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Letting Go of ‘Snotty Kid’ Guilt

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Well, ’tis the sick season, and I think every kid I know has some kind of cold or cough or cold/cough/barf combo. When my twins were babies, I stressed out every time I heard that tell-tale dry cough, the one that signaled snot to come. Last winter, their first year of preschool, they were sick every week. With twins, it’s like I had two open targets, so even if the plague missed one kid, the other would get hit and bring it home. Whatever was going around, they got…lucky me!

I used to stress about their colds, not only because they felt so crappy, but because I was never quite sure whether or not they were contagious. Now that they’re older and heartier, they don’t seem to be as weakened by the common cold, exerting the same energy — and defiance — as usual. Still, even though they feel 100 percent fine, should I send them to school?

Their preschool’s policy, clearly stated, is that kids can come to school if they feel fine, have clear snot, and have been fever-free, puke-free for 24 hours. Coughs can linger for weeks, and colds for days and days — these things can sometimes last until puberty, pretty much. My kids are now in the throes of another cold…or the same cold…or the return of an old cold. Sure, I’ll think they’re getting better, and then, are they worse? Or is this some brand new disease? Allergies or cold? Food poisoning or stomach bug? My friend calls our constant questioning and investigating and Googling and diagnosing, “Preschool CSI.”

Anyway, they had been snotty all of last weekend, but it was clear by Monday morning so I sent them to school. I thought it was safe, but at pickup, one of the teachers mentioned he had a lot of thick, yellow snot. Oh no!!! What had I done?! I went into a whole thing about how his snot was totally clear that morning and I wouldn’t have brought him to school if I thought sick and OMG I’m so sorry. She didn’t seem nearly as upset about it as I was, but later I was wracked with guilt. I kept staring at his nose, inspecting his snot, trying to discern how I had missed the signs of a more serious cold. (Snot, snot, snot — it rules my days.)

I also was embarrassed. Did they think I was a selfish, disease-spreading mother who just dropped him off so I could do Pilates? Did they think that I was just hoping they wouldn’t notice his drippy face? Did they think I was one of those moms who doesn’t give a crap about the other kids in the school community?

The truth is, I’ve always been the mom who was maybe too cautious about spreading their illnesses. But to what end? I’ve kept my kids home until the bitter end of a cold, just to be safe. Then, I return them to the cesspool only to see 10 kids running around, their noses leaking like drainpipes. I sit there feeling so guilty if I expose other kids to their colds, but others don’t seem to care. No, it’s not that these other moms are totally inconsiderate. I think they just realize that, in the absence of fever, colds are not a big deal. Colds are basically like the annoying houseguest who strolls in when the weather starts to cool and decides to NEVER EVER leave. We can’t all hide out in our homes until spring time.

So, I’ve decided to stop with all of the snot-analyzation and nose-inspections and subsequent guilt. I won’t send my kids to school if I think they’re really sick, but if the school is okay with colds, then I can be too. With the holidays, potty-training, and three-nager challenges, I don’t need one more thing to stress about.

 Photo: Getty