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Imprisoned (at home) by the flu

I received the dreaded call from school early last Thursday morning: The big kid had complained of a stomach ache, spiked a fever in the nurse's office, and needed to come home. Odds are, if you haven't received that call yet this year, you will.

While my job has certain advantages -- such as a home office -- having a full work schedule and a couch-bound elementary schooler is a major disruption. I'm lucky enough that the work stuff can pretty much take care of itself (though the massive disruptions that H1N1 flu will cause for parents makes a strong case for passing sick leave legislation); the major issue is keeping a child occupied for days on end when they are too much of a public health hazard to leave the house.

Here is the list -- by no means comprehensive -- of how we've been toughing it out:

  • Cracking open the board game closet. It's amazing how many games we have in there, and how many we've never bothered to play. Being home sick is a great opportunity to actually read the instructions.

  • "Whooooo lives in a pineapple under the sea?": Yes, no good can come of TV. But when your universe is restricted to the couch and the bed, there's a lot to be said for easy entertainment.

  • Carl Hiaasen books: Remember, get the young reader books, filled with clever children, not the adult books, filled with adulterous, generally murderous adults.

  • Forced naps: Most commonly heard phrase around here: "Really, Dad ... I just can't fall asleep." Most common response: "Keep trying ..."

  • Inventorying restaurants that serve soup: Chinese places that will deliver are a boon (hard to go wrong with won ton and hot-and-sour), but Panera Bread (broccoli cheese) is the current go-to. (Plus, one of our local Panera outposts has a drive-through, an innovation that I don't think is yet available in DC).

  • Crafts: Courtesy of Grammy, who send a Halloween care package, we now have an lovingly detailed Halloween diorama made of foam. Under ordinary circumstances, I'm not sure we would have had the fortitude to individually glue down hundreds of little foam leaves, but the clock moves slowly when you're sick.

We seem to be on the mend -- she's been fever-free for 24 hours -- so she's back in school today. But I'm worried that this was only the first act. I'm sure this won't be the last day of sick duty around here, so I'm open to suggestions. How have you all beaten back the boredom of flu-induced house arrest?

By Brian Reid |  October 27, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Entertainment , Health
Previous: Anti-TV forces declare victory over Baby Einstein | Next: Getting the 'brace face' at a younger age


"been toughing it out"

This must be a hoax.

"Inventorying restaurants that serve soup"

LOL! Most restaurants serve canned-based soup that's been doctored...

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 27, 2009 7:08 AM | Report abuse

It is kinda strange that you inventory restaurants for soup? How hard is it to open a can? My kids take a couple slurps when they are sick, no real eating involved.

I can't really think of anything to add to the list. The worst part is when kids start to feel a little better and are up and about whining that they are tired of books, crafts, tv, etc. At this point someone else is usually sick, so it is rinse, lather, repeat for another 3-5 days.

We've had stomach and regular flus where the whole family was hit and 7-10 days of our lives have dissappeared with the snap of a finger. My hope is that next time I am not in the middle of the pack, I prefer to be sick at the end of the whole episode so that I am not taking care of someone else and am sick myself.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | October 27, 2009 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget about books on tape and card games.

When DD starts feeling better, we bake cookies.

Posted by: anne23 | October 27, 2009 7:52 AM | Report abuse

As a blogger, you forgot computer games.
Check out Wizard 101 for an older elementary kid, webkinz, etc. Ok, this is restricted to higher income families with a (extra) computer, but still...

And don't forget schoolwork. We can get ours off the net up here, or someone can drop it off.

Posted by: inBoston | October 27, 2009 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Really? You drive to Panera to get soup for your sick child? If you're going to feed him a bowl of soup with 2200+mg of sodium (in 8 oz.!!!! you may as well pop open a can of the condensed stuff at home.

Here's a thought. Fill him up with healthful foods to boost his immune system rather than waste the time, money and energy to drive to a fast food joint for SOUP. Can we say lazy?

Posted by: youngnovamama | October 27, 2009 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Why all the anti-soup backlash? There's something comforting about restaurant soup that's somehow different than the canned stuff. Obviously you could just chuck some noodles in some chicken stock, but take-out at least has some speck of doing something different when you're stuck at home.

We have pre-schoolers, so sick days involve naps, a little Elmo, playdough, paint, cooking, Lincoln logs, legos, books, matching game, and lots of assorted freeplay. It's not much different than a rainy day, though we don't visit friends, go to the mall, etc where we can infect others.

