German has this wacky way of expressing good luck: “Schwein haben,” or having swine/pig. It’s clashing with the nomenclature of swine flu, which ain’t such great luck if you get it.
My sister tells me my niece is coming along well – she’s stopped puking, at least – but 19 out of 24 kids were absent from my niece’s first-grade class on Monday. Apparently one child went to school with a fever (we’ll reserve judgment on those parents – maybe they didn’t notice) and one case flowered into 19.
Today, I was that parent, and the Tiger was that child. The phone rang at 11:50, just as I finished reading an email from the school nurse, announcing further delays in obtaining swine flu vaccine. I was still home, about to swing on my bike for my 12:10 class. (Yes, my commute is the awesomest.) It was the principal. He said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. I’ve got [the Tiger] here in my office. He’s got a fever. Just measured it at 100.8.”
I said: “Oh damn shit fuck fuck fuck!” Well, actually I didn’t, because if my kids ever got busted for cussing on the playground, I’d be on the hook. So instead, I hung up the phone and emitted a short primal scream. In a total panic, I momentarily considered taking the Tiger to class with me, but realized my students would hate me forever, after I’d inflicted first Judith Butler and now H1N1 on them. I got back on the phone, and Dr. Hydraargyrum and his dear wife, Dr. Hydraargyra, kindly agreed to move their romantic lunch date to the germ-infested petri dish that I call home. Then I ran to the Tiger’s school. Those who know me in real life know how rare a sight it is to see me run, and how very ridiculous.
I got to my class ten minutes late. My students were waiting patiently (the math department secretary had posted a note that I’d be late). They performed brilliantly, and the two hours flew past. My husband had taken over for our friends at 1 p.m., missing a critical meeting on our bloody budget cuts. I relieved him at 2. Somehow, it worked.
I’m still bemused by the “good news” that our principal promised but didn’t deliver. Was it simply that the Tiger wasn’t puking? Was it just that I’m lucky to be his mother? (Well, I am – most days!) Was it insider knowledge that the Tiger is often at his sweetest when sick?
The principle’s mysterious message remains, well, a mystery – as does the Tiger’s condition. His fever stayed lower for the rest of the day. He has a history of unexplained fevers from his toddler years, and even now he’ll run a higher temp than other kids with just a cold. He also isn’t really coughing and has no evident GI symptoms.
So do we have swine flu? Or do we just “have swine”? Worst case, the entire family gets sick but we don’t get diagnosed, and then the kids have to “get shotted” with the vaccine anyway.
I surely “had swine” today when it came to support. Most of my time is pretty flexible, but those two-hour teaching blocks are sacrosanct. As instructor, you’re allowed to stay home if your current residence is a casket; otherwise, you’re probably slacking. My husband and I usually stagger our teaching so one parent will always be available for emergencies, but we couldn’t quite swing it this quarter. I felt lucky to have friends (and probable survivors, already, of H1N1 2009) who were willing to drop everything and cover me.
Before this pandemic burns itself out, a lot of parents will face choices much more harrowing than mine today. Unlike me, they may have no flexibility. Unlike me, they may lose their job for any unscheduled absence. It’s workplaces that need to respond to this dilemma with greater flexibility; families can’t resolve it by having a Plan A, B, and C for childcare. It’s virtually impossible to find childcare when a child is sick, unless you’ve got close family nearby. It’s well-nigh unethical to inflict your sick child on someone else when the disease can be quite serious in some individuals – and we don’t know who those individuals are. And yet, millions of parents in America cannot count on a single hour off to cope with a sick child. (See Joan Williams’ excellent report, “One Sick Child away from Being Fired” – note: this is a pdf file).
Meanwhile, I noticed a scratchy throat this afternoon, then a sensation like a baby elephant sitting on my chest. I’m feeling somewhat better again by now – enough so to hope that the Tiger and all of us will “have swine” in the German sense.