My kids have been back at school one week and already I've had two sick days: first Sophie, then Freddy. It's not fair. Illness should wait a decent margin. We were only just celebrating getting them back to school when that stinking cold struck.
I'm good at a lot of Mum stuff, but I'm no Florence Nightingale. I have a reservoir of natural sympathy for kids that feel poorly, but when it's gone, it's gone.
Illness is a serious inconvenience for parents who work, even part time. You have everything planned down to the minute for your week: when you're going to that business meeting, when you're picking up that file, all in those precious five hours when there's no one in the house. Then, suddenly there's a child in the house, and your plans of finishing your project budget turn into plan B of running to the chemist for more cough syrup and making chicken soup.
They are awfully sweet though, all bundled up in their dressing gowns, surrounded by tissue. I do get twinges of Florence Nightingale, really I do. And at the end of the day, any opportunity to sit around watching reruns of Horrible Histories is surely to be embraced.
There's an art to getting the balance right with a sick day. If you make it too enjoyable, they fake illness more often. At least half the day must result in aching boredom: otherwise you'll never have them off your hands.
Here's my formula. Let them watch movies or play electronic games while you've got stuff to do. That keeps them wholly occupied for long enough for you to clear your email inbox or make a few phone calls. Engage their help with lunch prep, which usually means they eat more of it. Then, for those last two hours before the other sibling gets picked up, nothing electrical. Colouring, reading, or bust – and preferably a few jobs around the house, like cleaning out the toy cupboard or going through the markers.
"Mummy, I'm booooored," I hear. "Can't I play the Nintendo, pleeeease?"
"No darling, but once you've finished folding the laundry, what about that puzzle of the counties of Britain? Or here's the encyclopaedia, look. I spent hours reading the encyclopaedia when I was your age."
"They've got it easy," said my husband, who went to boarding school from age seven. "If you were ill where I went, you lay in the infirmary all day. You didn't even get to watch television. It was dull. We would never say we were sick unless we were at death's door."
"My problem is I can never finish anything," I said. "At this rate I'm never going to be able to do my job."
"Look at it this way," said the ever-supportive husband. "You're just doing your other job. It's just a time management issue."
So… snuggling on the couch watching Horrible Histories at 11am was working? There's an argument for "yes".
Florence, I'll admit this nursing lark does have perks….