Posted by: atb2 | October 27, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Now there is anti-soup backlash? Say it ain't so!

Forgot to add that the silliest point of Brian's post was that H1N1 would prove the vehicle to bring in - Sick Leave Legislation. Ummm, there is flu every year, so why is H1N1 any different on a parent or on a decision for Sick Leave legislation? Which I am against, btw.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | October 27, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

When my oldest son was in the early years of elementary school, it was actually a lot easier taking care of him on the rare occasion when he got sick. In a way, it was a relief from chasing him around and keeping him from destroying something and making another mess to clean up. Sure, a vomiting child isn't what any parent desires, but it usually only makes a yucky, messy splash on the floor once at the beginning of the illness. Besides, cleaning up barf is how real parents earn their certificate of authenticity.

In our house, when the kids or I get sick, we get our pillow, blanket, and favorite stuffed animal and camp out on the living room couch for a day or so, only getting up to use the facilities, change the cd, or drink tea, not much morethan that. As for me personally, the opportunity to sleep for 20 hours a day without getting a backache is often exactly what the doctor ordered.

For the wife/mommy/nurse in the house, - she's not allowed to get sick!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 27, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

"I'm lucky enough that the work stuff can pretty much take care of itself"

Nice job. I wish my work stuff would take care of itself.

Posted by: janedoe5 | October 27, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Umm - if you're stuck at home with the sick kids, that's a great time to make your own soup. It's really not hard; you've probably got a lot of ingredients on hand and it gives the kitchen a nice smell for several hours, too.

Other activities -
1. computer games, as mentioned. It doesn't take an "extra" computer - we have the one shared family desktop; kids have their own accounts; away we go. Much more interactive than TV when they're feeling better.

2. homework - our schools also make it available online; download it, work through it, go back to school not too far behind.

3. newspapers! Here's a plug for the dead-tree version of the WaPo. Nothing like taking a couple of hours and reading through the entire thing. Okay, there MIGHT be some stories you'll want them to skip, like the crime report* But let 'em read the agate type in the box scores; the analysis of why the Redskins stink; etc.

Board games are okay, but our experience both growing up and with kids is that the truly sick kids can't maintain focus for as long as it takes to play one, so be ready to go in spurts. If they can focus for an entire game of Sorry or Risk, they're on the mend.

*true story: my brother, sister and I all got nailed with the Hong Kong flu in early 1969. We were out of school for a week. I watched the first Nixon inaugural that week. I also read the local paper front to back. I read the crime log, then asked my mother "Mom, what's prostitution?" I will never forget the look on her face as long as I live. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 27, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

JHC!! What a great way to start the day! What in the world is up all of your a**es?? is it the gloomy weather?

Brian - good luck surviving! It must be pretty brutal to post a topic each day and wait for the critical dissection from the shut-ins, smugarati, misfits and anti-social trolls on this site. You can't even get soup for your kid without being trashed??? ahhh... what a sad life these trolls must live.

for my part, i've had enough.

for a while it was fun reading about the different approaches towards child-raising, but the negativity and polarization is just too much for me.

interestingidea1234 out.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | October 27, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

"surviving"? How the hell did we ever make it to the moon?

Can you say martyr?

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 27, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

I'm with cheeky. One of the things that I miss about life pre-kids is the ability to be sick and simply wallow in it. I would also recommend puzzles if your child has the attention span, it is very nice to put on some mellow tunes and work on a puzzle together. We enjoy this even when not sick!

Interesting, don't quit.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 27, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Another interesting topic would be what happens when the main caregiver gets sick in a home with non-school-aged kids. This was us about 2 weeks ago, when I got h1n1 (and the kids were fine). Worse was the fact that the first day I was sick I had been up since 11pm the night before with a succession of sleepless children. My husband took the first two days off, and after that I managed to muddle through- fortunately I was not THAT sick. There was a lot of tv viewing going on that week, though. I wonder what people do if they get *really* sick- as in have to go to the ER sick- and the other parent can't take off work.

Posted by: floof | October 27, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

"I wonder what people do if they get *really* sick- as in have to go to the ER sick- and the other parent can't take off work."

floof - it's called a "support system." In our case, when DW got sick while I was in Hong Kong, DW's mother came and took over. When DW got sick while I was home, her mother still came and helped me out so that I didn't have to take the whole week off.

When I was a kid and no grandparents could come to Germany or Kentucky or wherever, the other Army spouses took the role. I remember neighbor kids moving in with us for a week or so because of a sick mother - and us going the other way when necessary.

