How to Mother a Sick Child

Just do better than me, and you’re fine

My daughter has a really bad cold, with chills and aches.  I would call it the flu except she was the only one of our kids to get the flu shot so I REFUSE to call it the flu because that would make the fact that she’s the one who’s sick way too ironic and annoying.

Anyway, on Friday she called me from school close to tears, claiming she didn’t feel well.  I picked her up but then got suspicious: she seemed fine.  No runny nose, no fever, nothing as far as I could tell but a difficult morning at school and a desire to escape from it.  She seemed a little tired and wiped out, but she has Addison’s Disease and sometimes gets like that when she’s low on Cortisol, so I gave her a pill and she did perk up. 

And once she perked up, I gave her a lecture.   I was tired of her pretending to be sick to get out of school, I said.  She was always exaggerating her symptoms, I said.  She should learn to tell the difference between feeling rundown and being so sick she needs to come home, I said.  She had messed up all my plans for the day and for no reason, I said.

She protested a little that even though she felt better, she still didn’t feel great.  Her head and ears ached, she said.   But since she seemed fine doing whatever she wanted to do (e.g. playing on the computer, seeing a friend, going out to her brother’s play), and the headache only seemed to bother her when she was bored and wanted me to let her watch TV, I continued to express my skepticism and even got a little  stern with her.

The next morning she woke up incredibly and unmistakeably sick, sneezing, dripping, and moaning.

Three days later, she’s still coughing, choking, and generally feeling miserable.  “You see?” she said to me at one point.  “I wasn’t faking.”

I apologized, but it wasn’t until I woke up at four this morning with my head and ears aching so much I had to get up and take some Advil that I realized exactly how she felt the day that I accused her of faking.  She felt tired and lousy and achey and like her throat and sinuses were all swollen–but all her symptoms were hidden, felt but not seen. 

I know all this because that’s how I feel today.  I want to crawl into bed and sleep for a dozen hours, but I can’t because a) I have too much to do, b) my daughter’s home sick and I have to watch her, and c) I have every reason to believe I’ll be worse tomorrow so I need to get as much done today as I can.  I already ran out to the supermarket and bought everything in sight, in the expectation of being bedridden later this week.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 18 years of motherhood, it’s that kids gotta eat.

It’s only fair, right?  I mean, having questioned the veracity of my daughter’s illness, I deserved to get the same one and to feel what she was feeling and realize how annoying it must have been to her not to be believed. 

Will this change how I treat her the NEXT time she comes to me complaining of feeling sick, with no outward symptoms?  Probably not.  She has a tendency to wear me down with complaints of broken toes that miraculously heal when she feels like dancing, or sore throats that stop hurting as soon as a friend invites her to go do something fun.  There’s some justification for my skepticism. 

Fortunately, she’s more nurturing than I am and while I’m not looking forward to being sick, I know that if this virus does hit me hard, she’ll be right at my side, bringing me cups of tea, tucking my blanket in around my shoulders and kissing me gently on the forehead, because that’s what she does when I’m sick.  She’ll be a good mom to a sick little girl someday.  

I could learn a lot  from her.


1 Comment

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One response to “How to Mother a Sick Child

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