Care and Feeding

My Neighbor Keeps Letting Her Sick Child Play With Ours

I don’t want to be a meanie, but, uh … pandemic?

A young child with a runny nose.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I live in a small neighborhood and have two kids, 2 and 4. We have been letting our kids play with a few other neighborhood kids during COVID. My kids do not attend day care or preschool and are with me or my spouse for child care. Recently, while the kids were all hanging out in my backyard, my neighbor brought her 2-year-old son over, let him interact with the kids, then told us he wasn’t feeling well. My husband noticed right away that he did not look well and removed our kids from the group. Two days later, her son was again playing outside. I took one look at him and he looked terrible. I told her that because her son was ill, we were unable to play with him that day. She then brought him over to our other neighbors to play with their two kids. The next day, I had to be the mean lady who sent these kids away, after telling them because they were playing with someone sick, we could not play.

I am beyond furious as to why my neighbor is allowing her ill son to play with others. This is not the first time this has happened, and she usually says something like “It’s not anything serious …” I can’t control what our other neighbors do/feel, but I am angry that now my kids have to lose play time with friends. We do not go anywhere else or see any family due to the pandemic, and my oldest kid really loves playing with all the kids. Do you have any advice on how to handle this; I don’t want to have weird drama with my neighbors, but I also want them to understand that what they are doing is crazy and irresponsible. Thanks.

—The Meanie

Dear Meanie,

I’m afraid you’re not going to be able to get them to understand that they’re being irresponsible. And, in the Before Times, I doubt that a kid with the sniffles would have even been noticed in a playgroup. All you can control is the choices you make for your own kid.

What’s complicated here is that you’re doing a bit of a Rear Window thing to see what other kids the Diseased Child has come in contact with. Keeping in mind that just as you have no reason to think this kid has COVID-19 or has had COVID-19 on any of the previous occasions, you have no idea what any of these other kids are doing or touching or licking when you’re not looking directly at them.

If someone brings a visibly ill kid over, send them home. If you don’t want your children around kids who you know previously interacted with a sick-looking kid, are you planning on waiting 14 days? Because at that point, I would just give up on playing with the neighborhood kids and be happy you have a 2- and 4-year-olds and a backyard and let them amuse themselves. I just don’t see a way you can relax and also play with the neighborhood kids. It would absolutely be better if people didn’t take their sick kids places, but they do, and you just don’t have the time or energy to police that. There’s no email or proclamation nailed to the local doors that will change anyone else’s behavior.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is 6 and starting first grade remotely. Overall, he is a bright and happy kid. He adores his 2-year-old sister and has a few close friends. He is also deeply introverted, emotionally sensitive, a perfectionist, and prone to develop deep interests in topics that he exclusively wants to talk about (for hours). His preschool teachers recommended that we get him assessed as “gifted” starting at about 2, but we weren’t in a rush. Our public schools assess all kids entering kindergarten, and that seemed early enough. The tests in kindergarten indicated he was a bright kid, but not qualifying for (or near qualifying for) gifted services. He was happy in his kindergarten class and his teacher indicated he was on grade level, and so honestly, we stopped thinking about it.

When school went remote last year, it became clear that there was a pretty big discrepancy in what he was doing at school and what he does at home with us. For example, he can do addition with two- or three-digit numbers, simple multiplication, and understands negative numbers. These are things that we taught him from his questions (e.g., why is 8 minus 6 not the same as 6 minus 8?); we’re not drilling him on math worksheets or something at home. In school, he is doing simple single-digit addition. Or he can read Pokémon cards fluently to play the Pokémon card game and likes for us to read him chapter books meant for older kids (think Harry Potter) but has no interest in reading books himself.

Basically, the school is telling us that unless his assessment tests (which they do a couple of times a year on an iPad) demonstrate what we see at home, he will not receive anything extra in school. His classroom teacher can do some “differentiation,” but it is fairly limited with a full class and even harder in a remote environment. So we seem stuck in a place where he is completely bored with his schoolwork but not advanced “enough” to get more challenging material in school. This is also feeding into his perfectionist tendencies where if he gets anything wrong at all, he says he is “bad” at math/reading/whatever.

We will continue to support him as best we can outside of school, but I would appreciate an outside opinion on what, if anything, we should try to do in school. Would you recommend having him “assessed” outside of school? Is there another way that schools can support “in-between” kids that we’re missing?

— Bored in No Man’s Land

Dear BiNML,

To be extremely frank with you, you seem to have a smart and normal kid who is not yet hitting the benchmarks for the “gifted” program, and you should just continue to let him do more challenging things at home. Most kids are bored at some of their schoolwork or struggle with some other aspect of it, and especially during a pandemic, this is not worth you trying to get an outside assessment the school won’t pay any attention to anyway.