If you don't have a support system, life gets a lot harder.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 27, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

interestingidea1234... I agree with your comments. I don't check the blog every day, but when I do, I often find thoughtful comments and sage observations that are both helpful and entertaining. I have enjoyed comments made by you, Armybrat1, SueMc, CheekyMonkey, foamgnome, BilleR, to name but a few.

I agree that the way some choose to jump on Brian (and Stacey before him) is pathetic, but I wish you'd think about sticking around.

Hang in there, Brian! I enjoy your observations and posts. I wish you and your family well. Dealing with the Swine Flu takes a good week or more. We sent my son back to school when he was fever free for 36 hours and he fell asleep in class. Fortunately, his school has been more than understanding- it helps that many of the staff members are also parents!

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | October 27, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

If you don't have a support system, life gets a lot harder.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 27, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: jezebel3 | October 27, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

armybrat- we're in the same boat in that my parents live 5 minutes away. Unfortunately my mother had the h1n1 at the same time! We think my oldest may actually have had a very mild case that we mistook as a cold, and we both caught it from her.

Agreed about the importance of a support system. I know some people who seem to be without one, and life seems substantially harder (and less fun).

Posted by: floof | October 27, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Laying on the couch watching TV or laying in bed listening to books on tape are pretty much it for us. My elementary school kid is home now. He doesn't have much interest in playing or even sitting for long periods at the table. So, I let him veg out. I figure when I'm sick (especially with a fever) I don't want to do much more than lay in bed and rest so why would it be any different for him.

floof - Hard situation if one parent is very ill and the other can not be home. I'd say If ones spouse has to go to the ER and work can't understand that you need to be home to take care of kids then bring them to work and leave them with the person who will not permit you to stay home. They will see the error of their ways and send said spouse right home with said children.

Posted by: Vienna8425 | October 27, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

The really sick days are the relatively easy ones. Usually the kids just want to sleep and watch cartoons. All I have to do is ply them with liquids, keep them as comfortable as possible, and try to get them to eat a little every once in a while.

The hard days are the better-but-not-good-enough-to-go-back-to-school days, when their energy is back (at least in spurts), they're bored from being stuck in the house for several days, but they're not well enough to go out and do anything. Added bonus is that I'm usually stir-crazy by then, too (not to mention cranky because I'm feeling pressure to get work done after several days at home). Those are the days when I'll make up a quick errand -- like, say, going to pick up lunch -- just to get out of the house for 15 minutes.

Worst is when everyone tag-teams getting it. That was our Christmas a few years ago; even DH, who never gets sick, was laid flat-out for over a week. I managed the three sickies until the night DD upchucked at 2 AM, when I suddenly couldn't stand and collapsed next to her. It's the only time I can recall thinking "uh-oh, how are we going to do this?" We sort of dozed on the bathroom floor for an hour or so; luckily, DH managed to pull himself out of bed long enough to clean up and get her changed and back in bed.

Posted by: laura33 | October 27, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

If you're 'that sick', you're not going to want to do much, and neither will the kids.

At the first sign of illness in my home, I hit the store at the first opportunity and grab everything that I need for a massive vat of homemade chicken soup and I whip it out. Takes a few hours, but with it in the refer, I know that I not only have dinner, I have something that is filled with protein and goes down easily that can be used over and over for days. I also cannot taste a damn thing if I end up getting 'it'. Do that first, no problem.

Dietary restrictions for things like popsicles, jello and even soda (Sprite) are off. If it goes down, it's okay. No, it's not a cookie fest. If you can eat five cookies, you can eat real food. Especially with small children, it's all about fluid and calories. If they're not that ill, then normal food rules apply.

My kids are active, if they don't want to do anything physical, that's very telling. I'm not going to make them concentrate on anything. If all they have is zoning to cartoons or movies, rock on. If they're getting bored with that, that tells me that they're getting better.

The problem with childhood illness is not the one episode, it's when it turns into a serial illness running through the family, again and again. Vitamins, adequate nutrition, decent sleep and exercise throughout the season can help. Frequent handwashing, strategically placed hand gel in every room, washing common surfaces(tv remotes, doorknobs, keyboards, phones, desktops) and the use of antiviral tissues help to decrease the spread.

As a matter of normal practice, the first thing that my kids have to do when they walk in the door from school is to ditch the shoes near the door, park the backpacks in one location and wash their hands. I do the same. Started doing that when I worked as a nurse in acute care, and have carried it into my family. They carry their own water bottles at school so that they do not have to use water fountains. They don't share eating utensils with friends. But the biggest thing? Frequent handwashing, especially before eating. Avoiding public handrails, elevator buttons and crowded malls.

