pink eyeI don’t consider myself to be the most popular mother at daycare. My daughter only goes after school, so I don’t get to chat during drop-off. I’m normally one of the later parents to pick up, so there’s only a couple moms hanging out to introduce myself to. I wasn’t worried about not being besties with the other parents, but I never thought that I would be outright disliked by them. Then, my daughter got pink eye.

I have never experienced so much side-eye in my life as the day after informing my daycare that there was a case of pink eye, possibly endangering the sick days of every working parent there. You would think that I had exposed them all to the plague. I saw several sets of eyes squint at my daughter’s face, trying to make sure that her eyes showed no more signs of redness once we were back at school. I swear a mother pulled out her hand sanitizer the minute she saw us. She hurriedly grabbed her sons hands and disinfected them, as if seeing us might contaminate him. These parents were like middle schoolers in a cafeteria, ostracizing the weakest in the bunch. I was that weakling, who couldn’t keep her child safe from the most annoying of all child illnesses.

Pink eye holds a special place of contempt for parents. It’s this obnoxious, inconsequential little infection that spreads like crazy and guarantees time off work. It’s not like a cold, where you can bundle your kid up and throw some tissues in their coat pocket. It’s not like a sore throat, that can be cleared with a little medicine in the morning before the bus comes.

Pink eye necessitates a trip to the doctor, then to the pharmacy, then time for the medicine to work. It spreads from one child to the whole family in a matter of hours. Pink eye means that all the sheets, blankets and pillowcases have to be washed. It means that toys have to be sanitized. Teachers have to spray down every surface of their classroom. And the most obnoxious thing of all is that the sickness isn’t scary or awful. It’s itchy eyes for a day, then it’s all better. So you go through all this work and time off your job for a really minor illness. I understand why people hate it so much!

When my daughter came home from daycare with red eyes and goopy grossness, I knew what we were in for. I immediately called the doctor and scheduled an appointment for the next day. Then I emailed my daughter’s teacher and left a voice-mail for her daycare. I tried to do the responsible thing. In response, the teacher got in early to clean up the classroom. The daycare director posted a message to parents that there had been a case of pink eye and that everyone needed to be on the look-out. It wasn’t hard to look around and see who was gone for the day to decipher who had brought this threat onto the playground.

(Photo: Steve Snowden/Shutterstock)

Schools probably aren’t allowed to tell parents of medical issues like this. Daycares are completely different. And really, it’s a good thing all the parents know to be hyper-vigilant. If there was an infectious disease or lice in my daughter’s class, I would want to know. That doesn’t help the parent whose child is currently the threat everyone’s worried about.

The evening after my daughter returned to school, we went to a pumpkin cutting event at daycare. Parents glared at me behind their jack’o'lanterns. Another mom asked, “Are you sure she’s not contagious anymore?” before sitting down at a table with my daughter and me. I assured her that we’d been using the drops and cleared by the doctor, but the mom still looking skeptical. She didn’t use any of the tools in the middle of the table that my daughter had touched. It felt very Mean Girls. I think I might be in someone’s Burn Book now.

Maybe I’m manufacturing all that hostility in my head, but I’m pretty sure it was real. I even understand it. Vacation time is precious. Using it to stay home when your kid has itchy eyes is pretty infuriating. Taking your whole family to the doctor so you can each get your prescription for $5 drops is a frustrating way to blow the cash in your HSA. Believe me, I know.

I’m sorry parents, that we were the ones to bring this incredibly annoying disease into the daycare. I hope that we caught it soon enough that no one else had to deal with the scourge of pink eye. But please try not to be too hard on me. I promise, if one of your kids gets lice, I won’t get all judgmental and cranky with you. I won’t curse you or your child as I comb through my daughter’s hair for an hour that night. We’re all in this together, in sickness and in health, one family of working parents just trying to make it through the week.