My Kid Had a Fever, But I Still Hesitated to Call in Sick for School
By Katharine Chan
Photo © guzznomklao/Twenty20
Apr 12, 2022
When I was pregnant with my first, a seasoned mom told me that becoming a parent is an opportunity to live your life all over again.
But this time with a lens that reflects the present.
It’s up to me how I want to roll with the changes, whether I want to approach it the same way I was raised or pursue a better path.
My daughter entered kindergarten last year. From mandatory masks, limited gatherings, daily health checks to visitor restrictions, the pandemic alone has changed so much since I was in school.
Of course, I adjusted and adapted to the new normal. But on one particular day, I struggled to let go of my past in favour of what’s right.
Denying my gut feeling
It was a Wednesday.
Unlike her usual peppy morning self, my daughter was taking forever to get out of bed and dragging her feet to come downstairs. Worries crept in. I had a gut feeling, but I was in denial.
I prepared her breakfast and she flopped down in her seat. She pushed the cereal around, stayed silent and barely ate.
We did our daily health check and the thermometer read 38.8 C. Her face looked tired. She had no energy. She was sick. I knew I needed to call the school, but I hesitated.
I had a huge day planned
The first thought that popped into my head was, “I have too much to do today to stay home with her.”
From meetings to emails, articles to that neverending list of errands, I knew I’d feel guilty taking a day off.
Those hours when the children are out of the house are when I can get down to business.
I am an efficient beast during this time, checking off tasks like the Energizer bunny.
"I knew I’d feel guilty taking a day off."
But I looked at my daughter and my heart sank. I knew the right thing to do was to call in sick.
She needed to stay home and rest and, of course, I wanted to prevent it from spreading to other kids in her class.
I’ve been on the other side of the coin, angrily ranting and shaking my fist at the parents who sent their mucus-laden kids to school.
So why was I so conflicted?
My mother’s lack of sick leave
As a child, I knew my immigrant parents were working tirelessly to make ends meet.
There were days when my mom made me go to school even though I was sick.
She worked as a part-time seamstress at a furniture company that did not provide sick pay. Basically, if she didn’t go in, she didn’t get paid.
Unless I was completely incapacitated, I knew I going to school.
My mom never explicitly said this to me but I sensed it.
"If his kids were sick, it was assumed she would deal with it."
I’d wake up with a runny nose and a sore throat, and without saying anything to my mom, I’d throw my backpack on and off I went.
Contrary to my mom, my dad had full benefits at his job.
He accumulated sick leave like weeds on an empty lot. But he never took a day off.
He was the breadwinner and my mom managed childcare. If his kids were sick, it was assumed she would deal with it.
In addition, during those times, it wasn’t as socially acceptable for a man to take time off work to stay at home with his kids.
I’m not in my parents’ position
Fortunately, I’m not in a situation where I can’t afford to take a day off.
My husband and I are in a much better position financially than my parents. As part of shedding past beliefs, I have to remind myself I have this privilege; it’s acceptable to exercise it so I can properly advocate for my child.
In addition, our marriage is not as traditional. My husband and I share the parenting duties equally. I don’t assume he’s only focused on his career and he doesn’t assume I will handle all childcare-related issues.
Instead, we deal with them together.
Prioritize health above anything else
I told my daughter, “You’re not going to school today.” She was upset because she wanted to see her teacher and her friends.
But I was adamant.
In a society where hustle culture, productivity hacks and an extreme work ethic are glamourized, I don’t want my children to believe they have to sacrifice their health for success. I want them to value balance, rest without guilt, take breaks without fear, and prioritize their mental and physical well-being above anything else. And that means I have to lead by example.
So on that day, my husband stayed home in the morning and I spent the afternoon with her. By the next day, her fever was gone.
I was relieved but most importantly, I was proud of myself for making the right decision for my family.
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