Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bug Off

I'm sorry if I sound whiny, but people are really pissing me off lately. I have pretty much determined that you can't catch a break as a mother. Your kids need YOU, they say - but you're a bad mother if you don't go out often enough. Or if you go out too much. You are your kids' first and most important teacher, they say - but you're a bad mother if you send them to preschool or a babysitter too early - OR too late. The list goes on and on, probably forever.

So I'm sure that those of you who are mothers understand how easy it is to take the blame for everything regarding your child. I beat myself up daily about how cranky I've become with Sweet Pea. Some days it feels like I never say "yes" to her anymore, and I worry that I'm always pushing her away so I can get something cleaned, make a phone call, or change a diaper. Despite my feelings that I'm the opposite, many people, my hubby included, tell me that they think that I am too easy on her. I agonize over the fact that The Bug doesn't know her alphabet yet. Sweet Pea had most of it down by The Bug's age. There are so many things I taught Sweet Pea really young that The Bug doesn't know yet.

Lately I am catching flack all over the place because my girls have had cold after cold (we're currently on #4) since November. Now, as I understand it, kids are born with no immunities and get some through their mother's breastmilk, right? But the rest they have to form themselves by actually getting sick and building those immunities in their own little bodies to fight off the viruses. Right? And if a child has been mostly home with her mom for, say, four years, she has not been introduced to many illnesses besides what her daddy brings home from work, or what she catches at play group or wherever. Agreed?

Well, my parents, even though my mom has years of first-hand experience with the way germs travel in classrooms of kids and teachers in schools, keep telling me over and over that my kids are just passing the same cold back and forth again and again. I call bullshit. If that were true, once a cold entered our house, it would never go away. That would also mean that the kids were not building any immunities.

My sister came dangerously close to suggesting last night on the phone that Sweet Pea keeps getting sick so often because of the way she eats. Because I don't force her to eat x servings of each thing per day, according to some chart, which they change every several years anyway. Sweet Pea's body gets what it needs and I think it's a wonderful thing that at age 4 she knows when she has had enough, and furthermore, that "enough" does not mean "full." (As kids my siblings and I were forced to clean our plates, even if that meant sitting at the dinner table until 9pm with the lights off - which I remember doing. As a result, it took us all a while after leaving home to realize we didn't have to stuff ourselves sick at every meal to be done.) She knows what foods are healthy and which are not, and while she often asks for ice cream and cookies, she knows that she doesn't get those every night, and that on nights when they are available, she must first eat a good dinner containing protein, plant matter, etc. in order to partake of the dessert in question.

And then today my nurse-neighbor, who has not let her nearly-year-old son sit, crawl, or play in our house since November (I may have done the same thing when Sweet Pea was a baby), told me again that she thinks I should wipe all the toys after each cold with disinfecting wipes. I hear the concern but I don't think that is an entirely realistic goal, and red flags go up in my head when I think about wiping plastic toys, many of which are guaranteed to be mouthed by the youngest among us, with cleaning chemicals (bleach-containing wipes were specifically mentioned). Obviously cleaning all our toys after every cold is just a really daunting task. Our house is full of toys. Every now and then I do wipe off a set of them if they get food on them or if someone has snot on her hands and has gotten something goopy, or if it just seems like they've been on the floor too much. But if I tried to clean all our toys after each illness, that's all I would be able to do. (Also see #2 below in the after-notes)

As for the red flags, after reading recently on an Avent sippy spout instruction sheet that antibactieral dish liquids (which, along with antibacterial hand soaps, I always thought were a bad idea anyway, since widespread use of antibacterial products actually makes people less healthy and can build more resistant bacteria,) should never be used to wash sippy spouts because they make the plastic break down quickly, I am loathe to put any cleaning chemicals on any of our toys. I don't know the details of how each cleaner would react with each plastic, but the possibilities worry me. Maybe it would be more prudent to wash our toys after colds using hot water and mild soap - but like I said before, who has the time for that? And besides, even the most resistant flu and cold viruses die off outside the body in less time than it takes the body to get over the illness in the first place. And I do machine wash the stuffed animals that get snot lovingly smeared over their well-loved heads while doing their jobs of making the girls feel more comforted during a cold. Of course, a visiting baby would not readily be allowed to touch those beloved toys in the first place, so I guess the stuffed toy argument is moot.

