Parenting is not easy. On the best of days, parenting is not easy. On the worst of days, it’s close to impossible. In fact, it’s on those “worst days” that I usually devote at least an hour of the day thinking about how I should have just gotten dogs.
Not too long ago, I wrote an article on what it’s like when I get sick versus when my kids get sick. The scenario usually plays out the same way. They bring home the Mongolian Death Flu, lay about moaning loudly, get waited on hand and foot, miraculously recover from what they describe as the brink of death and then return to their normal routines with the zest and energy of a wolf pack. This is when I usually contract said death flu and actually, truly, lay near death’s door while they ask me for rides to a friend’s house and want to know what’s for dinner.
This is not a scenario we’re unfamiliar with as it’s been going on for their entire lives. The only variation to the above routine is when they decide to tag team their sicknesses, ensuring that one, and only one, person is sick at all times back-to-back for a minimum of 10 days. It’s a beautifully run relay race in which I’m always the anchor, receiving the baton of death last, but leaving the rest of the team plenty of time to recover as I stumble across the finish line.
This would happen every so often over the years – and it was manageable. That was before the Plague of 2017. I don’t know what this is. I don’t know how to make it go away. All I know is that I have had exactly TWO days since school started after winter break in which I have not had to go pick someone up from the nurse’s office, take someone to the doctor or listen to moans of dying teenagers emanating from the basement where they are only healthy enough to drink ginger ale and watch all 472 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.
This is not fun. I want them healthy, but more than anything, I want them out of my house. Seriously. For just a few precious moments, I want silence and routine. I want one day where everything goes according to schedule. Where, when the phone rings and I recognize the school’s number, I don’t have a Sophie’s Choice moment in which I seriously debate pretending like I didn’t hear it. I mean, I do answer…eventually. But I figure if they’re in the nurse’s office that’s almost like being at the doctor, right?
Again, however, this is manageable as long as I am healthy. So yesterday, after a full 24 hours of no one throwing up, threatening to throw up, running a fever or displaying signs of black lung disease, I send every one off, shut the door and sighed a sigh of relief. Right on cue, I realized that I was feeling a bit queasy. But at least I had everyone gone. I tried to get a few things done, but soon realized that wasn’t going to happen. So I threw in the towel, picked up the baton of death, and accepted that, with everyone out of the house, at the very least I could spend a few hours lying on the couch and wouldn’t have to fight any one for the ginger ale.
Then the phone rang. Girl 3 was in the nurse’s office throwing up. Of course she was.
The nurse was remarkably unsympathetic, even after I threw around some hints like, “Well, just how sick is she? I mean, on a scale of 1 to 10?” Turns out schools don’t look kindly on vomiting kids roaming the hallways.
Fine. I eat some crackers and head out. It was all I could do to not be sick myself – and all I could imagine was what I was going to do if she started getting sick again. Can you, in good conscience, ask a 10-year old to sleep on the bathroom floor, just in case? What if we both slept on the bathroom floor? Would that make it better?
By the time Girl 1 got home, Girl 3 and I were huddled in my room under self-imposed quarantine. At this point, moving my eyes too quickly caused a questionable reaction. So we simply lay there moaning in harmony.
I’ve been a single parent for a while now. And for the most part, I’ve got things under control. But it’s moments like this one that I dread the most because, normally, it’s on me to keep things running. I’m the caretaker, the cook, the office manager, the taxi and the counselor for all needs physical and emotional. I don’t have a back up plan. And we all know that when the leader goes down in battle, there’s chaos in the ranks.
As a parent, we try desperately to prepare our kids for adulthood. But sometimes its hard to see the forest through the trees. On those bad days, the days where you wonder how your child manages to put one foot in front of the other without tripping because even putting the lid on the toothpaste seems too much of a challenge to their motor skills, somehow the light still manages to shine through that thick forest canopy.
As I lay there wondering how I was going to manage being sick while caring for a sick child, a new leader emerged. Girl 1, who had been one of the primary culprits in the spread of this most recent epidemic, stepped up. Armed with my debit card (you can’t ask for complete leadership overnight), she went to the store and returned with fresh supplies. Soup and crackers, a new stock of ginger ale and all the love, care and kindness one could hope for from a stand-in.
I may not be a perfect parent. In fact, I’m still fairly certain I should have drawn dogs in the lottery of life instead of kids. But I think I’m doing something right. At a moment when I was sure the ship was sinking, we stayed afloat thanks to a kid who still can’t put the toothpaste cap back on the tube, but can be a pretty fine nurse when the need arises. She cooked and straightened and checked on the little one when I made it clear that dragging myself across the living room floor to do it myself was going to take awhile.
Girl 3 will not be going to school today, so I won’t be getting a day of peace and quiet. But I will allow myself to relax a little. I’ll focus on feeling better and making sure the little one does, too. And I’ll do all of this, because I know that what I’m doing matters – and I’m not alone. Our kids are watching us, even when it doesn’t seem like it. And as long as we keep on doing that thing that mothers do, they are learning how to care for themselves. But more importantly, they are learning to care for others. And that, my friends, makes the worst days worth it.