My Kid Was Sent Home Sick From School, And My Panic Spiraled

COVID Has Taken My Paranoia Over My Kids’ Illnesses To A Whole New Level

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Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

I was going about my day. My son was remote-learning, and we were in the midst of a lesson on adjectives when my phone rang. It was my girls’ school secretary calling to report that she had one of my daughters in the designated sick room with a sore throat. I needed to come pick her up.

Immediately, my mind went to COVID. What if my child was infected? I began my typical-of-anxiety catastrophic thinking. The whole family—all six of us—would certainly be getting ill. How would we navigate that? My husband left to go pick up my daughter, and I began locating all of the sick day items I’d already purchased, including our no-touch thermometer, pulse-ox meter, vitamins, and medications. However, it turns out, my panic w

She spent three days home from school, complaining of a sore throat and dealing with a headache, runny nose, and fatigue. I obsessively checked her temperature and asked her how she was feeling. She’d just blow her nose, again, and shrug. She slept in, did schoolwork in her pjs, and used dozens of facial tissues. After four days, she was on the mend and playing basketball as usual. She never once had a fever, loss of taste and smell, a stomachache, breathing trouble, or other symptoms that suggested she had COVID.

She did manage to pass her cold on to her little brother, then her little sister, and now her older sister. That’s how it works, right? If one of us goes down, we all do. I feel like this summer cold is ticking time bomb, and at any minute, I will begin sniffling, too. But, at least it’s not COVID.

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

What’s infuriating is that COVID-thinking is stealing too much of my mental energy and time. We have taken all the necessary precautions. Two of my kids are learning at home, one remote and one homeschooling. Two are in-person, with masks, distancing, plexiglass, handwashing, and no changing classrooms. The school requires a before-school and at-the-door temperature check. If a student has a symptom, they go home—period. I appreciate and understand all of these efforts to keep students and staff safe.

Despite all precautions, COVID is a real threat to a parent’s sanity. One sniffle, one headache, one cough, and our worlds are turned upside down and inside out. We have to miss work, make childcare and make-up school work arrangements, and possibly run our child to the doctor. We can’t send them back to school too soon, or else we will get that dreaded phone call again.

These are typical struggles during flu season, but COVID is all the freaking time. There’s no pause or off button, and there hasn’t been since March. COVID is this looming dark cloud, and it’s threatening to pour down its unpredictable misery at any moment.

I know, I should just accept that this is our reality. This is the “new normal” the media keeps talking about. However, this doesn’t ease my mommy mind one bit. I hate when my kids are sick. Don’t we all? But COVID takes this dread to a whole new level.

Plus, we have to explain to others that our child’s illness is “just a cold” or they’re suffering from seasonal allergies. I get the skepticism. When someone coughs or sneezes, I am guilty of giving them an angry-glare. How do I trust that what they’re saying is true, that they aren’t actually spraying coronavirus droplets into the atmosphere?

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

I don’t care what the percentages are, how COVID does or doesn’t show up in kids (apparently), or the celebrity-doctor-of-the-day is saying about a potential vaccine. Even the most legit science and reliable organizations confuse us all. We cannot ignore the fact that Americans have died or some are facing permanent bodily damaged because of the pandemic. Having anxiety about our kids getting sick is a real fear for many parents—one that isn’t going away any time soon.

I’ve reminded myself that back-to-school illness is normal and expected. Kids who have been away for the summer season will come into contact with germs when they reunite with classmates. They will be carriers of these germs, sharing them within their own household. No matter our excellent proactive measures, like handwashing, and doing things to keep our bodies active and healthy, sickness happens.

I was never a germaphobe before the pandemic. I wish I could still say I’m not worried, but I am. The slightest symptoms could be the start of something serious and new. They also send my thoughts into a downward spiral. Even with drastically cutting back on how much news I’m reading and watching, I can’t help but be exhausted by the “new normal” I’m supposed to readily embrace and adapt to as a parent.

Parenting has always been challenging, but in this reality where COVID is a true threat, many of us are anxious to a whole new level. I’m constantly having to talk myself down and remember that illness is part of being human. If we’re going to go about our days of work, school, and play, even with all the necessary precautions, we have to accept that there will be sick days.

It’s up to us, as parents, not to get into a tizzy about every single symptom. We also have to work harder than ever before to keep our anxiety in check so that our kids can also. I know, easier said than done. I’m trying my best, and I’m sure you are, too.