Bag of tricks: the sick day edition - FamilyEducation

Bag of tricks: the sick day edition

September 30,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I'm sick, which means that I have some yucky upper respiratory thing brewing in my chest. I've found that everyone gets sick in certain signature ways (T. gets a stuffy nose; L. gets stomach viruses; Scott never gets sick), and for me it's always some bronchial virus that leaves me with a raspy voice and sometimes a cough and that wheezy feeling in my chest. My students love me this time of the year. I seem to get this exact same virus every year with the change of season, about five or six weeks into the semester--just when I'm overloaded with work and my resources are at their lowest.

Like most moms, I don't stop when I get sick. We moms are pros at multi-tasking our way through most days, and through feeling sick, as well. I can't remember the last time I stopped and spent an afternoon on the couch or in bed. If you're like me, you go, go, go until the kids are in bed, and then collapse on the couch, good for nothing, with a box of kleenex and a mug of hot herbal tea (with lots of honey, of course). When I do get sick enough to go to the doctor, I always get sternly admonished for not taking care of myself. One time the doctor even wrote "get some sleep!" on the pad next to the prescription for an antibiotic (I felt like writing back, "ha, ha").

But there are things you can do when you're a busy parent AND sick, and I'm learning how to do these things, little by little. My kids are older, but they still are pretty hands-on at times, perhaps more so than other kids. I've developed some pretty tried-and-true strategies and sound words of wisdom for getting through a sick day (or afternoon) with the kids (L. is home on Fall Break for these next two weeks)--all of which were tested yesterday.

First and foremost, let go of the guilt. When both kids were tiny babies, Scott used to pull out that old bit of wisdom from the parenting books: You're no good to your baby if you don't take care of yourself. That holds true across the years, really, even when the kids aren't babies anymore. Let go of the guilt over letting them watch an extra show so you can doze a little, or the guilt over serving the family breakfast for dinner, or that frozen pizza that's been sitting in the back of the freezer for weeks. Let the kids make their own dinner, and don't feel bad about it. Put out a selection of cereal. Or put out bread and cheese, and let them make their own mini pizzas (bagels and English muffins work great for this). Feed the kids early and set them up in front of a show, if you want. My kids almost never are allowed to eat in front of the TV, so when they get the chance to, they almost don't even care what I serve them (I said almost; L. always cares). After the kids have eaten, head to the couch, and when your husband gets home, let him feed you, while you take a break.

Make playtime rest time--for you. Play low-key make-believe games with the kids--ones that allow you to remain lying down, while they play around you. It's not as restful as sequestering yourself up in your room with a book, but you'd be surprised how restful it can be. We have one of those Playhut tents that pop open, and I pull that out for days like yesterday. I lie in the tent, with my head on a pillow, while the kids play an elaborate game around me.

Keep a supply of books on CD, for times when you just can't read a story to the kids. You can lie together, snuggled on the couch, listening to your favorite stories.

Eat lots of soup. Better yet, get the kids to help you throw the ingredients for Hot & Sour soup into the crock pot, and then go to the couch.

Pull out the old toys--the ones you packed away in boxes, and set the kids loose in a confined space with them. They won't even care if they've outgrown them or not--trust me. Yesterday I dug out some of our old Little People toys from the crawl space, and the kids literally spent hours playing an elaborate game that involved a bomb squad, a hazmat unit, and poor Sarah Lynn and Eddie, huddling under cover in their plastic blue and red houses, terrified to even set foot in the village. Meanwhile, I lay on the couch and graded papers and mediated conflicts and injustices.

The world will not end if the house gets dirty. I have to remember this one most of all, because it's hard for me to let go of the idea that everything will crumble forever if my floor is dirty and the counter is littered with crumbs and sticky jam. But let it go; the kids will survive, and you will, too. And if you stay in a Playhut tent long enough, nothing else will matter, anyway.

*************

What are your strategies for coping when you're sick? Leave them here in the comments--I'd love to add them to my repetoire. I think I'll really need them later on today.