25 February 2011

cultural conflict in which i send the sick kid back to school too soon

I seriously considered simply bringing the car to a slow crawl in front of the heavy wooden doors and nudging her out of the back seat, over-sized Hello Kitty pack strapped to her back. After all, I have seen some of the older kids enter the doors unaccompanied a time or two, and Young One has requested that she be allowed to do the same. Perhaps Friday could be her big day.

Of course, I knew from the beginning that I would have to gain the courage to go it alone. I pulled the car up on the sidewalk, exited, straightened my coat, stood tall, made sure she was wrapped up well and walked right in with her . . . hoping, praying, wishing that I could just zip in and out, unnoticed by most, with a quick kiss as a send off:  "Be good. I love you. See you at four."


Richard has been gone for nearly a week, and, in the last few days, Young One has fallen ill. A quick visit to our doctor confirmed that (A) she was sick and (B) she would live through it. (After six years, I still can't determine what is indeed a doctor's-visit-worthy illness.)  Wednesday the good doctor sent us on our way with instructions that as long as the fluids were flowing both ways and she generally felt good, then the kiddo could return to school . . . EVEN if she had a slight fever -- just give her a dose of Motrin before school and send her on her merry way.

The scandal. What was that man thinking? Granted, he's an American, but, give me a break, he's married to a Southern Italian woman. He has been here for years. He has experience with both school systems.  He lives in both worlds. He knows where Young One goes to school. I think he was trying to set me up, evil doctor man.

I've been around enough to know better, so I waited until she had a good night of sleep and was nearly twelve hours fever free. Sure, her throat was still a bit red, her nose a little moister than usual, her eyes a tiny watery, but she spent the better part of an entire day happy, carefree, playing. In my estimation, she was fine and ready to enter the world of the living. She woke in a good mood, and after serving her a healthy breakfast, I dutifully tucked scented Hello Kitty tissues in her pockets, knowing she would have a need for them throughout the day. Hello Kitty was warped into a seemingly natural part of our lives, without effort.

And therein lies the conflict of cultures. Even though I didn't follow the doctor's orders, I also ignored the cultural norm of at least a day, perhaps two of fever-free health before rejoining the party. I decided to risk it, hoping for a stealth, undercover drop off at school.  Just as we turned the corner after the second set of doors, there appeared the heavenly sister, clad entirely in white, descending the marble staircase like a regular St. Catherine sent from the heavens. As she came closer, my courage abandoned me and ran for those wooden doors. Discovered, I stood in front in Clara Barton -- teacher and nurse-woman extraordinaire, but, lucky me, I got the sixty-year-old Italian nun version.

She offered Young One a concerned greeting and then turned her attention directly to me: "Where has she been? Oh, no, not a fever! How can she be back already? It's too soon. Children in the class have been out for eight days. Certainly she isn't well enough to be here. Oh, signora, what must you be thinking? Poor little thing. She needs time to rest, to recover." Young One offered her teacher a pathetic pair of puppy eyes and a perfectly timed lively, productive cough to add to the dramatic effect. (Thanks, kiddo.)

I tried to explain that she visited the doctor, and he said. . . and then I thought it wise just to shut my mouth and take it like a woman. Admitting what the doctor really said would likely cost me a bit of street credit, a bit of parenting credit, a bit of living human being credit. After all, I knew before even going to bed last night that this scene would play out just this way. I created it in my mind almost exactly as it happened. My only hope was to avoid her, which, by the way, is entirely possible as she isn't present in the drop off area every, single morning. Today, the gods were not in my corner. Who am I kidding? God is always in her corner.

Really, I couldn't blame the doctor. I know the difference well enough. They take this stuff seriously, like wearing hats and scarves and appropriate seasonal foot wear and humidity and wind and stress. It's just . . . different.

She scolded me well, and then informed Young One that she would spend the entire day inside the building. I left, somewhat defeated, but at least pleased that Young One was not in the car with me. The kid was at school for the day, ready to fill her little brain. She was in good hands. I can take it. I can play the game. I can swallow my pride. I can respect the cultural norms of my host country (after being discovered not doing so.)


I found her in her usual spot in the corridor at four when I returned to get her. She's been a regular whiny, demanding, disagreeable pain in the @$$ since then, and as I type this, she has fallen asleep in the big leather chair before seven o'clock on a Friday night, even with the promise of a pizza and movie night. Clearly, not a healthy child.

Thank goodness it's Friday; thank goodness the man will be back tomorrow; thank goodness that I'll be the one out of town Monday, in the event that this little girl may indeed still be ill; thank goodness  -- because I'm quite certain that I would keep her out of school five more days after the way today played out. Certain.

BTW: I have the utmost respect for our pediatrician. He has provided care for Young One since she was four months old, and I consider us fortunate to have him, a staying force in the ever-changing world that is a military installation. It's all in jest, kinda anyway.


  1. Yeah, a whole fever-free day is the norm before sending a child back to school down here. A lot of people won't send them as long as they have a productive cough. I scoff at that because that would have meant no school for months for my sons certain years!

    Hope your little one feels better soon!

  2. oh I so know what you mean. I grew up in Alaska where colds and flues are daily. It doesn't stop anything though. If anything, a little extra exercise is thought to help at times. Here? Oh no. the second one's forehead is a degree too warm it's back into bed and bring on the sympathy. I have never heard the "Oh I'm sorry I can't do (insert task), I've got a fever" excuse so often in my life.

  3. Poor Dr. He is just fighting a loosing battle on all fronts. And poor Momma Dana with grumpy sick little girl on her hands. I confess that I read passages from this post to my husband who laughed with me.

  4. For me, it has to be one of the most evident cultural differences that spans generations AND is widespread throughout most of the country, or so it seems. It's dangerous to make sweeping generalizations about a people, but this difference seems to be hold true for most.

    I'm trying to find balance living as the foreigner in this land. I like that.


  5. Michelle,
    THanks for the pity . . . I needed it more for dealing with teacher lady, though :) I try to approach life here with a bit of humor because being uptight about this stuff only makes everyone cranky.

  6. I think you will have to write a book one day -- you have the unique experience of living simultaneously in two cultures ... and you write so well.
    I had Italian grandmas come up to me and my newborn and tell me he was too cold, that he needed socks and a hat. I would try to explain that no, he's fine, it's 90 degress in July and he's actually sweating through his onesie :)

  7. Awww. . .thanks, Susan.

  8. I'm so sorry that Young One was ill. I hope by now that she's back 100%.

    I do agree with Susan about you writing a book. You have such a way with words and explaining perfectly how it is to be American by birth living in Italy. By the way, you are so right about the Italians being so concerned about the proper layering of scarves, coats, etc. My Italian friend always asks me if I'm cold when I'm not wearing a scarf and then scolds me because I'm not.

  9. 'I know the difference well enough. They take this stuff seriously, like wearing hats and scarves and appropriate seasonal foot wear and humidity and wind and stress. It's just . . . different.'
    I thought your sentence I have quoted above says it all. do hope she is feeling better now.

  10. Not as bad as sending your sister to school with two broken arms...