I know, moms aren’t allowed to get sick. And aside from one pesky instance when I fell flat on my face and spent a few days in bed recovering, I’ve done a pretty good job toughing it out through any little ailment over the years.
That is until earlier this week, when the flu or an unusually debilitating case of food poisoning kicked my ass, hard.
The first clear thought I had when I knew I was going to be sick was, “This can’t be the flu. I don’t want to make anyone sick.”
I know that sounds very martyr-like of me, but trust me, it wasn’t that at all. Second only to puppets, clown, and carnies, I am terrified of children’s illnesses. Just the thought of it all — long nights lying half awake, waiting to be called to the kid’s bedroom; then even longer days figuring out first how to clear the decks and then later, all the rescheduling of appointments, helping with the pile of missed homework, and generally playing catch-up… even if the kid is out sick only one day. And do I even have to mention the scrubbing, the laundry/goddamn sheet folding, and the overdrive of chaos that sickness brings into an otherwise relatively sane household?
By dawn, I knew two things for sure: I was screwed, and my family didn’t stand a chance.
And yet, I did that thing that all moms do: I started convincing myself that all I needed was a couple hours of rest, and I’d be fine. After the kids left for school, I pulled myself out of bed and tidied up the living room. (That’s right, my cleaning OCD doesn’t even take time off for a stomach bug!) After that, I pushed through a couple of hours of work from home.
And then I collapsed into a deep and ugly nap.
This pattern repeated itself all day, as I gave anyone who asked an, “I’m fine — feeling much better,” when the reality was I felt like crap. But it’s almost a pathological need for moms to slog through illness and come out the other end stronger than ever before. So, for example, although my kids are old enough to make themselves dinner, I couldn’t help but assemble the ingredients… despite the fact that looking at raw hamburger meat sent me into a near emotional breakdown.
Later that night, huddled under the covers and in and out of sleep, I had my first lucid, hopeful thought of the day: my kids had their flu shots! Then I also remembered that although I was vigilant on their behalf, I blew off the other end of the bargain: I never got mine.
To be honest, the idea I’d get sick never even crossed my mind. I believe the breeder party line that says kids, dads, the family dog, and/or the pet goldfish can go down for the count, and nothing much is affected on a global family scale.
Moms, however, must persist. The baptism-by-fire message begins from the second the pee stick says GO. From “morning” sickness to much more debilitating conditions like pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, there’s nine months right up front to get you used to the idea that even if you feel like shit — up to and including a life-threatening illness — you must carry on. That includes being ordered on bed rest, which turns out to be the most hideous torture of all time. The feeling that your child’s life hangs in the balance if you stand up is horrible and underscores the message that the days of wanting to lounge around all day are over.
And then you squeeze something the size of a watermelon out of your tiny vagina, and boot camp is over. Giving a crap about pain is a thing of the past. You nurse through cracked and bleeding nipples, ignoring the agony of the post-childbirth hemorrhoids and torn perineum (or, if you had a C-section, all the joys of post-surgical recovery), and gamely slog through each day in a sleep-deprived haze.
So while the nipples, perineums, and incisions heal, hemorrhoids subside, and eventually you are able to sleep through the night again (that one takes much longer), you are no longer a plain old woman.
Now you are Iron Woman — life has torn out the sensitive bits, and replaced them with steely resolve to keep fighting the good fight, no matter how bad you feel on any given day. The balance of modern life must be maintained at all costs, and your own personal universe rests squarely on your shoulders.
I know that sounds lofty, but it’s true. Not that life doesn’t go on when moms are sick, but it’s not nearly as organized, clean, or predictable as the folks like and are used to. Which is why on Day 2, even thought I still felt a little residual wonkiness, I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and got back on the gerbil wheel of duty and responsibility.
Strangely enough, whether I was truly better or not didn’t matter. I felt a tangible sigh of relief from my peeps as order was restored. And although I didn’t feel 100%, I pushed any residual weakness aside and focused on the positives: my appetite was that of a supermodel’s, circa 1992, and my pale and hollow features had a certain fashion chic that was impossible to deny.
In other words, flu over, mom wins, everything is back to normal.
Still, don’t be alarmed if you see me shuffling around the house in the middle of the day in my PJs and fuzzy slippers. Sometimes a sick day is just what the doctor ordered.