When I was a kid and I got the flu it meant days home in bed. I’ll try not to glamorize this, but I do recall some fairly blissful mornings with a pile of Kleenex, cough drops (remember Ludens—they used to taste just like candy!), and the TV all to myself. I’m sure this wasn’t convenient for my mom who was a single parent, but we didn’t have flu vaccine so there wasn’t any way else to manage. We just did.
I just took the girls to get their vaccines, and while I was waiting in the long line of other similarly haggard looking parents doing the same I had to wonder—when did we get so desperate to keep our kids from getting sick, and why? Is it that the flu is worse now than it was when I was a kid? h1n1 aside, I don’t think so. More likely, we just don’t have time these days for our kids to get the flu. It’s ok if we get the flu because we can straggle into work in various stages of consciousness and, if it gets that bad we can always stay home and check emails from bed. But when the kids get sick you can’t work. Well, you can, but it’s hard. Plus you look like a really crappy parent when you’re over on the computer while your kid moans from the other room. Perhaps this is what makes flu season so scary and the flu vaccine such a balm. We live lives without any back up—a sick kid can’t go to school and there isn’t any other childcare available to many of us. We can’t take the time off work because in the age of the iphone, work is everywhere all the time. A sick kid equals workplace disaster. Preventing illness allows us to keep living lives that have little room for error, man-made or biological.
When the nurse gave the girls their post-vaccine pep talk about how they wouldn’t get sick now and wasn’t that wonderful, I found I only half agreed. Sure, I don’t want them to be sick. But maybe they should be.
My mother had polio, so I have to be careful not to suggest that the good old days were when people got sick. Still, I think there is a point to getting “everyday” sick; illness is part of the natural rhythm of things. And again, I’m not talking about h1n1. I wonder what’s in store for this generation of kids taught in classrooms with Costco sized hand sanitizer bottles who learn group songs about the virtues of hand washing. Will they be susceptible to superillnesses because of limited immune experiences? Will they be unempathetic to those who are ill or disabled? Will they equate the good life with bodies and lives consistently under their control?
It all makes me long for that box of Ludens, and a day on the couch.