The five stages of caring for your cold-afflicted child

Since my daughter entered preschool, my family has been drowning in rivers, lakes and oceans of snot. Whenever she catches a cold, she gives it to her one-year-old brother, who becomes the cutest and most prolific mucus factory ever. Then, once our immune systems have been weakened by sleepless nights spent tending to coughing children, my partner and I succumb.

After a few months of this, I’ve noticed that the process of caring for our beloved little super-spreaders follows a predictable arc.

  1. Denial. You hear your little one sniffling. “She sounds like she’s caught something,” your partner might remark. You shake your head violently. “No,” you counter, “it’s just the weather. Or an allergy. Or dust mites.”
  2. Bargaining. Your child’s cough sounds weird. Maybe it reminds you of a dog, a seal, or an angry ostrich. You, as a responsible parent, hustle her off to the pediatrician, who tells you it’s a cold virus that has to “run its course.” “Isn’t there anything I can give her?” you may ask. “Make sure she drinks lots of water and gets plenty of rest.” You hand over your thirty-five-dollar copay with a long sigh.
  3. Delirium. At night, the baby monitor blasts your ears with coughing sounds, which you MUST investigate, because, you know, your child NEEDS to breathe. You bring your little one into a steamy bathroom or maybe take her outside for a few minutes of cool air. Once the coughing fit subsides, you put everyone back to bed, and the house is quiet…for about forty five minutes. Then it starts all over again. After a few nights, you and your partner will be shuffling zombies.
  4. Acceptance. You no longer remember life without a backing track of coughs and sniffles. Although you still soothe your child through nighttime coughing fits, weariness and resignation have largely replaced anxiety. And, while you could be hallucinating from sleep-deprivation, you would swear that your child has gotten incrementally better.
  5. Infection. Your child is feeling better than ever. In fact, she’s filled to bursting with pent up energy, and she’s ready to tear it up. But you? The back of your throat is feeling a little ticklish. Maybe, you think, it’s the weather, or a touch of hay fever. It is not. You are infected.

Some doctors suggest your child will be infected by up to eight cold viruses a year. I believe them.


Yep, we had a very sniffly holiday season. Looking forward to the spring!

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