‘Stay at home, Mom?’

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

At 7:30 this morning, as I am trying to cut out a “Box Top for Education” with a steak knife because my children have been cutting off their Barbie’s hair, their own hair and the dog’s hair with my kitchen scissors, again, and my kitchen scissors have gone missing, again, the phone rings. It’s my friend, and she’s got a crisis.

“My kid has a temperature of 99 and he doesn’t want to go to school and I don’t know what to do.”

I am silent. I know what’s coming next. I don’t want to take care of her kid. I want to stick with my own agenda, the one where her kid is in school. But I know that someday I’ll need help, and I also know that the last time she brought over dinner I didn’t return the Rubbermaid containers. She even sent me a .jpg file of the missing container, and I still didn’t return it. I owe her one.

“I’ve got a lunch date at 1 with that guy I told you about, the one who might have some work for me to do.”

More silence as I contemplate if my stay-at-home mom friend is serious about going back to work. I don’t want her to go back to work. I don’t want her to cross over to the other side. I want her to stay on our side. The side that sends .jpg files of Rubbermaid containers we want back.

As I am grappling with sabotaging her chances at employment by refusing to watch her kid, she continues, “So I was wondering what you were doing this afternoon.”

“I’m going to the grocery store.”

“Right, okay, it’s not a big deal, I’ll reschedule.”

Big sigh as my conscience finally kicks in. “Wait. I can watch your kid for you. I’m flexible. I don’t have to go to the grocery store. If I put off buying fruit snacks, the mutiny won’t happen until lunch time tomorrow, so I should still be alive until then.”

“Really? Great. Okay, so I’ll let you know if I send him to school or not. What do you think I should do?”

And here we are, the quintessential stay-at-home red button crisis issue. Our kid is only kind of sick, and we can’t figure out if we should send him to school or not. We don’t want to spend the day with our kind of sick kid, the one who isn’t sick enough to just sleep all day, the one who is still going to want us to feed and entertain them. But it’s bad form to send a sick kid to school, even one who is only kind of sick. But how sick is he? Is he sick or not?

This is when I long for a school nurse. When I am ready to put a referendum on the ballot to raise our property taxes just to fund employment opportunities for school nurses. Where did they all go?

When I was young the property tax levies paid for books and art rooms, and we didn’t have to cut out box tops to buy books for the library or to refinish the gym floor. At my elementary school we had a school nurse and an infirmary with cots and bleached linens, mercury thermometers, popsicles and low-wattage lighting.

Your mom never had to decide if you were really sick or not. She sent you to school no matter what, and if you were barfing or covered in purple spots or running a triple-digit fever you went to the infirmary and lay on a cot and they called your mom. She took forever because she had to put on her lipstick, and she was never happy about coming to get you. As if it were your fault the nurse wouldn’t let you walk home, even though you were covered in purple spots and barfing your guts out. But today we don’t have school nurses or infirmaries.

As I am wrapping a Barbie Band-Aid around my index finger because I sliced it open trying to cut out the “Why are these box tops mostly on processed food and sugared cereals the wellness committee doesn’t want me feeding my kids but I do anyway” coupon, the phone rings again.

“Crisis averted. His brother told him if he stayed home sick it wasn’t like he got to play video games and watch T.V., so he went to school.”

“What time does urgent care open?”

“He’s not that sick. I’m sending him to school.”

“Not for your kid, for me. I think I might need someone to look at my finger. I just sliced it open cutting out ‘Box tops that are only worth 10 cents but I’d rather just give the school a dime’ coupon with a steak knife.”

I wish they had a nurse over at the school. Then, when I dropped off my kids I could stop by the school office, turn in the blood-spattered box tops, lie on a cot in a dimly lit room and the nurse could look at my finger, bandage it up and then could call my friend to come and get me.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. See her biweekly The Playroom column at the magazine’s home page and at her website. Email her at maraya@steadmans.org.