Did My Sick Kid Make Everyone Else Sick? A Bad Case of Mom Guilt
Three cases of pink eye turned into one terrible case of mom guilt
“That’s not pink eye is it?” These are the last words you want to hear another parent ask about your kid at a birthday party. Especially when your 4-year-old’s left eye suddenly DOES start puffing up like a little red marshmallow. When did this happen? Somewhere between the parking lot and the cake, things had gone terribly wrong. To my horror, I did a double take and sure enough that eye was getting pinker by the minute. All I could stutter was a lame, “Um, I certainly hope not.”
I didn’t think it was pink eye. I also didn’t know that two kids from her preschool had skipped the birthday party because they already had pink eye. But boy did I feel like I should have.
Armed with a purse-size hand sanitizer, I spent the rest of the party alternately smearing her hands with antibacterial gel and worrying about the fallout. We’re new to the area and just started meeting everyone. Would we go down as those people who gave everyone pink eye? Was it even pink eye? My daughter wasn’t complaining. Not itching. We hadn’t suspected it until the other mom mentioned it. But sadly, depressingly, she wasn’t wrong.
By Monday, it was indeed pink eye. Diagnosed by a real MD.
That’s when I had to start spreading the news, to the preschool, to the parents of the birthday girl over the weekend. I don’t think I’ve ever dreaded hitting the “send” button more. How could I have been so out of it? Why didn’t I realize something was wrong and just whip us right out of that parking lot? I guess it was simple: Because I didn’t know it was pink eye.
When I later lamented to another parent she knew just what I meant. “It’s in the job description,” she said. “Right?” Right, I sighed. Mom: Buyer of all clothing, will prepare most meals. Extreme patience a plus; good snugglers needed. Ability to pre-diagnose all ailments, especially nasty contagious bugs, required.
I gathered up my courage to tell the preschool teacher that our daughter would miss class that day, you know because of her horribly contagious eye disease, and to my surprise she filled me in. Several other kids were already out that day, with pink eye.
So it wasn’t just us. Who knows where it started or how, but now we had it. So our kids stayed away from the school (and playground) for 48 hours after the antibiotics began, just to ensure that we weren’t contagious anymore. And of course, this gave our other two children time to get the bug too. A week of administering eye drops to toddlers who don’t want eye drops is a long week. But nothing compares to the shame of skulking through the school parking lot, wondering if all the other parents, the ones who are also on a new eye drop routine this week are blaming you. Judging you. Cursing you.
Actually though, this is not at all personal. Every one of the preschool parents I’ve met so far has been wonderful. These are not snarky ladies. They’re nice, supportive, really involved parents who have been a pleasure to get to know over the last couple of months. No one said anything to me about the pink eye, and I have no reason to believe that they even thought these things. But I can’t help it. The Mom Guilt is there.
To be honest, I wouldn’t hold it against someone if they gave our kids a bad bug, and in this case they may have. These things happen. Kids get weird little ailments all the time. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease? Had it. Flu? Of course. Over the last four years, we’ve had friends with lice, chicken pox and many drippy, runny, miserable noses. Each time we’ve made decisions about whether to expose our kids or not, but here’s what those moms did that I didn’t: They told me ahead of time and let me decide.
I didn’t do that because I didn’t realize what was happening and I feel horrible about it. This has been one of those lessons that kicked me right in the backside and it still smarts.
In between getting all the shoes on, coats zipped and seat belts buckled, next time I’ll be sure to pay more attention to potential bugs as well. Our new family policy will be, “Better safe than sorry,” because right now, two weeks later, I still feel sorry. I think I’d rather have pink eye.
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