Last week I was sick. I lay shivering in my coffin, er, on my deathbed, er, on my couch and thought about the last time I was sick. It was nearly three years ago and I was a single mommy with three kids at home. They each went to different schools that began and ended at different times and had varying bus stop drop-off and pick ups. It was a logistics nightmare that afforded me 2.5 hours alone time, four days a week (not five!), to work from home. La di da.
It all went swimmingly until I got the Death Flu. No one else in the house had it. Just me. I was doomed.
For five days I dragged myself out of bed at 6-ish and croaked greetings to my cherubs while stuffing bagels in the toaster and hoping they had lunch money left over so I didn’t have to walk an extra four feet to get a $20 bill from wherever I was keeping extra cash. By 9-ish they were all gone and I collapsed in a heap on the unvacuumed floor. Three hours to be Dead Mommy. If I was lucky I fell near the remote so I could turn Curious George off, otherwise I’d be doomed to three hours of PBS Kids until Eric got home and I had to muster the strength to walk outside and collect him from his bus.
Eric, the littlest, arrived back at 12:30. You’d think that some snuggle time with a three-year-old would be possible for a Sick and Dying Mommy, but not this one. He had the will and the strength of a rhinoceros, a small boy capable of staying awake for days on end. And I had to keep an eagle eye on him — at three, Eric-with-Down-syndrome had the self-discipline skills of a baby crocodile. He could not be counted on to be entertained (and stay in one place without wreaking havoc somewhere) with a nice DVD. The other two, in 2nd grade and 6th, dribbled in by 4 pm and had the gall to want things like DINNER. And BEDTIME RITUALS. And CALLIGRAPHY PRACTICE.
Okay, so I lied about the calligraphy. And they understood about the bedtime thing (sort of). But dinner … well, the point is, mommies really can’t get sick. I thought about this last weekend as I lay in bed shivering for two days, knowing I had the luxury to lay in bed shivering for as many days as I needed. Some of you know that my kids aren’t living with me now, and I never realized until now that there’s an unexpected perk to this — I can actually be sick.
My mom was never sick. Not once. Oh, she had the sniffles from time to time. And once she tore a ligament in her ankle and couldn’t work for a few days. But she was never sick.
I know there are exceptions (there was a lovely mother to my kids’ classmates a few years ago whose long and graceful illness and eventual death was incredibly beautiful and touching for the entire school community), but culturally, there just isn’t the wiggle room for us to be sick. Work needs us, families need us, kids need us. Sure, daddies step in and do what needs to be done, but for Order to be Restored to the Universe, mommies have to be Well and Whole and Able to Read Bedtime Stories Without Coughing.
As kids get older, they can fend for themselves a little better, but what do you do when they’re too little to be on their own long enough for you to have a nice bout of Bubonic Plague? I’m sure you’ve faced this before. How do you cope? Or do you fight it off as best you can and pretend you’re not sick? (ha ha) And if we work outside the home and manage to drag ourselves to the office, how do we justify/balance/manage collapsing at home to recover, just when the second shift is starting and the cries of “Mommy’s home!” come from down the hall?
[Warning: rainbow unicorn bubble world alert.] I’m thinking of a time when we live in real community, where we step in for one another when needed like this. Wouldn’t it be great if there was always someone to care for our kids? Without question? I’d love it if as mothers (and fathers) we didn’t feel we had to suck it up and not get sick because there just isn’t anyone else. Extended families used to do this. So how do you make being sick work?