All of the fancy infectious disease control measures aside, hand washing is the simplest and most important thing that they can do. Even more important when someone is ill in the home.

Use hand lotion at night, all of that washing and gelling can be hard on skin, especially during dry winter months.

It sounds involved, but it's not. Start doing it and it becomes habit and not a big deal. Best possible thing to do is to try to avoid getting sick in the first place. Which is a lot easier than dealing with it after the fact.

Posted by: Geepers1 | October 27, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

if you feel you have to sterelyze every door knob, drawer handle, handrail, and get out a tissue to press an elevator button to avoid germs based ilnesses, that, in and of itself is a sickness.

Also, from what I've read recently, the over use of cleansers by Americans is not only contributing to the destruction of our environment, there is strong evidence that it is causing other afflictions such as allergies.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 27, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Hey interestingidea, I wear the title of smugarati with pride! Brian's a big boy, he can take care of himself when he gets smacked down for buying restaurant soup (not sure he cares...) plus, I think he'd rather have the traffic everyday rather than 2-3 brownnose comments like "Good Job!"

Posted by: cheekymonkey | October 27, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I am all for handwashing when we get home (and I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car to do everyone's hands if we've been at an indoor play area or the like), but I actually don't even bother trying to prevent us from spreading things to one another, because IME it doesn't work. By the time we realize someone is sick, we've all been exposed anyway. And trying to keep two 17-month olds and a 4 year old from ever sharing a cup or a fork (or an apple) is damn near impossible unless I hover over them every second. The way I figure it, if the babies catch stuff from their sister now their immune systems will be in better shape once they start school in a few years, and hopefully we can avoid the colds-for-4-months-straight that my oldest had her first year of preschool.

Posted by: floof | October 27, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Looks like you have some pretty good ideas! I wish my mom had thought of breaking out the Board Games - she would set me up on the couch with remote control, sprite, medicine and bring me soup around lunch.

Speaking of soup, if you can't find a good place that delivers, I have a great, easy recipe for a chicken soup that never fails to make me feel better:

Chicken (on the bone or breast meat, whatever you happen to have in the freezer)
Fresh ginger, cut into bite-sized chunks (the more the better)
Fresh garlic.

Combine in a pot of water, and simmer for about 20 minutes (or until chicken is cooked).

Posted by: sighnyc | October 27, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

fr ArmyBrat1:

>...*true story: my brother, sister and I all got nailed with the Hong Kong flu in early 1969. We were out of school for a week. I watched the first Nixon inaugural that week. I also read the local paper front to back. I read the crime log, then asked my mother "Mom, what's prostitution?" I will never forget the look on her face as long as I live. :-)

ROFL! I can just SEE that!

Posted by: Alex511 | October 27, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

My son had a bout of the flu a few weeks ago. He was home for 4 days with husband. I worked. If husband had been sick also, I would have stayed home and taken care of them and my employer would simply have had to make do. I have a whole lot of accumulated leave and I will use it if I must.

My son mostly slept, watched tv, and as he began to feel better, read or played video games at home. His teacher was nice enough to send his work home every day, so he was able to keep up with school. He had a bad case of cabin fever by the third day and was thrilled to go back to school.

Posted by: emily8 | October 27, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Armybrat - We almost have something in common. I was home sick when Nixon resigned. I remember because I was really annoyed that my favorite tv show, the Flintsones, was pre-empted when Nixon gave his resignation speech. For some reason, I think it was a Friday. I was 6.

Posted by: emily8 | October 27, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I am one for making my own soup, but I noticed at CostCo the other day that you can by "restuarant" soup... this included Panera brand broccoli and cheddar, as well as some Legal Seafoods soup and others. Probably cheaper and easier than going to the store a bunch of times. That said, buying it that way it is hard to ignore the ingredient/nutrition label - I couldn't bring myself to buy it after seeing all the saturated fat and millions of preservatives.

Posted by: JJ321 | October 27, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

(all of you young squirts, I was in college and that was after being in the army)

Friday Aug 9. I guess RMN wanted to be free for the weekend! And just in case you have not see the resignation letter.

I believe that those are Henry Kissinger's initials.

Posted by: Fred | October 27, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

(all of you young squirts, I was in college and that was after being in the army)

1:26 PM | Report abuse

Why are you such a gent and Armybrat such a pretentious bore? Did you make it with any Asian women when you were in the Army?

