When Mommy Gets Sick

H1N1 made its ugly appearance the fall after we brought our daughter home from the hospital. I made it my yearly mission to get whatever flu vaccine was available, but those precautions didn’t prevent my husband from eventually coming home with the flu bug that ravaged the country. He kept arguing that he didn’t have it and that he was going to be fine, but his illness ran the course that every other H1N1 case ran: high fever, apparent wellness, and then the return of fever, chills, and general achiness and weakness.

I wasn’t taking any chances with our baby girl. I sprayed every surface, repeatedly washed linens, and quarantined my dear husband to our bedroom, refusing to let him wander the house and following him with Lysol every time he had to leave our bedroom.

And while our baby daughter and I got through that particular epidemic unscathed, I have not been impervious to illnesses over the years.

Oh, colds and coughs are kind of par for the course. Nearly every year of our marriage I have lost my voice at some point, although our move to Texas has lowered the instances of laryngitis. But every once in a while, no matter how many precautions I take (I am a faithful yearly recipient of the flu vaccine), I succumb to an illness that sends me straight to bed, kicking and screaming and making bold claims that I’m a mom and a teacher and I don’t have time for this nonsense.

When viruses knock on our doors, they don’t care if we have kids who need to be fed and homework that needs to be checked and practices and games that need to be attended and kids that need to be rushed off to bed at a decent hour. The nasty bugs attack our sleep deprived immune systems and attempt to knock us out of the parenting ring. And these viral attacks are bad enough when we have a partner to swoop in and pick up the slack. But what happens when we don’t?

After a week or so of warnings from the school nurse, last week our daughter came home with a fever and the clear markers of the flu. It was the middle of the week and we had a couple of days before my sister and brother-in-law would be coming down for a visit, so as soon as I was home from school and had evaluated the situation, I decided we needed a confirmation of the flu. Sure enough, she had Influenza A. Since my husband works from home, she got to spend the next three days moving between the couch and her bed while my son and I kept going to school. She eventually felt well enough to hang out with the rest of the family, including my sister and brother-in-law once they arrived from Idaho.

I cleaned, I washed sheets and bedding, I ran the air purifiers, but I still nervously waited for the other shoe to drop. My husband’s next business trip was only days away and I was certain that my son was going to be the next one to fall and I would have to take time off of work to stay home with him.

But instead of my son, it was my sleep deprived body that succumbed to the flu.

By the time I admitted I had a problem and told the school office to take my temperature on Monday morning, my husband was packing up to leave for a four-day business trip. It was Monday morning. He wasn’t going to be home until Thursday night. I clearly didn’t have time to be sick, but my body didn’t care.

When I got home from picking up the kids from school, I told them to get themselves snacks and work on their homework. Could they play video games? Sure. I didn’t care. I was going back to bed. Thankfully, at seven and nine, they are finally to the age where they can be left alone to their own devices in small spurts, especially since I was just upstairs. With the significant help of my sister, who didn’t leave until early Tuesday morning, our daughter still made it to her evening basketball practice and the kids got fed, even if it was pizza.

Since my sister and her husband left EARLY on Tuesday, I really was on my own for the whole day. And it didn’t matter that I had been in bed by 9:30 P.M., I felt like I deserved a trophy just for getting the kids to school on time. I spent the day traveling back and forth between the couch and my bed, finding enough energy early in the day to work on some grading and responding to students and finally giving up before noon, trading my laptop for a bath and more sleep. I convinced myself that I didn’t need to be a hero; that energy needed to be reserved for that night.

You see, the week that my body decided to get the flu at the same time as my husband was gone wasn’t just any week. It was the first week of a three-week overlap of basketball and soccer practices for both kids and the week that they had elementary school halftime performances for their P.E. basketball skills unit. Tuesday was a trifecta of two TOTs (Teams of Tomorrow) performances and one soccer practice, all back to back. And yes, common sense would say “just drop events” or “ask someone for help” or “pretend you forgot that any of those events ever existed and hide at home,” but since when does parenting make sense? Missing the first soccer practice of the season was going to put our daughter behind with gelling with a new group of girls and even if I had gotten someone to take my kids to their TOTs performances, I actually wanted to watch them so I would be missing out. Besides, my fever had broken in the morning, so I was finding every reason to justify my desire to be super mom.

So I just did it, even if my body still felt like the very life was being sucked from it. I was miserable and dragging and didn’t have very many nice replies to their every question and concern, but I watched both performances from an isolated spot in the balcony of the gym and stayed in the car during the duration of my daughter’s soccer practice. By the time I dragged my exhausted body into bed, I wondered how we would keep this up for another two days.

