When they’re sick


I sat on the floor, in front of the couch, spoon-feeding pasta into his mouth. She stretched out next to him. Both of their eyes glazed but focused straight ahead, entranced by the TV screen. My own stomach rumbled and I wasn’t sure how much more I could take of the high-pitched voices and inane but ridiculously catchy songs to which our last few days had been choreographed. But there I sat. Delivering pasta to his mouth and wiping his runny nose between bites.

This was the peak. Or was it the lowest of the low points? The depth to which we fell that week, when I talked to my pediatrician more than my husband (he was traveling). After a long day preceded by a long night, the latter spent sitting up in bed and stroking the curls of a little boy struggling to take in air. After more than a week of taking my little girl’s temperature and struggling to lift her spirits as she tried to power on, even as this virus was doing it’s best to keep her down. After days spent coughing uncontrollably with my own scratchy throat. This was our low. This, when I let go of every blessed rule we keep to keep this house from spinning off it’s axis. Every last one. You want to watch TV? Sure, let’s do it. All day long? Absolutely. Dessert every night? Why not? You want me to go get the tissue, wipe your nose, and then throw it away while you just sit there? Yes, I’d love to.

Her fever started in the middle of the night on a Wednesday. Ten days later, three of us were coughing and sneezing in unison.

It’s not so much that little else matters when your babies are sick. It’s that little else fits. It’s that the elements of your normal life just don’t fit until the tissue box can be tucked away again, no longer required to travel around with you. It’s that you find, once the sniffles descend, as the thermometer takes up a permanent space on your kitchen counter, that you really don’t have time for this. Not in the cliche we all say as flu season descends. “I don’t have time to get sick.” No, you find that you really don’t have time. You’ve packed your schedule so full that it was already bulging a little in the middle. You couldn’t quite get the lid to sit on nicely but you were getting by. Nothing big spilling over the top. But then you add the thermometers and the timed and spaced doses of ibuprofen or antibiotics or whatever else is required. And you add the trips to the doctor and the time spent on hold with the nurse, trying to avoid the doctor visit. And you add the tissues. Oh my goodness the tissues. I didn’t have space for the tissues.

And then you add the pain. The pain and the worry and the angst of watching your people suffer. The fear of what it might be. That it might be worse than just a little cold. That there are illnesses going around and making people very sick but you haven’t stopped to read any of the hundreds of articles because you don’t want to give into the hype. And you add your own pain. Because once it’s in the house, it’s going to touch everyone before it leaves and so yes, you too, will get sick. And you are the mama. Nobody is going to wipe your nose for you.

And, of course, you add the small hours because you will be awake for all of them. You’ll catch every last one on the clock. The days and nights would blend together if not for the sunrise and the sunset.

Of course, you also have to add the snuggles. The extra cuddles. The moments when they rest their heads on your shoulder, uncomfortable as your shoulder may be, because at that moment, they just need the comfort of you. They drape themselves across you just for the closeness, as if the warmth they feel next to you alone could make the pain subside. And never mind that you feel as though their fever is going to burn a hole through your tshirt and you really need a glass of water, you sit there. You snuggle and you cuddle. You make the pain go away. And you all rejoice when they rally, on a medicated high, they believe that they are all better and ready to take on the world. And then you catch them when the virus wins another battle. You hunker down again and power through the lows.

You add all of these things onto your normal, everyday life and you try to do it all. But you can’t. So you break the rules. Extra TV time because it distracts them from the pain. Dessert everyday because cookies magically overcome the flu-induced appetite loss far better than green beans. And it feels like anarchy. Like complete loss of control. Like you’ve passed the keys to them and let go of the wheel. You worry about the habits you’re starting.

But then it’s over. Yes, over. It really does end. And they move on. They rush on to play and catch up with their trains and dolls, pick up where they left off on their coloring books. They leave you, and the TV and the dessert, behind.

We’ve, finally (and for now), put away the thermometer here. I haven’t measured Ibuprofen in nearly a week. The tissues are still multiplying regularly but coughs are fading and nose-wiping is no longer a full-service activity. There were moments when I didn’t think it could be done but we made it through. Now let’s just hope we’ve done our time and the next course of viruses can skip over our sweet, little, Lysol-smelling home.


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