The Rockwood Files: V is for Virus

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Little kids aren’t big on sharing. As the mother of three, I have seen many a fight over things that hardly seem worth it – a Barney puzzle, a juice box, a 50-cent bouncy ball. Your average 2-year-old will not hesitate to grab the biggest Lego block he can find and smack a fellow toddler in the head with it just to defend his toy territory. So why is it that these little people so bent on saying “Mine! Mine! Mine!” are more than happy to share their nasty, germy viruses with anyone who comes within five feet?

Although I currently have at least five bottles of antibacterial hand sanitizer in the house and a stockpile of Lysol, I’m not a germaphobe. I’m simply trying to survive in a house with three kids under the age of 7, which is a lot like living in a human Petri dish.

Our latest round of Pass-the-Virus started the same week school started. After a couple of days in first grade, our 6-year-old skipped dinner and went to bed early with a tummy ache one night. Around 11 p.m., he woke up crying and feverish, and my hard-wired Mommy instinct told me I had about 7 seconds to either get him a bucket or get him to the bathroom. We didn’t make it. (Enter bottle of carpet cleaner at 11:30 p.m.)

But after the violent return of his lunch, we cleaned him up and he promptly fell asleep and slept peacefully all night with no fever. I kept him home from school the next morning, but he felt fine and really didn’t want to miss a chance to be the line leader at school. By noon, there were still no symptoms of the previous night’s illness, so I chalked it up to something he ate and took him back to class. When I picked him up that afternoon, he claimed to feel fine but opted out of his after-school snack and laid down to rest on the sofa – highly suspicious behavior in an active 6-year-old.

The next morning I took him to the doctor. He checked him over and then peered into his mouth with a tiny light. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “That looks like strep throat to me,” and he proceeded to swab his throat with a long Q-tip to run a test.

I internally chastised myself for not figuring it out sooner. Our 1 ½ -year-old had strep throat just a few weeks earlier which she cheerfully shared with me. So I asked the doctor to check us all out while we were there, and after a look in a few more throats, three of us walked out with antibiotics for strep throat. Only 4-year-old Jack escaped unscathed.

The antibiotics did their job over the next two days and we were all finally on the mend, just in time for a visit from my parents who were in town to see a college football game. Our babysitter arrived, and my parents and Tom and I left for the ball game, excited to see the season opener. About 9 minutes into the first quarter, the cell phone buzzed in my pocket. It was the babysitter calling to say 4-year-old Jack had just sprinted to the potty in time to throw up.

“We’re on our way home,” I said.

Assuming it was another case of strep throat, I hauled him to the doctor who said this time it was a stomach virus – which managed to attack both my parents only days later.

The good thing about kids and viruses is that they’re amazingly resilient. Give a kid a stomach virus and he’ll be miserable for as long as it takes to void the contents of his stomach (sometimes in both directions) and then he’ll be fine. A few hours later he’ll want to play Frisbee on the driveway and have a Happy Meal. We grown-ups, on the other hand, take days to recover. For us, the virus is like wrestling an alligator – flipping and flopping in bed and moaning and groaning back and forth to the bathroom. I guess we lose the bounce-back factor as we age.

I talked to my mom today and she says they’re coming for another visit in a few weeks, which is a testament to just how much they love their grandkids that they would risk their gastrointestinal well-being just to see them again.

Meanwhile I’m just trying to figure out how to cut down on these all-in-the-family illnesses. We wash our hands plenty around here and wipe down doorknobs often. But perhaps I should install a huge tub of antibacterial lotion at the door and dip each family member before they come in from school or work. Because I’m sick, sick, sick of all this sharing.