As a child, I adored reading above all other things, and if I had a "sick" day and had to stay home from school, I would usually stay in bed, deep under the covers, with stacks and stacks of books. I remember, especially, loving the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson -- an illustration from his A Child's Garden of Verses is above -- I believe there is a poem in there somewhere about a boy who stays home sick and makes a world of his covers and how they drape around his knees and legs. My mother brought me chicken soup in bed on a tray with a small vase, sometimes, and a flower. I'd sip soda from a straw, and when I tired of reading, I'd move downstairs and watch game shows on television under an afghan, my mind dulled by fever. I loved going to school and learning, liked nearly all my subjects and had plenty of friends, but missing a day of school was almost romantic in my memory -- it was quiet and peaceful and light, and while I didn't much like being sick, I knew that when I felt better I would go back happily.
I thought of all those things this morning when my Oliver woke up with a sore throat and stuffy nose. He had gone to bed complaining about his throat, but he tends to be dramatic, and I sort of blew him off. I'm NOT the type mother who coddles her children in that way and am very slow to worry when they're sick. I check for fever and then say You're fine, but Oliver's whines this morning were sufficient for me to ask him whether he wanted to go to school or not. He said No and climbed back into bed while I finished getting everyone else up and fed and lunchboxed and otherwise ready for Monday morning. During this time, Oliver did creep out of bed and began playing ball in the living room with his brother. When I heard the ball bouncing against the front door, I called from Sophie's room Stop playing ball in the house and then walked out toward the living room to admonish them both. I also told Oliver that if you can play ball in the house with your brother this early, you're well enough to go to school, so decide what you want to do. Because Oliver is Oliver and has a difficult time making a decision, we went back and forth on how sick he is, what warrants staying home from school, etc. etc., until finally he burst out crying and said I guess I will go to school. If I don't there'll be so much work to make up and then I won't get my homework done and everything in class and...
I won't belabor you with the drama, but we decided that he would go to school and if he felt terrible, he could go to the office and have them call me to pick him up. And after he left, clearing his throat, martyr-like, I closed the door on a very quiet house, relieved. It was only 7:50 am but the amount of drama that had already occurred that early in the morning was ridiculous. That's when I remembered my own "sick" days and how little pressure there was to have one, to take a day off and languish at home. Oliver is in FOURTH GRADE, and his worries about falling behind if he misses a day are jarring to me. I know about the incredible pressures our children are subject to in daily life -- the over-scheduling, the relentless pursuit of excellence in academics, in school choice, in preparation for nursery school, elementary, middle, high and then college. I know about the new documentary Race to Nowhere which tells of the extraordinary stress placed on our youth. I have done my best to shield my sons from most of this pressure, I thought, gifted with the extra burden of raising a child with severe healthcare issues. It's given me a vastly different perspective on how I want my sons to live, and I thought ourselves somewhat immune to what everyone else is constantly worried about.
But today's go to school or not dilemma and Oliver's anguish over it made me stop and think that some of these pressures are just inevitable. I wish that he could climb into bed and read Robert Louis Stevenson, place his plastic soldiers all over the sheet-draped mountains of his knees, sip soda from a straw and watch game shows on television. I wish that he could take a day off and then go back to school and high-five his buddies. Instead, he went to school with a bit of a sore throat and just as I'd feared, the office called around noon and said, Your son Oliver really wants to come home; he's not feeling well.
When I went to pick him up, looking pale and tired, he was happy to see me. He also had his homework with him.
Elizabeth blogs regularly over at a moon, worn as if it had been a shell.