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 27, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

We haven't had the flu yet. DD had both the regular and swine flu shots or mist at her doctor's office.

The worst thing she ever had and gave to me was a stomach virus was when she was 3 1/2 years old. I remember because her bed came and I almost didn't want to see it. Good thing I did because we paid for one bed guard and I made the guys go out to the truck to get it.

I was happy to lose five pounds. She lost 3 and it took her several months to regain the weight.

Posted by: shdd | October 27, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Norovirus - I would almost take 2 weeks of the regular flu over this type of stomach flu. My son, husband and I came down with it together a few years ago. Most miserable 3 days of my life.

Posted by: emily8 | October 27, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

(all of you young squirts, I was in college and that was after being in the army)

Well, I was married by that time (four years) and had been teaching for 8 years. I guess I'm an old pretentious bore also. :)

Posted by: lsturt | October 27, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

"Why are you such a gent and Armybrat such a pretentious bore? "

'cause Fred was IN the Army and I only grew up AROUND the Army. I only got it indirectly; Fred got the IV version. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 27, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Emily - "I was really annoyed that my favorite tv show, the Flintsones, was pre-empted when Nixon gave his resignation speech."

You youngster! I was a sophomore in high school; we had already started two-a-day football practices and the coach canceled evening practice to have the team watch the speech. The coach was nearly lynched - HOW DARE HE cancel a football practice for something so trivial? Fred - that was Salmen High School; before they started winning championships. How could they win with such an undedicated coach? :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 27, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

fr jezebel3:

>Why are you such a gent and Armybrat such a pretentious bore? Did you make it with any Asian women when you were in the Army?...

Gads, jezebel. Grow up, get a life and quit with the snarky remarks. I've pretty much held my tongue, but this one takes the proverbial cake. I thought AB1's remark about reading the paper was HILARIOUS!

Posted by: Alex511 | October 27, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Okay, several people have suggested letting the sick kid play computer games. We don't allow that. Computer gaming is a reward for completed homework and household chores.

If our boys could get on the computers anytime they were at home sick, without having to earn the privilege, they'd try to claim they were sick every day.

House rule: If they are too sick for school, they are too sick for the computer.

Bonus for this rule: They are very motivated to get well and they cooperate with rest / fluids / foods / taking meds, so they can go back to school, so they can start earning time on the computer again.

Probably not a problem with younger kids who haven't figured out the whole goldbricking thing yet. But something to watch out for as they get older. Make sure they don't get any *rewards* for staying home pretending.

Posted by: SueMc | October 27, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Besides, AB went to Purdon't!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | October 27, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Un caballero no tiene memoria

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | October 27, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Sue -- yep, that's part of the reason I don't worry too much about entertaining my kids when they're sick. DD definitely has the makings of a good goldbricker. I think she has this mental picture that "sick day" = baking cookies with mommy, playing games with mommy, drawing/painting with mommy, cooking dinner with mommy, etc, -- basically, I turn into Glenda the Good Witch, whose world revolves around whatever she wants. Which, of course, is nowhere near reality, even when she catches me on a good day! So I kinda figure that if she gets good and bored when she's out sick, then maybe staying home will seem a little less appealing to her if and when she does figure out how to fake it!

Posted by: laura33 | October 27, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

WOW, Army Brat, you are O-L-D - you're like a Dad or something! Sue and Laura, the old taking your temp with the thermometer in the back door, was a great deterrent from the old days, get rid of the ear one and bring back the mercury!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 27, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

LOL. You guys are cruel. I practically have to block the door to keep my 9 year old from going to school, even when he is sick. In fact, I have to reward him to stay home. Sigh.

Posted by: emily8 | October 27, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Sue and Laura, the old taking your temp with the thermometer in the back door, was a great deterrent from the old days, get rid of the ear one and bring back the mercury!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 27, 2009 6:34 PM

Thanks, but no thanks.

Obviously, *your* mother never broke one of those things while attempting to take a temperature - lucky for my little brother it was on the outside when it broke, and only Mom's hand was cut up!

Posted by: SueMc | October 27, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

My house is not fun when you are home sick. When my oldest was home sick the first time we spent the whole day together and it was a big chore to get her excited about going back to school. So, when you are sick you are isolated to your own room where you are occasionally visited by Mommy with a tray of food, drinks or a few minutes of hanging out. Otherwise, you sleep, read, sleep, whatever. Not much fun. When you are feeling well enough for fun, you go back to school.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | October 27, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

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