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Voluntary Quarantine

Last week’s poll was all about the enforced isolation that comes with a sick kid. Most of you said you keep your child isolated until the fever’s broken and the mucous runs clear, while a few admitted to the “if baby feels up to it, baby’s out and about – it’s good for other kids to be exposed to germs” attitude. A couple also said they’re the “lockdown until it’s all gone” type of parent, and wish more people returned the favor.

The poll topic was fresh on my mind the past couple of weeks as Maddie went through her first illness. I’ve always been grateful for girlfriends who stay home from church when a little one’s sick, or who keep their baby turned away from me while we talk because he’s got a cold. I’ve watched my girlfriend Abby spend week after week with her two boys passing a cold back and forth between them as Abby slowly goes stir crazy. And I always assumed I’d repay the favor; that when Maddie got sick, I’d keep us politely at a distance until she was no longer contagious.

Having spent a week with a child who, when hopped up on infant Motrin, doesn’t feel too sick and wants to be running around outside, I now know firsthand what a sacrifice it is to voluntarily lock yourself away from other kids. Even though I was down the same cold, I’d have willingly given my entire collection of gourmet chocolates hidden away in the freezer for “emergencies” in exchange for a chance to let my kid run around on the playground and terrorize –er, play with – someone else for a while.

I know I’m probably on the more cautious end of the isolation scale. I’ve heard moms say that when the mucous is clear the kid’s not contagious, so it’s fair to mingle. Unfortunately, my pediatrician disagrees. She says snot color’s no indicator of contagiousness – length of illness is. And usually a cold starts with a cheerful child and a clear runny nose – runny, as in cold germs running towards your child. A fair estimate, from what I’ve read, is that the common cold is no longer contagious after four days, regardless of runny noses. My head reads this and understands this, but when I see a two-year-old with streaming nostrils come at my child, the robot from Lost In Space starts spinning around my head and screaming, “Danger! Danger! Sleepless nights and cranky baby ahead!” And I run away babbling some specious excuse about leaving the oven on at home, or Maddie having a contagious skin disease so don’t get too close.

After four days of enforced captivity I allowed Maddie back into the playground circle, but went cautiously. I didn’t let her play with other kids’ toys, and wiped down the swing handlebars after she used it. I know it was probably overkill, but I’d love it if other mothers extended the same courtesy. None of us want to have a sick child on our hands more than we absolutely need to.

And I know, again, that I’m fortunate in my circumstances. Maddie’s not in daycare, where germs are passed around like Elmo dolls. I don’t have to make a hard choice between sending my sick child to daycare and missing work to keep her isolated. Moms, you do what you have to do.

But if you see me on the playground frantically herding my kid away from yours and wiping down everything Maddie touches, don’t take it personally. I’m trying to save you those sleepless nights.


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