Monday, November 1, 2010
Down for the Week
Most of the time, when it comes to the big time illnesses, involving fevers and throw up, my kids have taken turns being sick. It’s difficult to clean up after a sick person, even your own kid, without feeling a bit nauseous yourself. And it doesn’t help when the well kids of the household keep circling the kitchen, whining that there is nothing good for dinner. The only thing worse that this scenario is the one where all the kids are sick at the same time and the washing machine can’t keep up with the soiled bed sheets and bath towels.
The clock on the wall stops, the family calendar disintegrates and time stands still. Keeping the well ones fed and on schedule while you keep the sick ones hydrated, in clean sheets, and well medicated is a time consuming balancing act that every mom has to work out for herself. You don’t truly know how you’ll survive the heat until you’ve spent a week in the fire.
And if you want to raise the bar a bit let’s talk about those rare occasions when the mom is sick. It’s amazing that households don’t self destruct when the mom gets the flu. Even with supportive, helpful husbands, mom tends to be the one who holds it all together. With a fever raging she will be thrashing around in bed, only half conscious, wondering if anyone is keeping up with the dishes and if the dog has been fed.
I’m rarely sick but I’ve had many spells on crutches in the years that my kids were growing up. Until I traded in my old leg for this new titanium one, at least once a year I spent a good six weeks with my leg in a cast, hobbling through life on my one good foot. The kids had to step up the chores calendar. They learned to boil noodles while I sat on a stool next to them in the kitchen. They mastered the controls of the washing machine after I gave them verbal lessons on sorting whites and colors.
I felt terrible about those spells of immobility, feeling like I was cheating my kids out of the mothering they deserved, until a good friend pointed something out to me. “Don’t forget how much they get out of being able to minister to you. They get great self esteem by being able to help you out, in such a tangible way. The giving shouldn’t always go just one way.”
Her words slowly sunk in. They got me through several more months of living on crutches and learning to rely on my children to keep the family running smoothly. I learned to chase away feelings of incompetence and replaced them with reminders of how it was building character in my offspring.
Then I got this new leg and my time on crutches came to a screeching halt. Once I was outfitted with new hardware I not only kept up again, but I left behind the need for crutches. They still sit by my bedside, gathering dust, just in case I need them in the night. But my days of relying on the kids for constant help are over.
That is, until I get sick. Every now and then I catch something that’s going around and find myself laid up in bed for a day or two. It’s a pain for my whole family, when I’m not around to keep things juggled. But a couple of days of being checked out isn’t usually enough to shut us down for good. My kids are big enough to boil their own noodles now, without my supervision. And they know how to heat up the oven for fish sticks or tator tots. One of my big boys has even come up with his own variation of chicken parm, which he is proud of and keeps him fed when I’m not around.
But last week we had a real test of family solidarity. I went to the doctor on Monday morning with a painful infection in my eye and was immediately sent to the Emergency Room. From there I was admitted to an isolation ward and did not go home until Friday afternoon. I left home on Monday morning and didn’t walk back in the door again until Friday afternoon. I had no hints that this is how the week would play out. No chance to set up a special chores chart. No chance to put meals in the freezer. No chance to let teachers know that homework supervision might be patchy.
And yet we survived. I survived and the kids survived. It was a huge week for my husband at work so he popped by the hospital when he was able and juggled the gang at home in the evenings. And my daughter gets huge points for stepping into the mom role. She shopped for the gang and even took two little brothers along with her to help pick out food. She kept up with her work and school schedule and still found time to come by the hospital to visit her bored, stir crazy mom.
Her brothers stepped up and did their own homework, with limited supervision. They gave their dad the normal amount of grief (they are still teenagers, after all) but overall they did what had to be done to keep the family afloat. They ate hodge podge meals and didn’t complain. They got off to school in mostly clean clothes.
It is a week I would not want to repeat. It was a painful week of medical procedures and a maddening week of worrying that everyone was surviving at home without me. But they did. They took care of each other. Just like they were trained to do back before I had my new metal leg. My friend was right. Teaching them how to nurture is never a lost lesson. Especially once mom learns to let go.