My point? My kids get sick for the same reason everyone else's kids get sick: They are building their immunities. Moreover, this is Sweet Pea's first year of school, and from hearing and reading about other people's children's experiences, I fully expected that she would catch everything that came her way this Winter. It sucks, but this is how it works. I am told by some mothers of older children that by third grade kids stop getting so very many illnesses during the school year. Others say it ends when they turn 18 and graduate from high school.

My BIG point? I already take on loads of guilt and anxiety for my children's health and welfare. This one I will not take on. I will not take the blame for my children getting sick. They eat enough healthy foods to keep growing and keep their immune systems working well. I do not let them play in the garbage or eat off the street. Our house is decently clean. I am not going to keep them separated for the rest of their lives for fear of passing a cold bug between them. Their bodies are reacting normally to pathogens and due to now being involved with a school and all the people there, we are in the beginning of the worst years of catching and bearing out the effects of many viruses. This is life. Deal. We are.

Or, there's another option for my well-meaning critics: Keep it to yourself. Of course, none of them will be reading this, but hey, venting helps.

After-Notes: 1) I may not have been clear on one point: I absolutely believe that the girls catch colds from each other. If one of them gets a cold, the other will have it in 1-3 days. What I don't believe is that the same cold goes back and forth over and over again between them. During our cold onslaught between the beginning of November and now, we have had healthy weeks - sometimes even two or three weeks. Colds can't live that long on surfaces between times. All our colds have also caused different combinations of symptoms.

2) Disinfecting wipes wouldn't help get rid of cold germs on toys or surfaces anyway, because they are antibacterial, not antiviral. Viruses can make it through washing, even with hot water and soap; they are very hardy.

3) I can trace some of these colds directly back to neighbor and school children we (or at least Sweet Pea) played with outside our house.


Christina said...

I don't think they're passing the same cold virus back and forth. Once your body fights it off, you have immunity to that particular one, unless it somehow mutates. But it wouldn't mutate multiple times in just over a month.

You're probably suffering from a little bad luck and a lot of new preschooler syndrome. When you send a kid to daycare or preschool and they've never been before, expect the first year to be filled with illness after illness. When Cordy was in daycare as a baby, she was constantly sick - as soon as she got over one, she picked up another virus.

I doubt her diet has anything to do with it. She likely eats better than Cordy does.

And I wouldn't worry that the Bug isn't learning as much or as fast as Sweet Pea. Remember, when we were kids, kindergarten was used to teach us our alphabet! The push towards "super mommies" is really too much sometimes. Together you'll find your own natural teaching moments without having to carve out time for it.

Safire said...

It seems like sometimes you just catch everything that comes within 10 feet of your house. I feel like you do this winter, except I don't have a child in preschool. :) Here's hoping the summer will be a little easier on our immune systems.

dlub said...

My sister-in-law teacher thinks that no child should be expected to even read before the second grade. Grade school is necessary for the social aspects, not so much the 3R's.

I keep thinking that the frequency of Alia's colds would be reduced if we both washed our hands every time we came in the house. Do I remember to do this? Of course not.

Stahl family said...

You go, Girlfriend!! That rant was just the thing I needed to reinforce my way of thinking! We do what we can do and it's all we can do! They fall, they get hurt, they get sick...they are kids and it's their job! You are doing a great job and don't you dare let anyone tell you otherwise!

Queen of Spain said...

Dude. bring them here. same thing at our house. It's the AGE. They bring it home from school and it's this way allllll f'ing winter. I hear Kindergarten and 1st grade-it gets better. And the prevailing thought is they get this all done NOW and not in elementary school. You'll be able to spot the kids who didn't go to preschool as they will be the ones missing tons of days in Kindergarten.

Our doctor always teases that "you'll get a break in June" and thinks he's hilarious.

It's common. It's normal. And I don't wipe after EVERY cold or I'd do nothing but wipe. Plus, then jack would get hives from the chemicals. And I don't have time to freaking hot water and soap soak every toy in the house daily.