This morning I woke up with a cold. Stuffy nose, scratchy throat, hoarse voice. The end of the school year often brings some kind of illness — I think that somehow my immune system, overworked during the school year, lets its guard down when the students depart, and the next new bug that I encounter grabs me. In this case I know where it came from: Nick spent most of last week home with a cough. He wasn't all the way better this morning, either.
Normally this is no big deal. My husband works at home, and can be the "parent in charge" when Nick has to stay home — as he did all last week, as I was facilitating a faculty development workshop. Today, though, Mark was on the road, bringing our daughter back home from college. So I had to decide: send Nick to school, bring him to the office with me, or let him stay home alone? (Staying home myself wasn't an option — cold or no cold, I have one more week of faculty development to work through.)
When I was twelve I routinely stayed home, babysitting my younger siblings. But Nick, the youngest, doesn't stay home much on his own. He's pretty responsible, but it just hasn't fallen out yet that he needed to be home alone. So I did give some thought to bringing him in with me. In the end, though, it seemed foolish: my attention would be divided, and he'd be a lot less comfortable than he would be at home. So I set him up on the couch with a phone nearby and drove off.
I called home twice, during workshop breaks, and learned that nothing at all was going on. He did a little homework, watched a lot of TV, ate the lunch he'd made to take to school, and sounded thoroughly bored when I checked in with him. The biggest excitement of the day came when he called me to say his dad and sister had gotten home, ahead of schedule.
So I got lucky. And spared a thought, yet again, for all the parents who don't get so lucky — single parents of kids too young to stay home alone, two-career families without reliable day care, parents of chronically ill children or with chronic conditions themselves. It's news to no one, of course, that many kinds of work are not fully compatible with family life. Academics, though, are used to thinking of their jobs as flexible — while it's very hard for us to arrange substitutes to cover our classes, we can usually find workarounds when we must stay home with a sick family member, or travel to a conference, etc. Students can work on their own, assignments can be rescheduled, e-mail and even Skype can provide contact when face-to-face can't work. But the combination of a workshop I couldn't reschedule and a sick kid reminded me of the juggling acts most working parents face all the time. I've got no answers tonight, only gratitude that my family is now all back under one roof, and that tomorrow, if anyone has to stay home sick (knock wood!), we've got options again.