A friend of mine who has two small children was telling me about taking care of them when they were sick.
“I admit it. I used the T.V. as a babysitter.” He hung his head in embarrassment.
“Good grief,” I replied, “All good parents use T.V. as a babysitter. That’s how we survive sick kids.”
I thought about this later. Although our conversation was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the truth of the matter is, as parents, we feel obligated to respond to our children’s needs in text book perfection, and when we don’t, we feel guilty about it. I should know- the Queen of Guilt is also a quasi-expert on sick kids.
My children were germ magnets. No matter how healthful their foods, how consistent their bedtimes, how sanitary their dwellings, I could not keep them from getting sick. Whatever caused pooping, puking or rashes, my children were sure to catch the bug and share it with the entire household. Ear infections, strep throat, asthma, croup and G.I. bugs were frequent visitors, punctuated by the less-frequent-but-more-powerful Chicken Pox, Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, Influenza, pneumonia, Scarlet Fever, Rotavirus and Mononucleosis.
Finally, realizing that my defensive actions were having little effect, I decided it was time to abandon the defense and work on the offense. I devised the Momma G method of dealing with sick kids.
Please note- these are not doctor recommended or pediatrician approved. I lay no claim to making your children get sick less or get better faster. This is merely a survival toolkit designed to help mommies and daddies get through those long lonely nights when the only sound is their two-year-old retching on yet another set of sheets.
- If your child complains of a tummy ache, do not take her into your bed. I made this mistake when Abby was eighteen months old and the pumpernickel bread she ate didn’t agree with her. Use your imagination.
- Popsicles are the perfect food. Pedialyte is doctor recommended, but it doesn’t help if your kid won’t drink it. Sucking on a popsicle raises his blood sugar and allows him to replenish fluids a little at a time. Besides, the other kids in the family can have one, so they feel a little more special and a little less neglected, since all your time is spent on the sick sibling.
- Make a nest. When my kids were small and sick, I wanted them close to me so I could keep an eye on them. I would build nests out of blankets and pillows in the living room and there they would reside until they were up and about. Nests were only made on sick days, which made it special, and they were content to stay there while I did my household chores. It also helped when there were more sick kids than there was space on the living room couch.
- How your child acts is more important than what his temperature is. When we adults run a fever of 100, we huddle under the blankets and beg someone to put us out of our misery. When kids run a fever of 100, they use their blankets as capes and jump off the couch, pretending to be Superman. Conversely, when Gabe was three, he had his first bout with pneumonia. He was fussy and clingy at breakfast, but had no fever. By ten he was hanging onto me and crying, but still had no fever. By noon, he was having trouble breathing and wouldn’t let me put him down, but still had no fever. At his two o’clock appointment with his pediatrician, we found that he had a severe pneumonia, but still had no fever. I learned then that if your child acts really sick, he probably is really sick, no matter what the thermometer says.
- When your kid is sick, keep her home. Because Elizabeth had underlying health issues, a simple twenty-four hour stomach bug would put her in the hospital for a few days, and on the couch for several more. I found it infuriating to be at the church nursery and hear that the child she was playing with had been up barfing all night.
- The “getting better” period can be worse than the really sick time. When kids are really sick, they lie around and rest. When they are getting better, they whine. They whine because they want to go outside and play. They whine because there’s nothing good on T.V. They whine because they don’t feel well enough to play and they’re bored with lying around. The best cure for the whining is wine (not for them, for you.)
- Never underestimate the power of sticker books. When I was a kid and sick, my mother stopped at Thorin’s Hardware Store and bought sticker books, Wolly Willy, and paper dolls. They made a week in bed with the measles a lot more tolerable. Although my kids never got measles, when they got sick, I made similar purchases- stickers, round tipped scissors and colored paper were a refreshing change from television when the children were confined to bed. Besides, paper chains are much more entertaining than daytime dramas.
- Understand that hospitalizations impact the whole family. When Elizabeth was a little girl, she was frequently hospitalized. During those days when she was confined to bed, I was desperate to keep her entertained, so I allowed her to do things she ordinarily would not do, like paint in bed and dust herself, her teddy bear and me with baby powder. Her siblings visited her and found their little sister languishing in a no-rules environment and decided that life was grossly unfair that she got to be sick and they did not. When we returned home, there was always an adjustment period. Elizabeth whined when she no longer ruled the castle. The other kids accused me of favoring her and holding her to a different behavior standard than they were used to. Let’s face it-hospitalizations create chaos. Sleep deprived parents are torn between the kid on the ward and the kids at home. Nobody feels special. Sibling rivalry and jealousy abound. Everyone’s tired of eating Cheerios for dinner. You might as well recognize the elephant in the room, talk about it, and reassure yourself and everyone else that things will return to normal. Eventually.
In the end, I did survive all the childhood illnesses my kids experienced. Now that they are grown, they take care of themselves if they are sick. My days of feverish babies and puking toddlers are behind me. I have earned my retirement from the bedpan brigade. And now I can rest in the realization that when I’m really old and feeble, payback’s going to be a … Well, let’s just say that sticker books aren’t going to do the trick.