COLLEEN SMITH: I prescribe a dose of tough love
TODAY I am being a cruel mummy. I have a sick boy at home with an ear infection and a nasty, chesty cough. Because he has just started at ‘big school’ this term I had been sending him to school every day for a week or so with a cold and cough, until he woke up in the night with screaming ear ache.
So I took him to the doctor in the morning, who had a look and confirmed that my boy’s ears were inflamed and gave him some antibiotic, with the proviso that I don’t give it to him unless his temperature spikes, sensibly saying that his body needed to fight the infection. I agreed.
The next day (yesterday), his class was due to go on a fun, team-building awayday and he really didn’t want to miss it.
I’d paid the £25 so I thought, what the heck, and put a big bobble hat on him and sent him along.
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He wasn’t allowed to go in the River Dart but joined in the raft building and high-ropes activities and enjoyed it, although he did feel rough, and was a bit upset when the other boys were larking about in the water and he wasn’t allowed to jump in too.
Predictably though, today, he is worse than ever and so he is at home.
But here is the cruel bit.
I’ve told him he has to stay in bed and not get out until he is well enough for school. No screen time. No cuddling up on the sofa. For however long it takes.
Luckily, I’m not in the office today so I’m here to run up and downstairs if he needs anything.
That might not sound cruel to you if, like me, you grew up in a generation when sick children stayed in bed, in a darkened room and were given medicine so foul-tasting that you’d frankly rather die than admit to being ill.
But for those of you who don’t have children, I have to tell you that being ill has changed for this Calpol generation.
It was only as I was writing this that it occurred to me how often I reach for the Calpol bottle nowadays, and began to wonder if that is part of the problem.
I personally am loathe to dosing myself up with any painkillers.
And when my older two children were little, I had a similar philosophy about not giving them additive-laden, dayglo pink, sugary children’s painkillers.
This was partly due to the fact that my eldest reacted in a quite extreme way to the bright pink colouring they used to put in the original formula Calpol.
Instead of helping her to sleep, she would be awake for 24-hours straight, and I learned to steer clear.
However by the time I had my youngest, there was a dizzying range of over-the-counter options, without the harmful colourings.
Nurofen for Children — number two to Calpol’s market leader — came along in 1998 and somehow it just became the norm to dose up children whenever they felt a bit under the weather.
I dread to think how many bottles of the stuff my youngest has had over the years.
So along with my ‘no coming downstairs’ ruling, I’ve also decided to lay off the tasty children’s painkillers as much as possible and let his body fight back naturally.
Of course, my childhood was a land far, far, away and long, long ago — in other words, before daytime TV. Before computers. Before mobile phones. When home entertainment meant a ball or a board game. Neither of which were much good when you were in bed.
Staying at home from school ill was not something to look forward to.
You were either desperately sick and feverish, or bored out of your brains.
Being ill has changed. Even bedding has changed.
Duvet days hadn’t been invented. As far as I’m aware, the word duvet wasn’t in the English dictionary. They were called continental quilts for the first decade or so after they began making an appearance on British beds. I think I was an adult before I had one.
As a child, we had covers which I seem to remember were called candlewick bedspreads.
They were a kind of cotton chenille. And I used to get so bored, staring at the ceiling when I was confined to bed, that I would pluck whole sections out of the bedspread pattern.
It was strangely addictive once you got started and you would have to hide the bare, baldy bits from your mum.
There was something nice about being home from school with no noisy brothers, getting spoiled by your mum, popping her head around the door every now and then to see if you were awake and if you wanted mushroom soup, or soft boiled eggs and soldiers.
But even that only felt like a treat for a day.
Once you were well, you couldn’t wait to be up and out, playing in the park with your friends.
I am hoping that this old-fashioned approach will work and I will bore my son back to good health within the day.
I think it’s working because he’s just started doing his homework.