As I type this, I’m sitting on the floor of my bedroom, glancing up every so often to see if my gently snoring four-year-old is stirring. Normally a peaceful sleeper, my youngest has been battling a bad cold for the past few days. I’m hoping some extra rest will help her recover faster.
I’ve been dreaming of spring a lot lately. At this point, I think everyone in our family is just ready to be done with winter. The brittle, gray-tinted snow banks, the chilly mornings at the bus stop, the tired parental refrain, “No, we can’t play outside because it’s too cold today.” But most of all, we’re ready to bid farewell to colds, hacking coughs, fevers, and upset tummies.
Whenever my kids get sick, I think I deal with it fairly well at first. I know it’s a rite of passage, a necessary part of growing up and developing an immune system. When my oldest child was a baby, I was so terrified of exposing her to any illnesses that we didn’t take our first walk out of the house until she was almost a month old. Since then, I’ve worked hard to make peace with the germs in my life, realizing that many are friendly and beneficial. We have become avid consumers in the world of probiotics, or “tummy yummies,” as my daughters call them. I’ve learned not to cringe (or at least to look away) when my kids refuse the toilet seat cover in a public bathroom, and I no longer bother wiping down the grocery cart before we do our shopping.
As I’ve become more comfortable in my role as a mom, I’ve developed an awareness of the fact that it’s not possible, nor is it necessary, for me to sanitize the whole world to keep my children healthy. With this enlightened attitude, you’d think I could weather cold and flu season with the patience and compassion of Florence Nightingale, serving up Kleenex, soothing honey tea, and comforting words to my little patients. After all, as my mom always used to say, “This too shall pass!”
But somehow, after a day or so of playing nurse to my sick, cranky, and stir-crazy children, I generally start to lose it. When this happens, I start to feel like I’m living back in what my husband and I now refer to as “The Dark Time.” We coined this phrase to describe the perilous stretch of months when I became seriously ill during my second pregnancy and normal life seemed impossible.
I got to experience my own miniature Dark Time last month, when Kevin flew to Dallas for a conference (which, I might note, had an on-site Starbucks – what, me, jealous!?), while I flew solo at home with the kids. On my husband’s first evening away, a freezing Wednesday in February, my youngest went to bed with a cough that turned into a fever. Our pediatrician’s office gave the usual generic advice: “It’s a virus, come in on Monday if it’s not better.”
By bedtime on Thursday, my nerves were shredded and I broke down and cried in front of my daughters, apologizing to my oldest child that I’d miss volunteering at her school in the morning, and texting my husband in nonsensical bursts of frustration. He felt terrible that he couldn’t help, and I just felt, well, terrible.
On Friday, my dad drove up from Chicago and stayed with us overnight. The kids always love visits from Grandpa, and it was a huge relief to have his help. With my husband scheduled to return on Saturday afternoon, I knew that the end was in sight.
But on Saturday morning, just as my youngest daughter seemed to be on the mend, the evil germs moved on to their next target: her older sister. When my husband pulled into the driveway several hours later, it probably wasn’t the ideal homecoming one would envision, but at least we worked efficiently as a team. He played nurse to our oldest, while I spent some 1:1 time with our youngest. On breaks, we wiped down surfaces with Lysol and fantasized about vacationing to a tropical island far, far away.
Even though we knew in the back of our minds that this was only temporary, the next few days felt strikingly similar to The Dark Time – that awful stretch of days, weeks, or months when all you can focus on is the next crisis and there is no joy in the daily routine anymore. The uncertainty is the worst part: you don’t know when this is going to end. That bright, blissfully uneventful, non-sickly existence that once was yours now seems to be out of reach.
But I have to remember that the bad times don’t always last forever. Even the longest, most bone-chilling winters in Wisconsin still give way to spring. And even when you’re immersed in a crisis, there can be tiny windows of peace. During the week that my kids were both ill, I was so grateful that I could connect with other moms via text to just vent and commiserate. It helped enormously to realize we weren’t the only ones stuck inside battling the scourge of winter school germs.
During our multitude of hours at home, I was able to connect with my kids in different ways as well. When the girls felt energetic enough to do something other than zone out on Disney Jr., we played school in the kitchen and came up with a bug-themed craft, snack, and storytime.
Once my husband was home, even getting the chance to grocery shop on my own was therapeutic. How luxurious it was to have an adult conversation that did not revolve around who coughed during the night or when we’d last taken someone’s temperature! The cashier probably thought I was crazy as I blathered on to her about my family and the weather. I realized then that as much as I love my kids, I need to get out and reconnect with other adults on a daily basis, and even more so when things at home are stressful.
Outside, the snow is melting, and the birds and bunnies are reclaiming their favorite spots in our yard. Spring is coming, and I’m thankful for that. In the meantime, I hope I can make it through the next round of illnesses with a bit more grace – and maybe some extra sanitizing wipes and coffee.
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