By day three, 24 hours after my fever returned to normal range, I was dragging the kids to school and then back to working a full day myself. I took it easy, or at least I tried. By the time a couple students took short make-up quizzes after school and I was headed to pick up both of our kids, I was exhausted. Not “I feel like I’m going to die because I’m so sick” exhausted, but “My body just needs to sit and do nothing for the rest of the night” exhausted. But valentines hadn’t been purchased for Friday parties and Thursday night was booked with a soccer and basketball practice (let’s hear it again for a three-week sports overlap!) so we needed to get them now.

We got home, I instructed the kids to empty the dishwasher, make their lunches (yes, our seven and nine-year-old make their own lunches), and get started on their valentines. If they needed me, I would be laying down for half-an-hour.

Twenty minutes later: “Mommy, I need you! Mom, I need your help.”

Oh for the LOVE.

I came downstairs to both kids dutifully doing what they were asked. The dishwasher was emptied, their lunches packed and in the fridge, and their valentines were strewn in front of them on the not-quite-clean table.

My first grade son, ever concerned about making sure he spelled all of his friends’ names correctly, asked if I had a list. After 20 minutes of horizontal rest, I was finally able to think clearly enough to hand him the class list which I had carefully pinned to the bulletin board the very weekend we had gotten the note from his teacher. Then I noticed a sticky substance on some of the cards.

“Wait, did you check to see if the table was clean first???” I had to take a deep breath. After all, I was still recovering from the flu and he had taken it upon himself to make sure his valentines were done. He had carefully selected them and written names on each one. Who cared if he had cut them apart instead of using the perforated lines to tear them apart? Or that he had taken the plastic cover off of all of the tattoos? My little boy was exerting independence and taking care of things instead of depending on his sick mom. That had to be worth something, right?

By the time my husband got home Thursday night and we figured out the balance of getting our son to two practices and dinner into everyone’s bodies, I was at the end of my rope. When my husband asked if he could go play basketball (his one social recreational activity that relieves him from his introverted work-from-home lifestyle) I almost lost it. Actually, internally I did lose it. My head was stuffy and we had beds that needed to be changed to prevent further spread of illness and the house was a mess and I hadn’t gotten anything done for work all week and the kids needed to go to bed at a decent hour and didn’t he know that I just wanted to be spoiled and I didn’t care how but for the love of everything holy it was Valentine’s Day and I didn’t care that we don’t normally celebrate but I deserved something!

Of course, I kept all of those thoughts to myself. I just didn’t have the energy left to explain to anyone that I didn’t have the energy to deal.

When he apologetically walked into the door several hours later he held a bouquet of flowers. Not a “hey there Valentine, wink, wink” bouquet of flowers but a “I know that we don’t do this sort of thing and I don’t normally get you flowers but you really deserve it after the last week” bouquet of flowers.

Yeah, I forgave him.

When we’re parents, illness is often the unexpected curveball that derails us in many ways. While we plan for the moments when our kids may get short term illnesses (and dread the possibility that our kids will get long term illnesses that test our emotional and spiritual resolve), we aren’t supposed to be the ones to get sick. We’re supposed to be the strong ones changing linens and cleaning up bathrooms and checking temperatures while still keeping the rest of the family functioning. It is so hard to accept when we no longer have control of any of the above and we have to take care of ourselves instead. And our kids expect us to be invincible as well. My kids didn’t know what to do with one parent gone and one down for the count. They weren’t used to me being the one sick and in need of care. They didn’t know how to respond when I yelled at them that I didn’t know or that I just needed them to take care of it themselves.

But we have to give ourselves grace too. My kids are fine. They were still fed. They still got their homework done. Their classmates all got carefully addressed valentines. They still got to their events. And having a little extra time on Madden and Minecraft during a single week wasn’t going to hurt them. And I had to learn to accept help as well. I don’t know what I would have done that first day of the flu if it hadn’t been for my sister and brother-in-law, and on Wednesday, after a full day of working, I was relieved when I ran into a friend while picking up the kids who insisted that I let her take the kids back to church for their scheduled Grow Groups. It was time resting that I didn’t know I needed until I got up from two hours of vegging on the couch and realized that I felt like a new woman. But even if I hadn’t swallowed my pride and accepted the help of others, we would have survived, we just would have had to make harder choices.

We all survived my short bout of flu. There was an end to the madness. And now I can look forward to the three-day weekend and hope that we are finally healthy, at least for now.

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