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Being Sick, And What We Learned

I’m back, I think, though I speak
cautiously lest any unemployed germs hear of my new-found health
and decide to go hang out in my colon again.

Last week was truly fun, I tell ya. Five days almost completely in
bed, with a trip to the doctor providing me with a cold to pile on
top of it. And of course, Cora had to come down with said cold as
well, which produced an instantaneous ear infection. So I had to
drag her to the doctor on Thursday when her temperature remained
103 in spite of steady doses of Motrin and Tylenol, and I could
barely restrain myself from shoving Cora over on the examining
table and lying down next to her.

The good news is that the cold was rather
lightening fast, and moved through quickly; Maddie caught it soon
after and wrapped it up on Sunday. Cora was a new woman – er,
toddler – 24 hours after she started antibiotics, and
I’m back on my feet again, albeit keeping a wary eye on
what’s on my plate for a while until my stomach’s
completely back to normal.

I had the best possible situation with all of this: no one else got
the intestinal thing, so I could simply lie in bed and moan
self-pityingly all day. My mom lives in, and efficiently took over
the girls, and Brian took off two days of work to cover while Mom
went to work herself. Between her and Brian, the girls were
entertained and snuggled and giggled over and endlessly distracted.
I came out only for naptime and nighttime hugs and snuggles, and
had to worry about nothing other than getting better. I spent more
time in bed last week than I have the entire 17 months before that,
but I was too sick to enjoy it.

On the downside, the girls had a hard time throughout the week with
Mommy’s absence, and I could hear prolong cries of
“Mommy! Mommy! I want Mommy!” floating up from
downstairs. Maddie would come and simply sit against my bedroom
door, hoping I’d open up and let her in. And sometimes I
would, allowing her to climb up on the bed and snuggle together
reading a book, but those times were less often than not since I
was frequently up and down to the bathroom and was afraid I’d
pass my germs on to Maddie.

Cora had it even harder, since at least Maddie was able to
understand what was going on. Cora would come in for a visit and
try to climb onto Mommy’s tummy for a full-body snuggle, and
I’d throw her almost violently off when she’d touch my
tender spots. She knew I was in the house, and didn’t
understand why I didn’t want to see her.

On the upside, both girls had lots of time to work through their
separation anxiety over the week, and seeing Cora call out for
Daddy and melt into his arms when she was tired almost made the
stomach bug worthwhile. Maddie and Cora both became less dependent
on me, and Brian and Gamma become more surefooted in their daily

And my illness even had a few sweet spots – mostly from my
big girl Maddie. One morning she brought me a basket filled with
her plastic food and placed it carefully on the bed.
“Mommy,” she said solemnly, “Gamma said your
tummy hurts and food doesn’t taste good to you. So I fixed
you a basket of food from my kitchen that will help you feel
better.” She then proceeded to talk through every item in the
basket, explaining in detail why she packed it. “The banana
is good for you, but don’t eat it if you’re having
trouble going poopy because that can make it worse. I made you a
big sandwich with a hamburger so your tummy will stay full for a
long time. I put an apple in so you can make apple juice. And I put
a cookie in because cookies always taste good in my tummy.” I
was touched by the effort she’d made, and the concern and
love that showed in that sweet little plastic picnic she brought

The next day Maddie brought in a handful of her colorful hair
elastics, carefully pouring them into my palms. “Mommy, I
brought you some hair rubber bands so you can put your hair back
out of your face. I know when I’m sick I like to have my hair
out of my face – it just feels better. So don’t lose
them, but you can use them while you’re sick.”

How many three-year-olds would think of such a kindness, much less
act on them? I asked afterwards, and both acts were completely

I have a big issue with encouraging a child to parent the parent
– that is, “Now take care of your Mommy and make sure
she gets better, ok? Work hard!” I don’t think it makes
the child feel empowered or needed – just anxious and
overburdened. Every time the girls would come in I’d see the
worry and anxiety on their faces, and I’d try to reassure
them while still being honest. “Yes, Mommy is sick. Mommy
doesn’t feel good, and Mommy can’t play with you right
now. That makes Mommy very sad, so know Mommy misses you too. But
Mommy’s working hard to get better and will feel much better
soon, so don’t worry.” When a parent is sick the
world’s topsy-turvey for a child, and seeing that yes, Mommy
is sick, but she’s still Mommy and still firmly in that
parenting spot helps reassure the toddler.

At the same time, I could see how much Maddie wanted to do
something, if only to have Mommy restored to her rightful place as
Number One Slave – er, Caregiver. So I’d ask Maddie to
run an errand for me – say, help make some toast or bring me
some fresh water – and see the pride in her face as she
fulfilled her job. I think Maddie got a real glimpse of what it
means to be a part of a working family, where everyone contributes
and everyone is valuable, and we do what needs to be done however
we can. And I think that’s cool, even if it did come at the
expense of my lower intestines.

Cora – well, Cora learned that Mommy’s not always so
fun, and that Gamma comes much faster when you call her than Mommy
does sometimes. So now when she wakes up from a nap I’ll hear
over the monitor – “Mooooooooooooooomy.
Mooooooooooomy.” Then hesitation. Then: “Gamma! Gamma!

And even that’s a great lesson to learn – that no
one’s indispensable in this family, and that she will get her
needs and even wants covered, in a loving and careful way. Just
maybe not the exact way she’s used to.

So at the end of the week, I’m crossing my fingers that
we’re finished with the illness stuff, but grateful for the
family around me who helped pick up the slack. And glad that my
girls are both resilient and flexible, and came through The Absence
of Mommy none the worse for the wear.

And maybe, if we’re truthful, a little better for it.


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