Productivity Penalties When You’re Home with Your Sick Kiddo: the Community Buffer

sick kiddo

post by Nucleus

My kiddo has been out sick from daycare for three days, which means I have been home, more or less unavailable to the outside world, for three days. Right now, my normally rambunctious two and a half year old is curled up against me, lethargic, her sleepy gaze turned towards Clifford the Big Red Dog on the TV. She doesn’t usually get to watch TV, but on sick days, we make allowances.

Her forehead is so hot and sweaty. Sitting so still in the same position for so long, my sciatica that began during my pregnancy with her (and never seemed to go away…) begins acting up. I shift to readjust my position, which triggers her to start howling, her cheeks covered with crocodile tears. She’s so tired – her cough won’t let her sleep – and she doesn’t seem to fully understand why she feels this badly and why I can’t fix it. I try to will away that sharp pain running from my lower spine down my left leg.

I grab my smarty phone and refresh my ever growing pile of emails. Three in a row from the departmental secretary asking me if I had received her last two emails marked, URGENT, which were about my forgetting to turn in my time sheets from last year. Those stupid time sheets that make you mark down that yes, you worked a 40hr, Monday through Friday work week. Hasn’t anyone informed the administration that we scientists don’t clock in and out like that? I think they are secretly conducting a social experiment exploring exactly how much meaningless paperwork it will take to make us crack.

“Mi cielo, quieres agua?” I whisper to her.

“No. (cough cough…) Quiero Clifford.”

I shift ever so slightly in an attempt to ease my back pain. She starts crying again.

Where’s my husband, you ask? At work. He offered to stay home, but he had some pretty big projects happening this week, and we made the decision together that this time it would be me. Last time, it was him.

Why not hire someone to come help out?

Sure. You want to pay? And even if we did fork up a great deal of money for a babysitter for three days (provided there was someone willing to take care of a sick child), when your kiddo is sick, she just wants to lay on you. And you just want to take care of her. I don’t make the rules – that’s just how it is.

It’s not a sacrifice to stay home with my daughter. I do it willingly, with love. She’s everything to me, and everything I do in some way is for her.

However, as I start a brand new position as an Assistant Professor, no one can deny that taking three days completely off to care for my sick child is a pretty big blow to my productivity. But what can I do? Have my husband take the night shift? Not when she’s coughing and crying – I can’t concentrate on work or sleep when my kid is sick, no matter how amazingly my husband takes care of her (and he does).  And not when I’m so exhausted that, as I lay down to (try to) go to bed, I realize I haven’t brushed my teeth that day. Have I been in these clothes for three days? Is that stain snot, spit, or puke? Lovely.

Lucky for me, I’ve surrounded myself with people, with colleagues, that understand how this works. Many have children. Those that don’t sincerely listen and empathize. That’s key.

Yes, on a broad scale, we need more policy changes that forgive pauses in productivity because of our taking care of loved ones. But for right now, right at this moment, as I sit on my couch, my lower back throbbing, I text people in my lab and department that I’m home…again… taking care of my sick kiddo. They respond with overwhelming kindness, concern, and willingness to help me.  Do I need anything? Can they help any of my students? Do I have any assays running that they could finish for me? Do I want them to print out and sign my silly 40hr work week time sheets?



Mi gente.

The key to survival: we all help each other.

This entry was posted in Increasing Diversity in Science, Maternity Leave, Mom in Science, Nucleus, Parenthood, Women in Science. Bookmark the permalink.

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