Cold and flu season in our house starts approximately three days after someone announces, “it’s been a long time since anyone in this house has been sick.” It lasts 120 hours – exactly 24 hours per person – with zero over-lap.
It begins with our six-year old who picks up germs from school, swimming lessons, friends and birthday parties; then it’s passed on to our four-year-old who breathes it onto our baby. Baby cuddles in too close to my husband (who is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the baby during cold and flu season). Finally, after all of the vomit slinging, red, raw hands, not a clean sheet, dry eye, grocery or tissue remaining in the house, mommy finally passes out on the bathroom floor.
Last year, we were slightly out of order in our flu assignments. I watched the bug attack our three-year-old as she stood on the first step of the local swimming pool, anxiously awaiting her chance to blow bubbles and absorb every existing bacteria known to man from the other four children in her sea turtle class.
The 15-year-old instructor, who has a vim for teaching but a failing grade in germs 101, handed the first child in line – let’s call him, “strep throat” – a bucket of water scooped from around the child’s feet. “Strep throat” stuck his entire face, neck, head and throat into the bucket, blew bubbles, giggled, gurgled and spit the water back into the bucket. The bucket was passed to the next child – let’s call her, “pinkeye” – who fully immersed her face, head, neck and eyes into the strep throat swamp water. On to “viral ear infection”, who dunked his face, eyes, throat, neck and ears into the water, which no amount of chlorine could now shock. “Booger nugget” is up next and face-plants himself, runny nose-first, into the cesspool. Finally, our dear, sweet little girl who arrived just moments ago a healthy child, is about to get a face wash unlike any before, scoring her a direct pass to the walk-in clinic for a prescription for who knows what bronchial infection.
The key to surviving cold and flu season is preparation. You have no idea when it will hit so, not unlike an air raid, stock up on your canned goods and find a windowless, basement room to hide in, ideally alone. A girlfriend of mine gave me the best flu-season advice last year that I now live by. She doubles and sometimes triple-layers her children’s bedding when she hears even the slightest whisper of a flu storm brewing. She starts with a plastic sheet, then a fitted sheet, then a flat sheet. But here’s where she gets creative. She adds another plastic sheet, fitted, flat until she runs completely out of linens, often resorting to using industrial-sized plastic wrap when fever climbs above 39 degrees. When you hear the gurgling sounds that accompany the first moan, knowing your child is 12 feet too far from the toilet, quickly strip the first layer of sheets. This saves you from fumbling in the linen closet for a replacement set in the dark, leaving you with valuable time to to use your tired muscles – to the best of your ability given it’s 4 a.m. – to lift your child’s body so she can hover over the toilet bowl rather than rest her chin on the edge of the germ-laden porcelain. Now that’s what I call unconditional love.
When my eldest was two-and-a-half years old, too young to care if she made it to the toilet but too old to be okay with throwing up on herself, she insisted on hurling into a towel. She did not care for the bucket, the toilet seemed a hundred miles away and she didn’t want to throw up in her bed. I remember the nights she would heave and I would scoop up the soiled towel, run it down the hallway and shake it outside into the bitter, night wind. Then I would rinse it, soak it, bleach it and add it to three other similarly foul towels that were already squirming pathetically in the washing machine.
I stopped telling our house guests that story as I noticed several of them refusing to shower for fear they might be using a towel that had already fulfilled its terry cloth destiny. Giving up your shower or not washing your hands for fear of drying them on one of our towels is exactly how the germs are passed in the first place. Clearly, these guests taught swimming lessons in their teens.
Liz Hastings is a Waterloo-area freelance writer and mother of Hanna, 7, Ellie, 4, age Chloe, 10 months, pictured above. When she’s not blogging at teaandsnippets.com, she’s getting herstockpile of linens ready for flu season.