All classes have a mix of kids who are quicker on the uptake than others and those who are struggling just to keep up. Teachers have the ongoing challenge of trying to give help to those who really need it while also not boring anyone to tears. They are testing multiple times a year for the gifted program! If he makes it there, he’ll make it there. He’s 6. I would worry more about his perfectionist tendencies, worry less about him being Technically Gifted, and try to supplement his education with things he enjoys challenging himself with.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

A few years ago, one of my best friends, “Jane,” moved away with her husband and son (“Thomas”) for new jobs. I miss her terribly, but it’s difficult to visit—it’s a few hours away, and I don’t have a car. If I visit, I take the train, which has a limited schedule, and isn’t cheap, so my stays consist of an overnight. Because of that, it’s hard to find the time. She occasionally comes back to my city for work, and a couple of times all three of them have come for the day.  Recently, I made my first visit in almost seven months (I had planned a visit sooner, but then COVID-19 struck). I learned that Jane is having a difficult time—being around her husband and 4-year-old son 24/7 is trying, the general state of our country is depressing, and she has no support network where she lives. It’s a town that’s between suburban/rural where it’s difficult to meet new people, and none of her friends or family live close by. My heart aches for her.

Because I mainly work from home now, and also generally have more free time on my hands, Jane is hounding me to come visit more. She has even offered to pay for the train, or come get me herself. The problem is that I cannot handle being around Thomas for that long. He’s not a bad kid, but he has absolutely no boundaries because Jane doesn’t set any. For instance, both mornings of my last visit, she let him come into the guest bedroom and wake me up at 6:30 a.m., declaring, “He just misses you so much he couldn’t wait any longer!” He will constantly nag for attention, like tug on me and scream in my face, “COME LOOK AT THIS!” when I’m in the middle of a conversation with Jane, or demand Jane’s attention, which she will immediately cater to. Another specific example: I was playing with him for a bit while Jane and her husband made dinner. Thomas threw one of his toys at me, and I said very sternly to him, “You do not throw things at people, it hurts and it’s not nice.” He ran crying to Jane, and I heard her say, “Oh honey, I’m sorry she made you cry!”

I really hope I don’t sound like a kid hater, because I’m not—the majority of my friends have children and I truly enjoy time with them! But being around Thomas for at least 24 hours is just not at all appealing. I keep making vague, lame excuses, and I can tell Jane is hurt. So how do I handle this? Please advise!

—Troublesome Thomas

Dear TT,

Let me immediately reassure you that there was nothing inappropriate in how you responded to having a toy chucked at you by a 4-year-old, and Jane’s response to your reasonable boundary was silly. I’m also sure he is also bored and acting out and kids do love waking people up and pulling attention, so I think she may very well be just floundering and letting things slide.

Now, you mention you recently made your first trip in seven months. That’s a pretty long time. I think 24 hours of irritation after seven months is an acceptable sacrifice for an isolated best friend who is clearly desperate to see you. But now she’s pushing for more frequent visits, because you’re working from home. You need to decide how often you can handle 24 hours of Thomas and then say “working from home has really ramped up! I’ve made time for our next few visits out here, but they won’t be able to be as common as we’d like” and then give her dates for her calendar so she knows when you’re coming and thus isn’t always asking you when you’ll be out next.

And be honest with yourself! Don’t overcommit to visits, but also remember you can set boundaries for your stays, like “I actually take a while to fall asleep, can you keep Thomas out of my bedroom until 8?” or “I have a work call, I’ll go take it on a walk!” You clearly love and miss Jane, and finding a number of visits you can live with AND making them more survivable is absolutely achievable.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the mother of a bright but immature 11-year-old daughter—an only child—who still (she claims) believes in Santa. She sat down the other day to start composing her list of this year’s requests to the North Pole, although she will be 12-years-old in December. She has the absurd idea that Santa can deliver gifts such as bunk beds!

I thought that I could gently disabuse her of this fantasy—which, yes, I instilled in her—by having her write an essay answering questions such as these: Why is it that Santa delivers so much less to kids in poor families than he does to kids in affluent families? Why are we sending money through a charity to support a child in Bangladesh if she can just ask Santa for whatever she needs?

All I got from that exercise was this annoyed response: “Well, Mommy, it seems like from these questions that you don’t believe in Santa!” Do I just sit her down and tell her the truth? Or should I let her continue with this childish fantasy?

—Frustrated Mom

Dear FM,

Starting early with these this year! Look, she’s almost 12 and kids at school are going to make fun of her. Sit her down immediately and say very sweetly that Santa isn’t real, it’s just a way some families express love and generosity to one another, and how fun it is that now that she knows the secret, she can get to be Santa for other people too.

If she really didn’t know, she’ll be sad and then get over it. If she did know, and was just hoping to game the system for bunk beds, she’ll get over that, too.

— Nicole

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