I’ve been a mother for almost six years and every once in awhile, I learn something new that was definitely not In the “What to Expect” books I read during my pregnancy. My latest lesson?
Mommies don’t get sick.
Well, we do. … But we aren’t supposed to. Mommies are the boo-boo kissers, the ones who nurse us back to health when we are sick, and the ones who comfort us when the tears won’t stop falling. Mommies can’t be sick. … Can they?
This is the logic employed by my 5-year-old son: “Mom, if you die, who will sing me a song at night?” This was the question I got the other day, when, after battling three straight days of a sinus bug, opted to ditch my sweet little family immediately after dinner was served, to give my throbbing head a bit of rest before the bedtime routine began.
“Sweetheart, Mommy isn’t going to die from this cold,” I said, cautiously, not wanting to head down the “when-will-we-die” conversation that has been a sticky wicket to dodge in previous conversations. “Don’t worry. I just need extra rest so I can feel better.”
Conversation over. Five minutes later, he bounds back in. “Mommy, why do people get sick? I mean, where do germs come from? Why does God let us get sick?”
Oh Boy. At this point, Nyquil has been in my system for about 25 minutes, and while I would have been ill-prepared to give a decent explanation before dosing myself with sleep inducing cold medicine, I know this is a conversation with no easy answers.
So, I try the teachable lesson approach: “Do you remember me talking to you about how important it is to wash your hands and not put our hands in our mouth and noses?” I get a nod. “Well, Mommy must have picked up some germs and forgotten to wash her hands. So, now I have a cold.”
His response. “Well, that wasn’t a good idea was it? Now you have a cold and can’t play with me!”
Gulp. I pull off the covers, blow my nose, give my face a good splash of cool water and begin our evening play/wrestle/tickle adventure that we both so look forward to, but that I have been skipping as of late. He giggles with glee and, despite my stuffy head and sore throat, my heart is happy.
My littlest has a more sympathetic approach. Toddling into the room with all of his 3-year-old cuteness, he climbs into bed next to me, puts his head on my shoulder and says “You sick, Mommy? You need go doctor? You need yo medicine? I hope you feel bedda!”
Swoon. Moments like that I could quite literally melt from adoration of that sweet kid.
Either reaction to my illness reminds me of this unspoken rule of parenting: Mommies (and, to some degree, Daddies) aren’t supposed to get sick. In Kid World, this is about as unnerving as it gets — to see the person in charge of your well being, in a less-than-thriving state. In my pre-kid days when I was ill, I would use sick leave from work (instead of saving it for the inevitable sick leave I need when the next stomach bug wipes my kids out for three days) or I’d come home from work, grab a bowl of cereal and head straight to bed. When you are a parent, it changes. So, how do you balance taking care of yourself and taking care of the loved ones who — even when you are at full physical strength — can take every ounce of physical and mental energy you have?
This recent nasty bout with illness has reminded me of a few ways I can still be a “good enough” Mommy, keep my children from worrying about me (or possibly using my weakness as an opportunity to become little pint-sized anarchists around the house) and still meet my work, social and other obligations.
1. It is OK to have sandwiches for dinner. Even cold ones. Kids are happy when meals are a bit unconventional and I have fulfilled my obligation to nourish my family with a nutritious meal.
2.Daddies are far more capable than we Moms often give them credit for. And that rescue-the-damsel-in-distress gene that men have kicks in when the mother of their children is ill. Let them play hero — you need your rest and you will get your chance to return the favor.
3. Washing your hands is not just advice for 5-year-olds. Forget this rule — especially if you live with little germ carriers — and you will catch every bug that they bring into the house.
4. You are never too old to need some TLC from Mom – and if you are lucky enough to have your own Mom nearby, don’t be afraid to hint that you need some mothering. I will never outgrow the craving for my mom’s chicken noodle soup – or the comfort only her words can bring – when I am ill.
5. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, those little germ carriers — infectious as they can quite literally be — are often the best medicine to ease your pain. This morning, I woke up at 4 a.m., with such a sinus headache that I was moments away from driving myself to the emergency room. My mind began racing — as nighttime thoughts tend to do — and the self-diagnosing I was engaged in just made my physical symptoms even worse. Soon after, my youngest wandered in — the early bird — asking for his daily pre-dawn snack. He snuggled in close, requested his favorite show … and all was well with the world. My head still felt like someone was shoving an ice pick through it, but somehow, with that blue-eyed boy beside me, everything was going to be OK.
As I write this, my Advil is wearing off and I am surrounded by two rowdy, giggly boys who are quite excited about the weekend. Rest would be good — and will hopefully come — but I know that given that old cliché “Laughter is the best medicine” will definitely come into play over the next two days. With my crew, that medicine is bound to come in just the right dosage.