Things unavoidable: death, taxes … and the children coming down with some horrible illness, just before we go away on holiday. We’ve had so many holidays blighted by Child Plague:
The December of the Eyes: New Year’s Eve 2009, Plettenberg Bay. A gorgeous day. We load the children into our little rental car and make the short drive to Party Central. But when we unload the children … what fresh hell is this? The bigger child’s eyes have mysteriously swollen shut and she’s whimpering in pain. We can’t explain this. Nor can the pharmacist, or the emergency doctor, who we eventually track down. Of all the great ways I’ve spent New Year, chasing down a screaming toddler to administer eye-drops every four hours is not up there.
Paris Fever: Shortly after that, the smaller child developed cystitis in Paris. I used to love that city but I haven’t been able to think of it since without remembering how her little baby-body shook with fever as we raced around trying to find a paediatrician at lunchtime, on a Sunday, in the sweltering heat.
Gastro in Grimentz: Well, almost. My husband and I did a quick scenario-planning session, involving a long car trip and a child with explosive diarrhoea, and decided not to even risk this one. Our chalet-owning friends and the ski-boot rental people can thank us later.
Lice in Nice: Again, almost. The smaller child came home with head lice a mere week before twelve family members, from all over the planet, were due to descended on us for a night, before heading off to the south of France. And I just could not get rid of the things (the lice, that is, not the family members). Over and over, I washed hair, bedding and about ten thousand soft toys. By the time our guests arrived there wasn’t a louse in the house, but I was a nervous wreck.
Spanish Flu: Given all of the above, I shouldn’t have been surprised recently when, on the eve of our first visit to Spain, the smaller child succumbed.
When we heard the first sniffle, we all froze immediately.
‘I can still go, can’t I?’ asked the bigger child. ‘She can stay home with the Guinea Pigs. The pet-sitter can check on her every morning.’
Well, no one stayed home and the small one’s sickness lasted a (very) grumpy two days and then was over. The trouble is, it then ploughed its way through the rest of the family, gaining momentum as it went.
By the time we drove home, we were all shivering and coughing madly. As the Plague Ship rolled into port, I decided: never again.
‘I’m boosting this family’s immunity!’ I declared, and stormed off to the Internet to do just that.
But the Internet says I can’t.
Well, part of the Internet says I can’t. According to several medical sites, the immune system is just that – a complex, interrelated system – which can’t be boosted or supported or given a makeover, or a kick in the butt, or any of the things I want to do to it.
Firstly, this part of the Internet says, stop worrying that you’re living in a hot zone. It’s perfectly normal for children to get anything up to 12 colds a year (I was horrified to read). That’s not even counting the flu, tummy bugs, sore throats, and rashes that randomly appear and then disappear the minute you secure an appointment with the paediatrician.
Secondly, just leave your immune system alone to do its job. The reason that you’re all hot and swollen and miserable is because everything is working properly. So just be sensible. You may not be able to build immunity, but you can certainly keep from undermining it: eat and sleep well, wash your hands, get enough exercise, have your vaccinations. All the stuff we know.
But what says the part of the Internet that does believe in building, boosting and supporting immunity? Well. That’s just a joyful explosion of Can-Do positivity and advice: eat ginger, lemons, onions, garlic and something called graviola! Have lots of friends! Think happy thoughts! Make your partner give you a back rub!
‘I don’t know what to believe,’ I said to my husband. ‘Can I boost our immunity or can’t I? And does Facebook count as a friend? And how am I supposed to think happy thoughts when the older child has been sniffling non-stop for three days?’
But he’d constructed a Hazmat suit for himself out of bedlinen and towels, and couldn’t hear me.
It’s fine, though. Because it turns out that most of the Internet doesn’t even care about immunity.
‘Relax,’ it told me. ‘Here’s a video of a cat riding a Roomba.’
I felt better immediately.
Robyn Goss is a South African writer, recently moved to Switzerland. You can read her blogs at www.robyngoss.com