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Response to "Germs, germs everywhere"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  July 29, 2011 09:43 AM

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Monday's question, from a SAHM LW who was P'Od at her SIL for bringing her children over when they were sick, sparked some great discussion! (As did Wednesday's conversation about etiquette between parents. I think from now on, I may try to keep the Wednesday conversation directly related to the Monday question. Did that work for all of you?) 

There were a lot of layers to the letter. Sticking with the most basic etiquette question, ItDoesntMatterWhatIThink offered some straightforward advice, and owes me a new keyboard for the first line: 

So this may seem silly, but uh... have you even tried asking her directly? 

The only indication I see that you've expressed your displeasure is a passive-agressive "hint drop" that your girlfriends reschedule playdates when runny noses come into play. There's absolutely nothing wrong with saying, "You know, we love Toddler, but each time she's sick and she plays with the kids, all 3 are a handful when they catch her cold!" Consider even being proactive on a case-by-case basis. Sister-in-law calls to schedule, you ASK if Toddler is sick, then make a determination. 

I know, I know! Have you ever tried actually talking to the person you are having a problem with? It's just crazy enough to work! Thanks for the laugh, IDMWIT. And a perfectly courteous solution to the LW's problem. 

Or at least to what the LW thinks her problem is. Many commenters picked up on a couple of subtexts within the letter. SLDM identified one in the first comment: 

I'll leave the real issue to everyone else...BUT, I needed to comment on this part: ..."and often says she doesn't know if her daughter is sick or has allergies (regardless of the time of year!) ..." As a sufferer of allergies....REGARDLESS of the time of year...I feel the need to point out that there are people out there who do actually suffer from allergies year round. AND, in my 31 years, it's STILL difficult to really know if it's allergies or a cold coming on. 

Agreed. The LW shouldn't be judgmental about her SIL's not knowing whether or not her kid has hay fever or a cold. It's not a sign of parental neglect or disinterest. Like SLDM, I can't always tell the difference in my own body. And time of year is irrelevant for dust, mold, and animal allergies. (Remember this January, when every possible green thing was buried under three feet of snow for weeks? Yep, I had allergy attacks then.) 

oreostick19 commented on the other: 

so by "sister in law's daughter" you mean your niece, right? like your child's cousin? clearly there's some issues here beyond a few runny noses.. 

You think? IDMWIT gave the best advice for what the LW can do, but as to what she should do, I find myself siding with those who agree that family relationships outweigh germs. As colakoala wrote: 

LW, please let's understand that it is NOT a big deal. It's inconvenient for you to take care of three sick kids, sure. Your kids would rather be healthy than have a cold. But this isn't hurting anyone. When your kids grow up they will never say to you, "Mom, thanks for making sure I got sick less than most other kids," but they will appreciate having a close relationship with their cousin. 

Some of the experienced parents on the thread picked up on the SAHM angle. lcap04 wrote:  

This LW used to be me. I was a stay-at-home mom with two little ones who never got sick unless they saw their cousins, who were in daycare and always, always had a cough or runny nose. I used to wonder why their cousins were always sick and get annoyed when my kids would get awful colds after every family party. Little did I realize that when my kids started preschool/kindergarten, they would be sick for almost the entire school year (no exaggeration) while their cousins would stay healthy because they already dealt with all the germs in their baby & toddler years. And we became the ones whose kids passed along every germ at family parties to the younger ones despite my best intentions to keep their hands washed and watch where they coughed. 

I wouldn't like to be stuck at home with three cranky, mucus-y kids myself. But if you can build an immune system at the same time that you're building family connections, that seems like an awfully good deal. Finally, following up on our discussion of metaphors last week, I want to give the last word to AFallBride, who had a good point on the metaphor of immune-system development: 

And for what it's worth, I prefer to say that my son's immune system is "gaining experience" or "getting smarter" rather than "getting stronger." There are thousands of cold viruses, and there's no way to avoid them completely, but some are similar to each other, so once you've been exposed to one, your immune system will be better able to recognize others that are similar.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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