Some of you may have noticed that my blogging frequency has decreased in the past few weeks. I’m sure it has been a great mystery, and a great disappointment. Unfortunately, what prevented me from writing was my weeks-long detour to parenting hell known as “keeping children alive while sick.”
Don’t get me wrong, being sick at any stage in life sucks. I once got food poisoning while on a business trip in Chicago and had to fly home while hovering over an airplane toilet (during terrible turbulence. I almost got into a fist fight with the flight attendant over the fact the captain had turned on the seat belt signs). And no one has enough time off to stay home just for a measly cold (unless it turns into a sinus infection which it ALWAYS DOES). So I’m certainly not belittling the awful experience of being sick without kids.
But at least when I was working, I did have the option of taking a day off and staying home in bed. And I always knew I had the weekend coming up when I could lay on the couch and moan and watch DVR for 48 hours straight.
When you stay at home with young children full time, you quickly learn that sick days do not exist. Unless your spouse/partner stays home from work, which is only going to happen if you are legitimately hospital-grade sick, then you’re pretty much on your own. Sometimes a friend blessedly swoops in to help, but no one with kids wants to share germs between households (and rightly so). Some people are lucky enough to have family in town, but chances are they have their own shit going on and can’t drop everything just because you wake up with your eyes crusted shut.
On top of being sick, I usually also get a migraine (or just a migraine for no fucking reason at all). If you haven’t had a migraine, count yourself eternally blessed. I have been getting them regularly since I was about 8 years old, and I’ve tried every drug, treatment, and voodoo witchcraft in existence to get some relief (some things help more than others, none of them are a cure, and most of them can’t be used while pregnant or nursing). The best way to describe a full blown migraine would be to imagine your head in a vice that is slowly being tightened, with hot pokers sticking through one eye and also at the base of your skull. Also a healthy dose of barf.
But I soldier on, just like every other mom I know. All the extraneous shit falls away and I focus on keeping everyone fed, hydrated and minimally entertained. My son LOVES when I’m sick because it means he will eat food that is terrible for him (i.e. delicious and very salty), watch 14 hours straight of TV and have unlimited access to the iPad. In fact, any time I sigh loudly and sit on the couch for a few minutes he gleefully runs over to me with his best fake-concerned voice and asks “Are you feeling a little bit sick? Should we go ahead and watch a few shows?” If I tell him I’m just tired, he is visibly disappointed and slumps off to go grudgingly play with his toys (throw them down the steps).
The crazy part is, I feel GUILTY when I get sick. Even though I am literally crying because I am in so much pain and its only 9 a.m. and my husband is out of town for three days, I feel like I should be interacting with my children, or at least making balanced meals. I feel like I shouldn’t take any medication because I am breastfeeding.
I feel guilty for letting the laundry pile in the basement accumulate into a mountain that nearly reaches the top of the chute in the ceiling. I start having anxiety about all the dishes in the sink and my crumb-covered floors. The house goes to shit and its all my fault.
I’ll tell you with 100 percent certainty that when I was 22 and childless I didn’t care one fucking bit what the house looked like when I was sick. I would have gone and bought new clothes rather than do laundry with a migraine. Food would have been rotting in the sink, garbage bags piled in the basement and a soft blanket of used kleenex covering the entirety of whatever room I had turned into my sick den. I would subsist on a steady, fiberless diet of ramen, full-calorie Coke and spoonfuls of peanut butter out of the jar.
I’m not sure why having kids so fundamentally altered my ability to cut myself some fucking slack. It might be related to the fact that society is overly concerned with how people live their lives once they have kids. Suddenly being a shitty housekeeper and eating like a 10 year old isn’t quirky, its concerning. (You’re not the first mom to get sick and take care of her children, ergo you forfeit all rights to complain or rest.)
Every once in a while I try and put my mind in a pre-child place, and while it can be depressing (I used to be so free), I find it very helpful for detecting bullshit mom guilt versus regular people guilt. It was during one such meditation that I realized how utterly batshit crazy it was that I refused to rest when I felt like I had been smashed in the face with a rock. I am not a cooking, cleaning, diaper changing robot. I am a person who sometimes gets sick and should be able to recuperate so I don’t die.
And really, no one actually expects us to soldier on. We put the pressure on ourselves. So just fucking stop it. All of us. Order three large pizzas to last the week, Instacart some milk and diapers, overnight clean clothes to the house and hire a babysitter if there is any way you can afford it. If you can’t pay for help, post a message to all 1,000 of your Facebook friends and see if someone you know in real life can come over, do some dishes and laundry, and play with your kids for a few hours. I guarantee you at least a few people would love to help if they realized you didn’t, in fact, have it all under control.
Just remember, “Super Mom” isn’t a thing because she died of influenza after she refused to rest. So let’s all take a solemn vow to reclaim the sick day. And don’t you dare apologize to anyone for that very necessary nap, especially your children.