Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sick Days With Littles

During my 31 Days For the Struggling Mama series, an anonymous reader commented,

"I would love to see you do a piece about how you get through bouts of sickness. I find with my kids that is what I struggle with the most, due to the sleep deprivation. It boggles my mind how others get through that."

I think coping techniques vary so much with the age of the children, the type of illness, and even the personality of the individuals.  In the middle of first bout of sickness this season last week I told my husband, "When I had just two little children, I worried that I was focusing so much on my sick ones that I was not managing the meals and house well, and now that I have more children and older children, I worry that while I'm a little better at multi-tasking, I'm not making my whole self available enough to my little patients."  After pouring out my heart to him, his answer was simple, "You can't be perfect all the time."  At first I was a little miffed that he would not sympathize with me and would instead spout out such a pat answer, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it is true.  Life is about balance. 

For me, it can mean cleaning the house from top to bottom in one day or it can mean not touching the vacuum all week.

It can mean sitting on the couch wrapped up in blankets reading stories or it can mean standing at the stove stirring chicken soup while an older sibling reads a book or pops in a DVD... or it can mean taking a nap and ordering take-out for dinner.

Sometimes it can be holding a feverish toddler and teaching school from the recliner, cancelling school altogether, or focusing on my older students while requiring the little ones to occupy themselves with blocks and the doll house. 

It can means all these things, but it can't mean all of them at once.  I have to let go of my expectations that life will continue as normal when there are sick people in the house.

Sick days also vary according to the type of illness. 

Colds require rest, a little extra down-time, and a box of tissues. 

Fevers require pushing the fluids, good naps, and canceling outside activities.  

Stomach viruses make me tremble. 

I can go into full nurse-mode with anything that doesn't involve the tummy, but the stomach virus is in a category all its own.  I'm not squeamish and I've had nasty morning sickness five times so I'm no stranger to vomit, but stomach viruses scare me in that they move through our family one. by one. by one.  Just when we think it is safe, someone new succumbs.  I live on pins and needles in the winter. 

Several years ago, we broke the one-at-a-time pattern, but not necessarily in a good way.  Owen was about fifteen months old and I suddenly came down with a stomach virus one afternoon.  Our only bathroom was upstairs and Brian was not yet home from work.  When I needed to get sick, I'd leave my toddler and two other children and run to the toilet.  Within hours, both Gavin (5) and Maddie (3) were throwing up, too.  I laid towels all over the floor and it went like this:

Run upstairs.  Get sick.  Stumble back down.  Clean up one child's soiled towels.  Wipe child's face and lay out a clean towel.  Clean up second child's towels and face.  Repeat.  Oh-- and in the middle of this wretched chaos, try to keep toddler out of all the germs.

It was all about survival for a few hours.

When my kids are sick, I put adequate rest at the top of our priorities list.  We generally avoid Tylenol (or other over-the-counter remedies) for fever, but if giving makes the child comfortable enough to sleep, I don't hesitate.  Last month when Alaine was sick, she had trouble sleeping when she first laid down at night, and she tends to sleep best in her own bed, I decided to hold her in an upright position against my chest for a few hours until she settled.  I propped up pillows all around me so that I could drift off if I got drowsy because during my children's illnesses, it is important that I rest, too.  In the past, we've allowed a sick child to hunker down on blankets in our bedroom or snuggle in bed with mom or dad if it means more restful sleep for everyone.  Brian, who has the ability to sleep anywhere, has been known to sleep in the hallway while a sick child is sharing my bed.    

Personality matter, too, when it comes to times of sickness. Some children prefer to be left alone and some are very needy.  Some sleep well and some are up all night.  Some are content to lounge on the couch with a pile of books and movies all day and some need a little more focused attention.  I have children who fit all of these situations. 

I've found that my own personality gets in the way of being a good nurse, too.  When Benjamin and Alaine were sick recently, I didn't mind Brian bringing home fast food take-out one night when Alaine was especially clingy.  I didn't mind serving simple meals the rest of the week either.  I didn't mind lightening our school load or letting everyone sleep later in the morning.  However, it drove me crazy that I couldn't tidy or clean the house like I wanted to.  I didn't neglect it altogether, but the five-minute cleaning of the bathroom felt grody compared to my more thorough clean.  The laundry piled up and the crumbs on the kitchen floor created a fine grit.  I again had to let go of my expectations for a short season (but the next week I attacked the house with a vengeance). 

Thankfully, I've never had to deal or cope with long-term illness in either of my children.  The closest we've come to that is when Owen broke his arm (for the second time) in January and he had to be helped with everything from eating his oatmeal to putting on his shirt to using the bathroom.  He was in a lot of pain in the beginning, but, because of his sensitivity issues, he wouldn't take anything stronger than Tylenol.  The whimpering in his sleep was pitiful, and since he had to keep his arm still even at night, he slept with me for at least a week.  My sleep was less than restful with nursing an infant during the night and trying to keep Owen comfortable.  By the time we found him diving from his bed to a mattress on the floor, we knew his pain had diminished and it was time for him to go back to sleeping on his own.

In January, we enter new territory.  I am scheduled to have dental surgery to remove all four of my wisdom teeth.  While I won't be sick, I've been told to expect two to three days of recovery time and that I will need help caring for Alaine. I'm not sure how I'll handle being the patient as opposed to the nurse.   I bet no one else is going to sweep the crumbs on the floor or wipe down the bathroom like I would so I better work now to lower my expectations, don't you think?


  1. It is so true that age makes a big difference. Thankfully our kids haven't been sick much, but the last time Emahry was sick offered a little glimmer of what having older sick children could be like. Instead of having to hold a clingy baby or toddler all. day.long. she was content to have a pile of books read to her and watch a movie or two.

    Unlike you, I'm no good around vomit. I'm one of those people that vomit when I see someone else do it. Thankfully, we've only ever had a few stomach bugs go through our family and Tim is a champ about dealing with the messes.

  2. I saw your blog listed on the Homeschool Blog Awards so I popped over to check this out. I love your heart that you share here. The picture of your kids with their grade on your sidebar is too cute & they are adorable!

    I am your newest follower. I'd love for you to follow me back, if you want =-)


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