No Sickness For the Weary Mom

As published in The Rye Record on November 1, 2013

Welcome to cold and flu season! It’s go time for moms, as the children in our houses will take turns being sick during the action packed weeks between Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Our pockets are packed with tissues, our pantries are stocked with Ginger Ale, and we’ve got enough Motrin stashed away to wear down the stomach lining of a large zoo animal. We’ve trained for this, and we can handle it. As long as we don’t get sick ourselves.

Everybody knows that moms can’t get sick. We need to be above the virus so that we can take care of everyone else who catches it. The mom is like the household Wi-Fi in that she is the link to a complex web of critical systems, but no one really seems to notice till she goes on the fritz. Such was the panic in my house last week when I had the audacity to be sick for five days. My family’s cries could be heard across Westchester County: “The server’s down!”

I have to sympathize with them. When I was a kid, there was nothing that stressed me out more than when my mom got sick. It was like the world stopped. I remember walking into her room and seeing her lying in bed (by the way, moms are not supposed to sit, let alone lie down!) and noticing that, to my horror, she wasn’t wearing her signature red lipstick. Mom’s not wearing lipstick, I worried, how am I going to get to school?

Unfortunately for my kids, I’m not one of those stoic sick people who pops a couple of tablets out of the aluminum casing and forges on with her day. I get in bed. I stop making dinner, and I fully engage in the pursuit of rest. I want sympathy and I respond to every email and text with “I’m sick!” I drag myself to pickup brandishing a hanky and a cup of tea as proof. I’m in your face with it.

During the first day of my illness, my children’s reactions were a mixed bag. In no particular order, one came upon me in my darkened room, surrounded by tissues, to ask me for a ride. “I’m sick,” I told him. “I can see that,” he replied, “but can I have a ride?” Another one thought to text me from a pep rally to see how I was feeling. A third actually stayed home with me on Friday night and brought me water and tea. Naturally, each of these behaviors was age-appropriate. (Naturally, I have adjusted my will accordingly.)

After the first two days, however, any sympathy in my house dried up faster than your sinuses on Nyquil. It turns out that I’m only allowed a maximum of two sick days. Once again, I am kicking myself for not reading my employment contract more carefully. After the second day, a sick mom is, frankly, kind of annoying. “How are you feeling?” is replaced by “You still sick?” The tissue boxes, the red-stained Nyquil measuring cup, and my unmade bed were starting to get on their nerves. And I imagine the growing stack of pizza boxes was too.

At the end of five days in bed, I had read a 719-page mystery and had made a full recovery. As a collateral benefit, I had managed to lower the expectations of everyone in my family. My husband gasped when he walked into the house, “You got dressed!” My kids delighted in eating a meal that did not come out of a box in the company of people who were sitting upright in chairs. Slowly, the mystical force that manages the socks and knows how to operate the dishwasher reappeared. The server was back up and running.