I’ve only been off sick from work twice in the past 10 years. Once was because I had food poisoning (totally legit) and the other time was because I’d eaten too much the night before and couldn’t sleep because I was too full (less legit – but in my defense, I’d been celebrating Thanksgiving and there were several kinds of pie).
I’m pretty hearty for an unfit person who consumes a shedload of cheese, but my kid? She catches pretty much every nursery bug out there. In the past 15 months since I returned to work after maternity leave, I’ve probably missed at least a dozen days because she’s been sick.
Hand, foot and mouth. Stomach bugs. Conjunctivitis (four times). Chest infections (practically monthly). Fevers. Rashes. Every time my phone rings and I see it’s her nursery, I wince because the nursery never phones to say, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that your kid built a really kick-ass block tower today.” They phone because they want you to get your disease-ridden child out of there ASAP.
I’m fortunate that my employer is really understanding about my many sudden absences from work. All of the managers in my team have kids, so they get it. Toddlers get sick a lot. They need you. You have to take care of them. I’m never challenged when I phone up at 8am and say that my daughter threw up the night before, or when I disappear at lunchtime after yet another, “She’s got a fever of over 39 degrees” call. They say, “Do what you need to do.”
And I do. But I don’t feel great about it.
For the most legitimate of reasons, I’ve become the unreliable one in my team. Other people have to pick up my slack on a regular basis. My projects get delayed and emails go unanswered. But I’m one of the lucky ones. My bosses don’t think any less of me because of it, even when I sometimes think less of myself.
I doubt all employers are so understanding, so I often wonder – how do other parents manage it? What if you have the sort of job where not being there REALLY matters – like an ER doctor? Or if you don’t turn up to work, you don’t get paid? When you get that call from your child’s nursery, do you contemplate just not picking it up? Do you send them in when they’re sick because you don’t really have a choice? When you have to leave your office to go pick your child, are you afraid that you won’t have a job to go back to?
People tell me that this constant parade of viral infections doesn’t last forever, because kids don’t get sick as often when they get older.
“It’s actually good for babies and toddlers to get sick a lot, because it helps build up their immunity,” they say.
Future me may be grateful for this week’s vomiting bug, but all current me knows is that my kid feels like shit and I feel like a shitty employee.