Once upon a time I thought that sickness meant being sick. You feel gross, you take medicine, you press through when you have to and get extra sleep when you can, you get better. Then I had children. And my children got sick all the time. And I got sick all the time too. And I realized that sickness effects everything.
Sickness is exhaustion. It is baby waking up every 10 minutes because she is too miserable to sleep. It is baby “sleeping” on top of you, elbow in your face, knees in your side, moving restlessly. It is middle of the night throw-ups: wiping faces, changing pajamas, stripping sheets, settling a pale child back into bed. It is daddy putting on new sheets while mama deals with crying child. It is the washing machine going in the middle of the night. It is lying in bed with children climbing all over you because you are too tired to get up in the morning.
Sickness is nursing and nursing and nursing. It is wishing you had stopped nursing by now. It is being so glad you are still nursing, when your baby or toddler won’t drink anything else and is looking increasingly less pudgy than a few days ago. It is nursing your almost 2 year old in the middle of the night, even though you finally got her night-weaned months ago, because she is so miserable and just needs comfort.
Sickness is an everlasting fever chart. It is peering confusedly at the medicine record, bleary eyed in the middle of the night. It is feeling that telltale hot forehead and knowing it is starting all over again. It is finally throwing out the fever chart and then reluctantly starting a new one the next day. It is owning 6 thermometers because somehow they never seem to work.
Sickness is trying to keep track of who is supposed to have medicine. It is managing to get your children properly medicated but realizing you forgot to take your own medicines, again, even though you really aren’t supposed to miss it.
Sickness is vitamin C and elderberry, probiotics and apple cider vinegar and essential oils and hand cleaner...and wondering if they will do any good against germs coughed directly into your mouth. Sickness is toddler who won’t leave your lap coughing into your food at every meal, and wiping her nose on your shirt, and drinking from everyone else’s water bottles. It is children who remember to cover their mouths...sometimes...and who use tissue to wipe their noses...when you remind them.
Sickness is coming down with your own sickness when already worn down from nights of comforting and days of carrying around a fussy, clingy baby. It is planning your day around possible naptimes. It is not having enough voice to read home school. It is dragging yourself out of bed to make chicken soup. It is children watching too much TV. It is everything you own exploded all over the floor.
Sickness is slowly getting better – itching to clean that mess which is driving you crazy, catching up on home school reading with a scratchy throat, dealing with the dire laundry situation. It is arms so tired, hanging up the clothes. It is dizziness. It is the decision whether to press on or to lie down and rest.
Sickness is trying to listen to your body, when it says you need to rest or you might fall over and die. But sometimes your body says, “What you really need is coffee. Lots of coffee and sugar and carbs.” And sometimes it says, “I hate you. Why are you so mean to me? How would you like some double pneumonia,” and you don’t need that kind of crap right now.
Sickness is wondering why there isn’t more public recognition of the monumental milestone of “learning to throw up in a bowl,” because it may be second only to “sleeping through the night.” It is when everyone has been throwing up enough you start to hear phantom throw-up sounds.
Sickness is toast and crackers and electrolyte popcicles. It is rejecting any food or drink. It is ravenous hunger before you are allowed to eat. It is excitement over the first real food – an egg or that blessed first peanut butter sandwich.
Sickness is asthma flare-ups and extra inhalers and that barky, croupy cough going on and on.
Sickness is lying in bed looking out the window at the waning sun, darkness falling over your room like a weight, like depression. It is the knowledge that you have spent almost all day in bed, and bed feels like a prison. It is summoning energy to get children to bed amidst the evening fever rise, feeling stale and dirty but too weak to shower, looking ahead to another sleepless night.
Sickness is the disappointment of canceled plans. Missing a rare party or your child’s performance or a date with a friend. It is staying home with sick children during the holidays. It is having to tell your child that she won’t be able to go to the party she has been talking about all week. It is your toddler insistently bringing you her shoes wondering why she never gets to go outside anymore.
Sickness is confinement. It is days without stepping outside the confines of the apartment. It is well-children going stir crazy, because you can’t even send them outside to play. It is well-children missing school because you don’t want to take the sick children out in the cold and pollution.
Sickness is anxiety. It is looking helplessly at your listless child who has hardly sat up in two days. It is listening to your baby’s rapid heart rate and labored breathing. It is the dread of having to go back to the local hospital. It is self-prescribing. It is finally going to the hospital...waiting in lines and lines with sick people who touch your child’s face. It is the 30 second check up and antibiotics you hope are actually warranted. It is the fear that it could be something serious. It is searching Google, even though it will try to convince you it is cancer or TB or the plague.
Sickness is kids who act like jerks, even when they aren’t the sick ones. It is being an even bigger jerk than your children, when you are supposed to be thirty years more mature. It is taking a while to even feel bad about being a jerk because the whole world is stupid and deserves your full wrath. It is parents snapping at each other, even though we know we are both just tired, so tired and not feeling well.
It is hoping your kids forget the jerk-mom and remember the one who put a cool washcloth on a hot forehead. It is cups of juice with bendy straws and crackers to nibble. It is making meals you are too sick to eat. It is realizing your baby would sleep if only you stood rocking her for the next 10 hours. It is little heads drooped on big shoulders, little hands wound through hair. It is finally seeing the shine return to their eyes.
If, of course, you aren’t too sick to notice.