Dear President Obama,
I’m writing to ask you to push for paid sick days legislation in Congress and to urge every mayor and state legislature in the country to pass laws assuring every worker has the right to stay home when they are sick or have a sick child at home.
I was raised by a single mom. Getting sick as a child was an adventure – and a gamble. The first risk was that it would happen at school, right after I arrived or right after lunch. Inevitably the teacher would banish me to the nurse’s office where I would wait for hours, alone, uncomfortable, unable to have contact with other students or be rescued by an over-worked mom who could only come on her lunch break or after hours.
The second risk was that it would be severe. That meant a trip to urgent care that could only be forgiven if dinner tasted really bad that night, and we got to abandon it for fast food on the way. Even so, after hours in a waiting room to see a sub-par “doc in the box” my sisters would forget the temporary joy of happy meals for the fact no magazine or waiting room toy killed time forever. We blamed each other vehemently whenever there were waiting rooms.
It was almost all worth it, though, when you struck that perfect balance. A slight, school-attendance preventing fever that didn’t come with any gross side effects. In that moment, you knew that your sisters would be shipped off to school, and your mother would go to work, and the two bedroom apartment (with a large closet converted to make 3 rooms) would clear out. The house was mine! I did what any self respecting elementary school student would. Shoved Disney films into the VCR machine and piled ice cream high, smothering it in chocolate syrup. This “home-sick alone ritual” started around the age of 9, and lasted all the way through high school. It really never got old.
It wasn’t until one day in college I was visiting my mom, and we were laughing while retelling some of our favorite stories of childhood antics that I shared this ritual with her. In a moment I saw her face fall. It wasn’t funny. To her, realizing her child wasn’t home safe getting better but instead goofing off and eating junk food was another defeat handed to her as a single mother. She couldn’t be there to take care of me.
We never talked about the days before she remarried and tripled our family’s income. Talking about not having reliable health care, and when we did not being able to see the good doctors because time off of work wasn’t an option, brings up that same sadness and her feelings of failure. I know how hard my mom worked for us, and everything she gave up for us, and that in the end it wasn’t enough to take care of her family. Paid sick days is just one small part of the puzzle, but it was a part my family didn’t have.
I support paid sick days for everyone because I don’t want any other family to have to make the hard choices my mother did, when no choice could possibly be the right one, and you can never do all you need to do for your family.