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Icky Childhood Illnesses: My Family’s Icky Illness and the Yuck Factor

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The phone rings and I recognize the school’s number on my caller ID. It’s not a number I want to see. The school doesn’t call to say hello. It’s the school nurse, and she’s calling to tell me that my daughter has ringworm.

My first emotion is humiliation. No, it’s not concern for my daughter’s wellbeing or relief that it’s not something serious. Instead, I’m embarrassed, and I feel like a bad mom. My belief that it’s okay to go six nights between baths has caught up with me.

At least she doesn’t have head lice.

I pick Celia up. There it is, a dime-sized ring over her eye. I saw it a few days earlier and thought she scratched herself in her sleep (she chews her nails to the nub, so I admit that theory was weak). I just wasn’t concerned. Bad mom!

When we see the pediatrician, I learn that ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It’s a fungus. She could have picked it up anywhere. It is not an emblem of poor hygiene (or six nights between baths). And it’s no big deal. Yes, it’s contagious. But the infection is harmless and treatable. The doctor writes the name of an over-the-counter ointment and orders Celia back to school.

 6 Childhood Illnesses That Are Icky, Gross, and Disgusting (but Harmless)

When I take Celia back to school, I get raised eyebrows from the front office staff and the nurse. I deliver Celia to her teacher and explain that we put ointment on the fungal infection and that she has been cleared to return to school. (I sidestep the word ringworm.)

I kiss my child and return to work.

For today, at least, I’m not a bad mom after all. But why do we let intense, irrational emotions throw us into a tailspin when it comes to our kids? Why are we so quick to assume we’ve failed every time the school calls?

Sometimes kids get icky illnesses or things. Warts. Cold sores. Pinkeye. There may be ooze and pus involved, and that can be disgusting. But instead of worrying about whether we’re bad moms (we’re not), it’s better to face the yuck factor and deal with it.


Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, winning several awards, including a public service citation from the Associated Press for her exposure of grade inflation. Since becoming a freelancer in 2007, her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and Adoptive Families magazine. Ghezzi lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.


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