The nose is always the first sign.

One minute, it's cute as a button and a great tool for holding up Nora's glasses. The next minute, it's bright red and exuding snot. A lot of it.

Nora's colds seem to come without warning, though a glance at the calendar should have warned me. Her last bad one came exactly one week after she started preschool. This one came exactly one week after she started back after Christmas break. Just enough time off to shake off all the usual preschool germs and become vulnerable to a whole new batch of them in the new year. Sigh.

Her preschool, I should note, is astonishingly clean -- much cleaner than my house. And the teachers do a great job with germ control. But there's only so much mere mortal grownups can do in the face of the germ army carried by six wiggly preschoolers.

One day last week I was in the classroom for maybe three minutes to pick Nora up, and in that time I saw one kid give Nora a big hug (awww) and a great big sloppy kiss on the mouth (ermmmm ….) and another kid sneeze, um, wetly into the air. So last weekend's discovery of a snotty nose, watery eyes and low fever, no matter how sudden, was hardly a surprise.

With a few of these colds under her belt now, Nora knows the drill. The Kleenex box is taken from an out-of-the-way shelf to center stage on the living room table, with another positioned on the kitchen table, in her bedroom, etc. She knows (and even sometimes remembers) to cover her mouth when she coughs and sneezes, and she knows what to do if her nose runs.

"Mama!" she alerts me. "Wipe my boogs!"

On the first day of a cold, when her nose is like a faucet run amok, "wipe my boogs!" is a constant soundtrack to my life, almost a drone in my brain. I get some food out of the refrigerator, then wipe boogs. I wash my hands, return to the food, then wipe boogs. Rinse. Repeat. No wonder it took me an hour and a half to prepare an allegedly 30-minute meal at the height of her cold. Next time, as soon as the Kleenex box leaves that shelf, a pizza is being ordered.

As I write this, the cold has had 24 hours to make itself known and already seems to be subsiding. So hopefully my boogs-wiping duty is almost over. Which is good timing, since I'm starting to get the sniffles myself.

The nose is always the first sign.