Friday, January 17, 2014

Day 165 of 365: This is What Happens

This is what happens when you send your sick kid to school loaded up on Tylenol.

This is one of those stories that I will probably never forget, even after the waves of time dull every other memory of my tenure as a preschool teacher. I was a Pre-K teacher at the time, and a fairly normal class day. Exactly four hours after drop-off, however, one of my students went from his usual, lively self, to a lethargic, morose mess. I checked his temperature: 102*F. I did what I usually do in that situation: I set up a place for the boy to sit down, gave him water to drink, and fished out the Big Binder of Parent Phone Numbers to call his mom. As was my usual protocol, I explained to my student that he had a fever and that I was calling his mother to she could pick him up.

His reply is what cements this memory for me:

"You can just give me Tylenol instead."

I put down the class phone and looked over at the sick student.

"Could you say that again?"

"Just give me Tylenol. That's what my mom did this morning."

"Were you sick this morning, too?"

"Mommy said I had a fever, but Tylenol would make me feel better. It did!"

This wasn't exactly a new situation for me. Throughout my time as a teacher, I watched as perfectly happy children suddenly crash and burn four hours after drop-off. A few of the parents expressed shock that their child got so sick, so suddenly (and, to be fair, a good portion of those parents probably had no clue their child was sick and it was just coincidence that they went from happy to sick four hours into school). One parent tried to explain away why he couldn't pick up his child, saying, "Can't you just give her Tylenol until I'm there?"

I fully get it: when you have to work, you have to work. I've worked at companies and corporations that were very unforgiving when it came to leaving work because of a sick child. Ironically, places like schools can be the most stringent about this matter, even as we call up other parents and tell them to pick up their children. It's a tough world out there; a tough world with a failing economy and a cost of living that is far outpacing salary growth.

But look at what you're telling your children when you do this. When they come to you with a fever and aches and pains and you rush to give them Tylenol so they can be shuttled off to school -- what type of message does that send? While you might not be overtly saying, "I don't have time for this. I'm going to drug you up and send you off anyway," the idea is still there. Being ill doesn't mean you take the time to get better; being ill means you have to hide it and pretend you are perfectly fine, even if it means crashing (and potentially getting everyone you come in contact with sick).

Pumping a child full of Tylenol, sending them off to school, and getting annoyed when the plan fails (and it inevitably will), teaches children that they always need to be on. There are no more sick days. There are no more days you can take for yourself to recharge and feel better. I'd go one step further and say that it teaches children that they should be ashamed when their immune systems aren't foolproof. This mentality -- that will inevitably lead to burnout with adults -- is setting children up for a burnout all of their own.

Furthermore, it's teaching children that the needs of others are negligible. Who cares if you are contagious; there is work to be done! Who cares if your sick child gets a whole room of children (and teachers) sick.

This post needs to end on a positive note: while I dealt with the Tylenol Crash more times than I'm happy to admit, I've other dealt with parents who would call the school to let the teachers know that their child was feeling under the weather. The child might not have a full-blown fever yet, but the parents wanted to give the child a chance to rest and feel better (and not potentially get everyone else sick). I know not every parent will be able to have that opportunity, but it makes me so happy when it happens.

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