “you’ve got math problems, government notes and that big literature paper due tomorrow, oh, and you’ve got to set the table, help make dinner and babysit the kids across the street later tonight.” That’s a lot, and we know it! But we can handle it. Emphasis on the “we.” We the students. Not we the family.

Teenagers do a lot of juggling, but if you’re going to be juggling it for us… how will we ever learn?

I understand the need to control some aspect of your child’s life, but when it comes to homework. It should be up to them. A little help might be good, but it should be their responsibility to ask for help if they need it.

If you see your child struggling to get things done on time, or if their grades are slipping, ask if they need some help (with time management or studying) – don’t just give it to them.