If there is anything in the world harder than watching your child in pain, I hope to never know.
I thank my lucky stars that the sick and hurt kids I've had to comfort and care for have had nothing worse than broken bones, pneumonia and coxsackie virus. There are certainly worse cosmic fates. And I tried to remember that as I was up half the night, for a second night, with my two year old, who cried in pain and just wanted to sleep.
Having a sick kid is the worst. Except being sick while having a sick kid you have to take care of and no one is taking care of you. That's really the worst.
I was less prepared for dealing with sick kids than for anything else parenting has thrown my way.
One of the worst weeks of my life was during the winter my first baby was six months old. It was the first time she really got sick, and it was the kind of sick that involved constant holding and endless crying. I was sick, too, and my husband was at work. We don't have family nearby, and no one wants to come over to help you when your kid is sick (not even a babysitter, I discovered somewhat later). I cried on the floor of the baby's room—I was alone and no one was coming to save me. It felt like that for a week.
Since that day, I've gotten smarter. For better or worse, I no longer lose 5 pounds every time a kid gets sick, because I'm only eating instant oatmeal. Once cold season hits, my freezer and cabinets are stocked with easy food, because there is no warning. One day, you’re going about your business, and the next day, you have a fussy kid and only one hand.
One of the biggest fights my husband and I have had was about sick days. As in: he gets them and I don't.
When I'm sick, I'm still home caring for kids—and it's debatable whether it's better when they're also sick or when they're still running around full-force. When my husband is sick, he's in bed all day. Of course, he's gotta work when he's well and can't always take time to be where (I hope) he would want to be. He's lucky enough to have paid sick days, but there’s still work that can't just be abandoned without warning. I got so upset about it that things changed. Now, whenever he can, he stays home or comes home early if I'm sick or the kids are especially miserable.
My number one priority in returning to the workforce is landing a job that allows for being at home with a sick kid. I know that would put me in the minority in this country, but I'd rather take a lesser job than face the ugly reality of working parents without that benefit. The world of sick-child care is one I don’t want to have to investigate. Mommy-track, anyone?
As miserable as it is to be stuck at home taking care of a sick child, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I'd be a lot more miserable being stuck at work while my kids were sick in someone else's care. It may sound crazy, but it’s definitely one of the reasons I stay at home, and I know from friends that I’m not alone.
If I've learned anything from taking care of sick kids, it's to dig deeper. When you don't think you can handle any more, you find it in yourself to do it anyway. Because you have to. Because no one else will. And deeper is there. At least for a day or two.
Just when I feel like I'm about to lose it, up to my armpits in dirty tissues and sick-kid-food, a kind of parenting zen washes over me. I imagine what it must feel like to be two or five and be sick and just want to be held by a loving parent. So that's what I do.
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