The last time I had a fever I was single and working at my first full-time job. I took three days of sick-leave and slept, off and on, in a fevered haze. That was nearly 10 years ago. But now, three children later, I have no sick leave, no vacation days, no flex time, no comp time, no personal days, and no luck finding someone to work my shift. So when I began to feel sick last week I knew I was in trouble.
It started out innocently enough; I was achy and the back of my throat tickled. By that night the ache had progressed to the chills, the tickle to a sore throat, and I was fatigued. I asked my husband if he would mind feeding the kids, then putting them to bed. “Sure, honey,” he said, from behind the laptop, and with that, I headed to my room.
About 30 minutes later, Leah opened the bedroom door. “Mom?” she asked. “Are you better yet?”
“No, Leah,” I said. “I’m still sick.”
“Because,” she said, my answer irrelevant, “We’re hungry.” I could imagine Kaleb sitting at the bottom of the stairs, having cheered her all the way to the bedroom after unsuccessfully trying to distract his father from the laptop. I rolled out of bed and went down to throw something together.
30 minutes later I was back in bed, trying to shiver myself into a pocket of warmth. 30 minutes later Zack was lying down next to me, his body warming my back, a handful of my hair in his fist. 30 minutes later, Leah was next to me on the floor, and long after I lost consciousness Kaleb was curled at the foot of the bed.
And if that had been the worse of it, I would be one lucky mamma. But by Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, I had the fever (and not the good kind). Rich had volunteered to go to Kaleb’s school party and put together the craft I had prepared for his class. But that still left me mothering children for an entire day while weak and delusional. To make matters worse, while loading Zack and Leah into the van to pick Kaleb up from kindergarten, Zack took off down the sidewalk, giggling as he looked back at me over his shoulder. I was spent. I yelled and found my voice gone. Then I cried, a voiceless wheezing cry, a sad sight to behold: the crazy women on the sidewalk in silky PJ bottoms and a worn-out college sweatshirt, tears streaming down her face as she waved her arms at a little boy who seemed frantic to get away. I paced a few times behind the van before climbing into the driver’s seat to wait Zack out. Penitent, okay maybe more bored than penitent, Zack returned and we went on our way.
But I’m guessing all moms know what it’s like to be sick with no time off. You get up, with or without tears, and do what you gotta do—take care of your children, in a catatonic daze sometimes, but it gets done. The laundry may pile up, the house may get dirty, the meals may be drive-thru, but the kids will be taken care of. And if you’re lucky, a little girl will say a prayer for you, unscripted and before a meal that’s about to make you puke. “Dear Heavenly Father, please bless my mommy that she will be happy soon and not sick anymore.” Amen!