Let’s not call it Winter; let’s just call it the Annual Era of Disease. Good-bye healthy life, see you again in June! Halloween has cleared and that means we’re on a spiraling descent into the days, weeks, and months of snotty noses, scratchy throats, and fever pangs that only strike in the middle of the night or on the days you absolutely can’t miss work. Is it really all that surprising how this works? An epic and unlimited binge on October 31st sends children everywhere into months of compromised immunity. Halloween has basically become Mardi Gras, where we all get as much excess as possible crammed in before the lean season where we subsist on Nyquil, Emergen-C, and noxious concoctions of random OTC remedies all swirled together and gulped down like shots of cheap tequila.
Is there any hope in keeping your children healthy? In a word: no. But that’s not very helpful, is it? I am not suggesting you wave the white towel and allow your children to lick water fountain faucets and share sippy cups with a flu-ridden cousin, but it is worth starting this discussion with the inevitably of fall and winter sicknesses. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; infants, toddlers, and young school-age children are much more prone to picking up several bugs a year as their immunity builds. The older they become, the fewer the sick spells they incur. When you’re cleaning up nauseating vomit off the side of the crib at 3:30 am, I realize it’s probably not all comforting to think “Well, this is how my child’s body is getting healthier”, but the science is pretty definitive that indeed, that is what is going on.
No matter how many hygienic habits we miraculously ingrain into our children, they are still miraculously disgusting creatures. Sure, it’s great that we’ve done an awesome job getting my daughter habituated to wash her hands frequently, but that still doesn’t keep her stubby little fingers from wandering into her diaper or nose on occasion. Unfortunately, each and every kid is a carrier of nasty habits and nasty germs. Pile them all into the same room and you have a recipe for disaster. If only children shared their toys half as well as they shared their germs…but I digress. Knowing your children will be in school (or daycare) surrounded by other little walking Petri dishes of bacteria means resistance can often feel futile. If we admit that at least some of these bugs are unavoidable, then we need to take the only real precautions we can. When it comes to cold and flu season, for my wife and I that means hoarding sick days as much as possible. This often means limiting vacation days during the final stretch of the year, but we make sure we’ve got several stocked up in anticipation of the dark days. Furthermore, it’s a great idea to also investigate willing family members and care providers to be available, although not only the remarkably brave souls will desire an entire day with a feverish barfing monster.
We have accepted that being sick isn’t necessarily a bad thing and taken whatever precautions we can, but there has to be something we can do to prevent some of these bugs, right? These items definitely wouldn’t hurt:
- Handwashing: Like I mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to keep my own girls’ hands out of all the wrong places, but the evidence is fairly clear that washing hands are one of our best defenses.
- Quarantines!: It’s virtually impossible with daycare and school-age children to avoid fellow bug-carriers, but it’s still worth monitoring if you can avoid interactions with little relatives and friends that may be carrying one of the more contagious viruses like Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease (what a creative name). We can’t keep our girls away from everybody, but we’ll be selective when we can.
- Routines: This encapsulates several different prevention techniques, but the best way to avoid frequent and prolonged spells of the nasty is to to maintain a consistent and healthy lifestyle. This includes diet, exercise, and sleep: each all directly correlated to strengthened immunity in children. It’s going to be difficult to keep a kid healthy on cupcakes, irregular bedtimes, and long periods of inactivity.
I wish I could say we hacked the path to avoiding the nightmare that is child sickness, but both our girls have endured their share of the rotten stuff. As a parent, the passing of Halloween puts us on high alert for the impending struggle; my wife unfolds into an OCD cleaning machine, attempting to buzz Clorox Wipes across my tongue each time I walk in the door. It’s time to barricade the doors…