It’s been a rough cold and flu season at our house. Like so many other families (yours, perhaps?) we’ve been through the wringer. It seems like we’ve been hit with one cold after the next. Throw in Owen’s newly diagnosed seasonal allergies, a few ear infections, fever, pink eye and our recent bout with the stomach flu and you’ll understand why I’ve basically turned into a hypochondriac. “What’s next?” I moan and lament. “What do we do differently?”
When Anna woke up sick on Thursday night, the second child to fall victim to a tummy bug, I cursed a few times under my breath. Jonathan was gone on a business trip and I’d already been trapped at home since Tuesday morning when Owen became sick. I was tired of cleaning up soiled carpets and bed sheets, and frustrated by the amount of work piling up before our upcoming trip. Plus, I was looking forward to MOPS in the morning and those plans would have to be cancelled.
And yet, as the long night wore on, and Anna awoke every two hours to vomit, my heart and perspective slowly (emphasis on slowly) began to change. These days, I have many opportunities to show up for Anna and Owen. I make them three meals a day, and bathe them. I take her to the park, and wash their clothes and kiss them when they fall. But, these caring moments are so frequent, so part of our routine, that my children take them for granted. At their ages, I don’t expect anything different.
But when I sort through the fuzzy and fading memories of my own childhood, I can remember the times my mother would hold back my hair and rub my back and lay down towels on the carpet next to my bed. These moments of physical agony, when we are completely helpless, is when the care of another person is so particularly memorable and meaningful. It is when we’re at our lowest that we truly appreciate and understand the meaning of love.
The last few days have provided many opportunities to pray over my children. I rub my new oils on their bellies, an anointing of sorts, and ask God to heal their bodies. I whisper encouraging words.
“I am so proud of you.”
“I know this hurts.”
“You are scared and tired but you’ll feel better tomorrow.”
And when she does wake up, we cuddle and read and play all the games I’m often too busy to make a priority. Friday is long and busy, and when they sleep or watch movies, I do load after load of laundry, make meals, sanitize door handles, mop up messes. But in the midst of the crazy, I make an important realization: I am getting better at this job. I am confident. We have routines. I know how to clean up vomit effectively and contain an active toddler at the same time. I’m not a new mom…I am growing up. And the thing is, they are too.
These sick days are gifts, if I treat them as such. She will not always need me and he will not always want me. Someday I will wear a hat they find completely embarrassing, and I’ll cheer for them the wrong way at their soccer game. They’ll lambast me afterwards and I’ll probably cry, feeling like a new mom walking through uncharted territory. “Where did I go wrong,” I’ll ask? “What should do we do differently?”
When these days come, someday, faraway I hope, they will be new opportunities to settle into my motherhood role again. I’ll have to remind myself that just like babies be babies, teenagers are just teenagers. Colds and flus and temper tantrums and missed curfews are not an indication of bad parenting; they are an indication of growing up. And I hope and pray that in their desperate moments they will look back on the nights I rubbed their backs and held their hair, finding full assurance in the deep love surrounding them.
P.S. If you liked this post, you’ll love this article in today’s New York Times, “When My Daughter Called Me Sick, from College, I Got on a Plane.”