So, I guess I must have overdone it on Halloween night, while I was tromping around our chilly, muddy neighbourhood herding a small Frankenstein and Spider-Man from house to house, because I woke up very early the next morning feeling like a panini that had been run over by a truck. The truck because I felt sick and achy and awful, and the panini because I woke up wedged between my husband and our four-year-old daughter, who has recently taken to sneaking into our bed at night. And so, seeking to un-wedge myself and perhaps have at least one more hour of comfortable sleep, I scooped up her leggy body into my achy arms, shlumped her to her bed, came back, collapsed into my own bed, and was immediately asleep. Two hours later I woke up again, only to realize that swimming and ballet and all of the Saturday morning kid-tivities began in 45 minutes. Feeling like I was a pile of dusty, pain-filled bricks, I lurched my way downstairs in my pajamas to get them dressed and breakfasted while my husband quickly got dressed. I was really just lugging my sick body around, compelling it to do things with the sheer force of my willpower while it protested with constant aches and pains.
And here’s the thing about the kids: sweet lil’ darlings that they may be, they really have no concept of how to behave when their parent is ill or in pain. To them, we are just like servant robots with no pain receptors who are made entirely of silicon, and are therefore bouncy and fun to lean against with hard elbows, or to butt against like a couple of baby goats ramming themselves vigorously against their mother goat’s legs while she chews her cud and looks very unimpressed.
And I tried to explain the fact that I was sick to my little ones: “Mommy’s not feeling well, guys, so please, could you just, could you please, just, hold still while I brush your hair into this ridiculously tight ballet-standard bun! Please just … put your pants on and keep them on … Because mommy is sick, I don’t feel like, I just, I can’t put them on over and over and … we’re going to be late for ballet and swimming guys, so… please … just … Please?”
A pitiful creature was I, to be sure.
And then, like a beam of glorious light, my husband arrived to help and I could just TELL him how awful I was feeling, and he told me to stay home while HE took the kids to their kid-tivities, and I just felt like, yes, that is the BEST idea. And then I got three lovely hours to myself in a quiet house, doubled over in pain and taking pills and drinking water and hanging in there. And I felt like, yes! I can do this! If I stay here in this one position, holding my stomach in this hand and my head in this hand, I can get through this day in victory! I can DO it! And then I heard the doorknob jiggle and the tiny boots kicking the door and I knew that it was all over.
Because with kids, it is not possible to be sick, really. They will be in the closest proximity to you that they can, because they LOVE you and want to help and take care of you, but their “care” feels like knives, especially when they start arguing with each other right beside you about who gets to give you your water and who gets to give you your medicine, and they are shouting and jostling you until you kind of feel like being dead would be much easier, so no more water or medicine is necessary, please and thank you.
No, you will never be sick again in the way that you were sick before you had children. Somehow however, magically, from inside yourself, you will pull some measure of strength that will allow you to continue to feel genuinely terrible while hosting a tea party for “Greenis,” your child’s unfortunately named pet frog. You will either save your barfing for when the kids are in bed, or you will be prepared to barf in a bucket between pages of “Green Eggs and Ham,” and those green eggs and ham will look so gross that it will make you want to barf YET AGAIN, so you will, but then you will manage a thoughtful discussion with your child about whether “Sam I Am” will ever convince that guy to eat those green eggs and ham, and why a fox or a box or a mouse or a house might somehow change his mind.
So I want to congratulate us, parents, on how we make it work in the midst of our delirium. Truth be told, in these moments, we are parenting like champs. Because we are champs if we are sick and yet still managing to parent in the only way we can, such as flat on our backs on the couch while the kids clamber all over our aching bodies, and use their outside voices to tell us about all of the things that they are thinking. We are doing it. There is no relief—this, my friends, is what the front lines of parenting look like, and the bodies are piling up—on top of us.
I obviously have no helpful advice here, save one very important thing that I find helps me when I am in that very situation. At the worst moments of your sick-parenting—when one of your kids has peed on the couch and the other one is pulling desperately on your arm because she NEEDS you to see what she has created with the Tinker Toys in another room because apparently, this time, it will just BLOW YOUR MIND—just glance into the corner of the room, and picture a very sympathetic and understanding adult standing there and noticing your struggling. Make eye contact with that imaginary adult, and note their very empathetic gaze, and draw real strength from that pretend gaze. Perhaps, if you look a little closer, you can see that they are giving you a very enthusiastic solidarity pound it, because they GET IT. And in that moment, you really just need someone to get it. You just need to have a little moment with that imaginary person who will give you all of the non-judgemental understanding that you crave for your poor, sick self. You poor, sick, precious baby.
Drink it in, my friends—you will need all the pretend empathy you can get for the next 24 to 48 hours, or however long this illness wants to ravage your body. Drink it all in. And then go drink in some Gatorade. Because that will probably help, too.