No one gives you instructions on how to be a mother when you’re sick. Oh, sure. You receive tons of advice about feeding them and changing their diapers. Everyone scrambles to help you snap up those onsies and cuddle the cute, wittle, sweet, BABEHS! You give birth and there’s a multitude of opinions about sleepless nights, growth spurts, and the sometimes endless crying. “Sleep when they sleep!” they all chant to you. And then those sages of advice eventually went home and I was left with one twin who slept like the dead and another who was so colicky that sleep was only something I read about in magazines. And when the third one came along? Sleep became an extremely rare commodity. They all had competing schedules and I, somehow, kept three children and myself alive and fed for six months with just a few hours of sleep each night.
In retrospect, that’s nothing. What’s really hard is being a mom while you’re sick. Nobody tells you how difficult that is. It’s like this huge secret, a motherhood initiation. When I finally experienced it for the first time, I imagined all the other mothers giggling and snorting behind my back, whispering, “IT’S HAPPENING! Let’s watch the carnage and see if she makes it!” As I imagined them pulling up their chairs and digging into buckets of buttered popcorn, I bitterly dove head-first into my first-ever “sick with kids” episode.
The twins were three months old and still latching on to me at all hours of the day and night. Not only was I exhausted, but my throat started feeling scratchy, and then I couldn’t talk, and then I was using up every tissue within a six-mile radius of the house, and then I was hacking up both lungs.
There’s nothing more miserable than breastfeeding twins while surviving a nasty upper-respiratory something-or-other. And the worst part? I was on my own. Tyler had to work and none of the grandparents wanted to catch what I had. So, there I sat, at home, alone, and wondering why in the world I decided to have kids and wanting nothing more than for my mommy to tuck me into bed and bring me warm soup and Sunkist.
The above picture was taken last Wednesday, during the kids’ “Walk To School Day.” It was an official event, full of county deputies directing traffic and hordes of kids and their parents, converging (on foot) onto the school. Heck, the Chick-fil-A cow was even there! (Do we Southerners know how to do up an event, or what?) The kids had been looking forward to this morning for a week. And I started experiencing my tell-tale scratchy throat and low-grade fever the night before. When I woke up the next morning, I looked and felt like death warmed-over and knew I had nothing but misery ahead of me. That quote? Up there on the picture? Actually kind of apropos considering how awful I felt. It was 1.7 miles of speeding up, slowing down, stopping, chit-chat, and trying not to trip over those new-fangled rolling backpacks.
Yeah, I was miserable, but I was also surprisingly content. I had 45 uninterrupted minutes of my children’s time. We talked about school and friends and the cars passing us. We paused to smell late-blooming gardenias and observed a golden orb weaver spider on its web. I sipped my coffee, more for the soothing effect of the warm liquid than for any caffeine rush. And we made it. Tyler picked me up at the end and I collapsed into his car happy, yet thankful to the stars above that it was over.
In the nine years I’ve been a mother, there’s only been a handful of mornings I’ve woken up and said to Tyler, “I can’t do this. I’m too sick. You’re going to have to take over today.” No, being sick and being a parent is no fun. In the beginning, the kids don’t care. They will still expect meals and answers and activities and your undivided attention. I learned early on how to just lie on the floor as they played. They would treat me as a wall for them to climb and tumble over. I felt useless, but they would giggle and have the greatest of times. I would get up from time to time to feed them and change diapers, but I adapted. I realized that when I was sick, I was allowed to be less than myself. When the twins started first grade, I spent two bronchitis-filled weeks on the couch, with Jarrod, watching the London Olympics. And that was OK.
Now that my children are older, they are able to empathize and take care of themselves. When I say I don’t feel well, they back off, they let me have that rest, and they demand less of me. They are able to pick up the slack. All that stuff we’ve been teaching them? It’s finally paying off and it’s an amazing thing to see happen after so many years of dependence.
I decided, quite a long time ago, that if any of my children have children of their own, and they find themselves on the receiving end of a cold or the flu or some other nasty illness, I will be there for them. I will fix them soup and Sunkist and fluff their pillows, stroke their foreheads, and wish them rest and wellness.
And then I’ll tiptoe downstairs to my grandkids and take them out for ice cream, water gun battles, and Legos. Because I’m thinking that’s what all the cool, hip grandmothers will do sometime around 2030.