I'm writing this with a child upstairs, sick in bed. I know she is sick because she proved it to me by vomiting all over the back of the car on our way to school this morning. Even our black Labrador turned a shade of green, but then his head had been in the direct firing line.
I have always taken the approach, when my kids tell me they are feeling unwell, that unless I can see some kind of physical proof then they just have to go to school. I'm not at my best over breakfast anyway and find it too difficult to play medical guesswork before my first cup of coffee.
Instead, I keep things quite simple. If it's a stomach ache, headache or general feeling of malaise, I say: "Get your uniform on, you're going." Heartless I know. But I have to make the most of what little freedom I have once I've offloaded them all out of the house. And playing Florence Nightingale to a child who's faking it is going to play havoc with my finely tuned six working hours between 9 and 3pm.
Naturally, if they have a temperature or anything gross emitting from their bodies then they have leave to stay.
But there are strict conditions. I call it flushing out the boredom. They have to lie on their beds and, if they're up to it, they can read a book. There is no TV, computer or DS. Usually my children are begging to go to school by around midday.
Unless, of course, there's something really wrong with them.
It works the other way round too. When the school calls me to tell me that Annie is feeling unwell and can I come and collect her, they are subjected to rigorous questioning. "Well, has she vomited? Is her temperature over 39C? Why are you bothering me then?"
Perhaps I'm like this because, when I was child, my mother actively went out of her way not to mollycoddle me and I was drilled, unless on death's door, to just 'get on with it.' When I was about five I went completely deaf because a bad case of tonsillitis had been left untreated for so long. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Or so they say.
Somehow, it seems, I've managed to inherit this same lack of sympathy when it comes to my own children feeling unwell, and this is despite going to great lengths, most of my adult life, to try and NOT turn out like my mother.
I'll never forget the time Monty had been complaining of feeling unwell for about four days. Of course, I insisted he went to school because, on the surface at least, I could see nothing, tangibly, wrong with him. In the end I took him to the GP, mainly because the school informed me he was spending his entire day asleep under the fossil display table.
So alien am I to our local health centre I had no idea that now you must do a self-checking in thing on the computer and we sat for about 45 minutes before it became apparent that we weren't being called. Eventually we entered the GP's room where he took one look at Monty and promptly picked up the phone to the hospital to admit him.
'Can't you see this massive lump sticking out of his neck?' he asked me incredulously. He got out his ruler and it measured a whopping 6cm by 4cm.
And I just thought his glands were up a bit.
I'm deeply ashamed to say that Monty spent the next five days on a drip in the children's ward being treated for an infected lymph node. Needless to say, he's the only one of my four children I tend not to question now if he complains about feeling a bit under the weather.
There are, of course, many other reasons why a child might say they're feeling ill to get off school. But at least, with my approach, I'm narrowing down the motives. If they're unhappy about something going on elsewhere they'll usually say. Because in our household, they know one thing's for sure. Anything is better than spending an achingly dull day at home with Mum. Even triple maths.
Five ways to tell they're faking illness:
They haven't finished their homework
There's a spelling/Times tables test at school
You've just subscribed to Sky HD.
They eat breakfast
They still have the energy to clobber their little brother.
And when they're not:
You allow them Coco Pops for breakfast and they still say no.
Their temperature is over 38 degrees
Um, can't think of any others.
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Are you as fierce as Shona about sick days?
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