Some things don't need to be shared
Sharing is a concept that we try to hammer into our children's tiny, impressionable brains from an early age.
"Share your blocks. Share your dolls. Share your feelings with Mommy and Daddy instead of taking out your aggression on your little brother."
Despite our best efforts, it seems that, until the age of maybe 6 or 7, the only part of this concept that our little darlings seem to master is the sharing of germs.
Since around Thanksgiving, at least one member of our four-person household has been sick at any given time. I've never seen anything quite like it -- and I know it's been a tough season for many other families, too.
In the Parsons household, anyway, it shall henceforth be known as "The Winter of Our Discontent with Paying, in Our Opinion, Outrageous Copays, Only to be Told It's a Virus, Go Home and Rest and Get Plenty of Fluids, Which We Were Already Doing in the First Place."
I know it's a long title, but we like accuracy.
Apparently, so do my children -- especially when it comes to hitting their intended targets with their little germ bombs.
A few days ago, my husband was home with our 17-month-old son who had a stomach virus. I had taken our 5-year-old daughter to school, and then I went onto work.
Levi seemed to be feeling a bit better, so my husband and I planned to do the Great Baby Exchange. Working parents know what this is. My husband, who works second shift, would bring Levi to my office on his way to work. Levi would remain with me for a couple of hours until my work day ended, then I would pick up my daughter from school and take the kids home, where the three of us would enjoy the rest of the evening, leisurely floating about in our germ stew.
But things went awry when my husband picked up Levi to get him ready to head out, and Levi promptly pulled an "Exorcist"-style, projectile elimination of the contents of belly. A bit of it -- *shudder* -- landed on my husband's lip.
I guess it was Levi's way of saying, "Hey, Old Man, thanks for taking care of me. Guess what you're going to be doing in a couple of days?"
And that's exactly what happened.
The next day, I was cuddling with my daughter, who had started feeling poorly herself with a wet, rattling cough. At one point, she leaned up on her elbow and moved her face closer to mine, as if she were about to say something sweet or profound.
She coughed. She coughed hard, and I didn't have time to shield myself from the bits of petrie dish she sent flying into my face.
And that's why I am writing this column in my pajamas, in my basement, after once again, calling my boss and telling him, "I'm, uh, sick and need to work from home." He is patient and flexible with me, and for that I am extremely grateful. But I think he is getting worn out with this, too.
It's not that we aren't trying to stay healthy. We all take vitamins; we wash our hands often and use hand sanitizer; we have a can of Lysol strategically placed in each room of our home.
But after talking to my son's daycare teacher recently, I realized we are fighting a losing battle. Our tiny little, sweet, always smiling son, it turns out, just might be a bit diabolical.
"Does Levi take a pacifier at home?" she asked me.
"No, I never was able to get him to. He prefers his thumb," I replied.
"Huh, what?" I asked.
"Well, he steals the other babies' pacis and puts them in his mouth."
Well, no wonder he's sick every other week.
The day after I found out my son is a thief, I was holding him on my lap, cuddling him and singing to him. He put his tiny, warm, feverish hand on my face and ever-so-gently rubbed it. I closed my eyes, enjoying the moment, when Bam! I felt a searing pain in my nostril.
My sweet little cuddle kitten had jammed one of his tiny fingers straight up my nose, his sharp little fingernail breaking the skin.
Kitty can scratch.
And so, the cycle continues. All four of us are home on this Monday, the kids feeling a bit better, but still not able to go back to daycare. My husband, who can't keep anything in his stomach, is playing referee to the kids while I try desperately to get some work done between sneezes and coughs in our basement office. When Levi goes down for a nap, I will emerge upstairs and continue to work on the laptop while watching Claire, and my husband will go to the grocery for a few staples to get us through, since we are about a week overdue on our shopping.
I know the kids will go to daycare tomorrow, because I can hear their little footsteps running up and down the hallway above me. Of course, it might be the steroid Claire is taking for her breathing that has her running wind sprints, but Mom's rule remains: if you can run, you can go to school. My husband and I will return to work, not because we feel better, but because we have to.
I admit, I am reluctant for us all to go out into the world again. It's like playing the worst carnival game ever.
"Step right up! Grab a prize! Influenza B! Strep! Rhinovirus! Everyone's a winner!"
And, like the good little citizens we are trying to raise them to be, my children will share their prize. Every time.
Cassandra Johnston Parsons is special projects editor and Tri-State Family editor at The Herald-Dispatch. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.