No parent is safe when this disease strikes

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The time has come for the health care industry in America to acknowledge an alarming epidemic that is threatening the livelihood of every child in this grand land, as well as the sanity of us parents.

Remember the hype surrounding the H1N1 virus a couple of years ago? That’s a faint buzzing in the ears of parents dealing with the onslaught of this new threat.

And the sounds of a child battling whooping cough pale in comparison to those that come out of a child’s mouth when facing the sudden onslaught of this disease.

It comes in waves and is as predictable as the tides. It is most prevalent in winter, when the sun hides behind a ceiling of clouds and the air blows fast and cold. It grows exponentially when siblings become tired of each other’s company.

But this bug is not solely the domain of Old Man Winter. When Mother Nature decides to open the sky and wash away the grime from ground below — whether it’s April, May or June — sporadic outbreaks can occur.

The disease is not fatal, but the symptoms that a child exhibits when it peaks open the door to strong parental reactions that could have detrimental effects, including extended time outs and drawn-out periods with no electronic devices.

The symptoms are easy to spot, and do not require an advanced medical degree to recognize. As the disease enters the body, a child’s demeanor will change suddenly. She will stop smiling and laughing. Her shoulders will slump a bit, and she might sit on the couch like a pile of laundry or mope around the house as if she had just lost her favorite Barbie doll.

She will lose the desire to play with any of her toys, even those you bought her just a month ago for Christmas. Reading is no longer fun. Coloring is not an option. Forget putting together a puzzle, playing board games, or painting.

And the words “I’m bored” will come out of her mouth louder and faster than a racecar in the Daytona 500.

The name of this disease? Cabin fever.

Oh, the Allanach household has had several outbreaks of cabin fever this winter, so I am ready for it to end. I can deal with ice and the mayhem it occasionally brings during evening rush hour.

And shoveling a foot of snow is infinitely easier than dealing with two children who have acute cabin fever.

We endured a bout of it the other day when my 9-year-old daughter Celeste and 5-year-old son Gavin started rolling a soccer ball around the kitchen floor. They know they aren’t allowed to play ball inside the house, but it was too cold to go outside and the ball was more tempting than a six-course meal on “Survivor.”

The rolling morphed into tapping and before long they were running around the kitchen kicking the ball gently back and forth. I managed to break up their fun before they broke anything, and scolded them.

They looked at me with puppy-dog eyes, and I felt like I was barking at two innocent bystanders even though I knew beyond any doubt they were guilty.

Celeste stood with her right foot resting on the ball, and rolled it around. “Can I do this?” she asked.

The look on my face told her no.

“Can I do this?” she asked. She picked up the ball, held it about face high then let it go and caught it before it hit the floor.

“No!” I said in terse disbelief. “Why do you have to push the envelope? Test my limits? Do not play ball in the house! It’s that simple.”

“OK!” Celeste said before she walked away with a heavy head followed by her brother Gavin in a similar demeanor.

I immediately felt bad. I know they were only pushing my buttons because they were suffering from an acute case of cabin fever, so in a way it was kind of like yelling at a child for coughing when he has the flu. (OK, that’s a stretch, but I still felt bad.)

And for some reason in that moment (please don’t ask me to explain; I don’t understand it myself) I realized that pushing the envelope and testing limits lead to most changes in society and advances in technology.

Perhaps those same pioneers and inventors pushed their parents’ envelopes when they were children, so maybe Celeste and Gavin were simply foreshadowing a brilliant future by pushing my buttons.

At least that’s what I’ll tell myself. I also hear that parental delusional thought is an occasional side effect of cabin fever, but the medical establishment has yet to recognize the disease so I’m good.

This is a re-post of a column that first appeared in The Gazette on Feb. 24, 2011.

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