Sometimes you have to find the silver lining while navigating the stomach lining…or something like that. Welcome to PG, where we are dissecting the aches, the pains, and the utter despair of parenting a sick child to find the hidden redemptive aspects of the experience. Our household has been fending off the plague rather unsuccessfully lately, as the toddler, the infant, and the father have all succumbed to the gunk; I think, perhaps, that I will be modifying the hugs and kisses bedtime routine into the holding breath, distant pat on the forehead routine. I think it’s safe to say that if the Walking Dead ever becomes a reality and a pandemic sweeps across the world, children will absolutely become the first zombies.
Like many fathers, I’m not quite sure I enjoyed the ‘baby’ stage nearly as much as my wife and innumerable admiring strangers; that being said, I must confess that I do miss the unending physical affection an infant provides. As my first daughter got older, cuddling morphed from long hugs on the couch to jumping off the couch and crushing my gut. Toddlers seemingly show they care by ripping out a piece of your scalp now and then or by slamming their forehead into your hip without notice. Anyways, as my daughter crawled into my arms with a face on fire and a stomach in turmoil, I have to admit I almost felt a trace amount of joy that she was sick and I’d have her cuddled in my arms for an entire evening. Sickness renders my children back into a dependent state, which can serve as a pleasurable reminder now and then.
It’s not only extra hugs that come with sickness, but often we parents get to experience the rare phenomena of receiving all of the love without all the adrenaline. Again, I certainly do not delight in my toddler’s fever, buuuuttttt managing to keep her in one spot for longer than six seconds usually proves to be a positive moment for my wife or myself. Losing all of the verve that she normally lives with, my girl will morph into this strange being that is content to sit in my lap for hours at a time, even if I’m reading my own book or watching my own show. The screams of SNACK evolve into muted, serene requests. And her younger sister, ever both her partner in crime and eternal object of subjugation, can suddenly roam free. Our oldest daughter being sick means the infant can run roughshod through her sister’s toys (and her own toys for that matter), hold a snack without it being poached from her seagull-like sister, and generally have the whole house operating on her whims. Independent of rambunctious siblings, a mild sickness often has the beneficial side effect of a malleable, peaceful child. When my daughter gets sick, we can endlessly read books, watch a television show while staying in one spot for the duration, and even talking through what’s on her mind—albeit that is mostly “My stomach hurts.” Still, a reserved toddler only exists in the world of a passing flu, so I’ll take some time to enjoy it.
If you think back to the last time you were sick—legitimately incapacitating sickness—you might remember that feeling of want that only hits us at our most vulnerable: if I could only get healthy, I PROMISE I’ll make the most of it…if only this flu leaves, I’ll be so ridiculously productive…if only this fever breaks, I will spend so much more time with my kids. It takes a contentious bout with a rough malady to break us down to a state where we’re begging for normal. We swear to God, the Nyquil fairy, and the Ibuprofen deities that we will make the most of every moment should we ever return to feeling healthy. We long for the trivial nuisances and irritants that plot out our typical routines and dream of the forthcoming energy that will propel us onto a more productive path. Then, as way leads on to way, we start to feel healthy and basically fall into the same rut we were in before, quickly forgetting the desperate promises we made in misery. Having a child might be the most vicarious method of experiencing those longings of normalcy and provide us a gentle reminder to appreciate the daily grind without having to personally endure the vomiting (one might argue that cleaning the vomit is worse than actual vomiting, but whatever). Watching my kid hit the doldrums serves as an invaluable (and often disgusting) reminder to make the most of all my healthy days and moments.
So if you have a sick, GODSPEED BECAUSE IT’S A NIGHTMARE. But also, take some time to enjoy the extra snuggles, the rare mild-mannered kids, and the opportunity to recognize just how fortunate you have it when things are going good…