It's already begun! School has started, so kids are getting sick. We might as well face the inevitable: at some point or other, a virus will strike at the least convenient moment. The question is, how will we handle it? With grunts of frustration? Will we plop the kid in front of the television and go about our day, or will we truly make the best of it?
I had my day all planned. Yesterday I had pushed through errands and housework so that today, I could work without interruption on some chapters of my new book. My head was swimming happily in plot and character as I put on a pot of coffee and went down the hall to wake the kids.
And then it happened: "Mom, I don't feel well!" Caitlin, my 11-year old, felt warm to the touch.
Why today? I called the school, left my husband to watch over her, and completed the morning routine and carpool for our son, Andrew. Perhaps Caitlin would be back in bed asleep when I returned.
Alas! It was not to be. Caitlin was on the couch with her favorite pillow, a lap blanket pulled up to her chin. "Mommy, I'm lonely!" Looking at her sad little face peeking out from the blanket, I remembered the same look when she was sick as a toddler. Now she is almost as tall as I am, and about to outgrow the need for "Mommy." Soon enough, she will be a teenager, and then who knows how we'll get along.
I spoke in my baby-voice. "Does Caitlin need a little Mommy-time today?" Caitlin smiled and nodded. "OK, then, what shall we do?"
We pulled out movies we hadn't watched in years. Caitlin chose an old favourite, I brought a tray with apple juice and graham crackers, and we settled in for a long cuddle. After the movie and some chicken noodle soup, we went through the same process with old books. Closing her eyes and resting her head on the pillow in my lap, she let me read to her as I'd done for so many years.
By the time I tucked her in at bedtime, my heart was warm and full, and I had no regrets that I'd had to postpone writing for the day. I am so grateful that Caitlin still wants me around, and I will gladly be there for as long as it lasts.
Even when kids hit their double-digits, you can make memories on those unexpected days they stay home with you. Depending on how ill they feel, and how old they are, here are some suggestions for opportunities to bond with your little ones on the days you are 'stuck' at home:
Make it your sick day, too. Don't try to do laundry, clean the kitchen, or work from home unless it's absolutely necessary. Today your little one will get your full attention, and you'll both get some rest.
Take a day off of your diet. If Junior wants apple juice and graham crackers, you go for it! It's no fun to eat alone, and a little comfort food every once in a while is good for almost everyone.
Let them be tiny again. Bring out books and movies that they are now "too old for." Tuck them in with a blanket and indulge them in cuddles and room-service. When my teen is under the weather, I watch him play video games and bring him snacks on a tray. The effect is the same; he feels age-appropriately babied.
Stroll down memory lane. This is a great time to go through old photo albums. They may want to see their own baby pictures, or maybe laugh at the haircut you had in high school. Either choice will provide fodder for family story-telling.
Choose an easy craft. Play some music softly to set the mood for an artistic distraction. String beads, make popsicle stick boxes, open some watercolors or crayons (nothing that requires too much concentration). A jigsaw puzzle works nicely, too. Sit beside them and participate in the activity.
Nap together. Sure, you could use her nap time to get some things done around the house, but how often do you treat yourself to a nap? She'll sleep more soundly knowing you're beside her. She might enjoy a foot rub or bedtime story first.
Before you know it, they'll be grown and gone. Make every day count -- even the ones with sniffles and coughs. They are just as important.
While the flu shot is generally considered your best line of defense, it's not guaranteed protection. "The current influenza vaccine is good, but not perfect," says Tosh. Think of the flu shot like a seatbelt, he says. Vaccinating doesn't mean you can't get the flu, but the outcome will likely be better if you do. "It is possible people who have been vaccinated and get influenza will have less severe disease," says Tosh, so there's no excuse to skip the shot. But you should also take other measures to make sure you stay healthy this season, like getting adequate sleep, maintaining a regular exercise routine, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth and drinking lots of water.
Sure, it's better than spraying those germs directly into the air above your neighbor's cubicle. But when you sneeze into your hands, chances are you then grab a doorknob or a shared phone or touch a keyboard or shake a coworker's hand -- and pass along whatever bug you're hosting. About a decade ago, public health experts started teaching a a new-and-improved version of cough and sneeze etiquette in schools, says Tosh, namely to cover up with a tissue (and dispose of it promptly), instead of using your hands. When a tissue is out of reach, go for the crook of your elbow, instead. Even Elmo knows!
You already know that hand washing is one of your best natural defenses against the flu and germs in general. But too many people still aren't scrubbing up to snuff. Healthy hand washing includes lathering up on all sides, between the fingers and under your nails for at least 20 seconds, or about the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice, according to the CDC's recommendations.
Despite the fact that patients keep requesting antibiotics for their symptoms, colds and flu are spread by viruses. And while it's crucial to keep hands clean, expecting an antibacterial soap to protect you is a big mistake. Not only will those suds not prevent you from catching the flu, they may leave "a larger proportion of resistant bacteria behind," according to the New York TImes. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers still make the grade, since they, like regular soap, kill off bacteria more randomly.
Ignoring that nagging cough or fevery feeling and still going to work or school is a great way to make yourself -- and the people around you -- sicker. You wouldn't want to work in close proximity with someone who has the flu, so don't impose that on your co-workers or classmates. (Not to mention that you're probably not doing your best work if you're really feeling lousy.) So when are you allowed back? "If it sounds like they have influenza, people should stay at home until they're no longer having fevers for at least 24 hours," says Tosh.
While there's been little research proving that the famed cold-buster can actually prevent you from getting sick, the idea that vitamin C will keep you healthy still lingers. A 2007 review found that the average person isn't benefitted all that much by a daily vitamin C supplement (although it did protect those under extreme physical stress, like marathon runners). However, it's still an important nutrient for overall health. Getting your daily dose from a variety of fruits and veggies is still a good idea, even if it won't necessarily keep the sniffles away. If you're still not convinced to give up your C supplement, at the very least, taking it shouldn't hurt you. "It's certainly okay if you want to take some vitamins," says Tosh, "but it should not be done instead of taking extra fluids and rest."
You're probably reaching for that OJ for its famed vitamin C, which, you now know, may not be the solution you're hoping for. And while you do want to increase fluid intake to both ward off and recover faster from the flu, juice comes with a lot of empty calories. In fact, too much extra sugar can actually inhibit the immune system, WebMD reported.
Headlines like "Worst Flu Outbreak In A Decade" instill real fear in us. But most otherwise-healthy people will recover just fine from the flu with plenty of rest, fluids and good nutrition, says Tosh. Panic and anxiety won't do anything to keep you healthy; getting vaccinated, drinking extra fluids and listening to your body will. "Rather than panicking, people should focus on what they can do," he says.