It was only a matter of time until it happened. Sleeplessness mixed with the daily stresses of parenthood just wore you down. On top of that, your five-year old’s refined sense of humor always seems to lend itself to smearing bodily fluids on your shirt and/or coughing directly in your face. So, now you’re sick. If you can muster up enough breath between wheezing and coughing, you might ask yourself the contemplative question: “Now what?”
Now what, indeed! Truth be told, despite your quest to keep the kids on a healthy and TV-free diet, you succumb to many unthinkable evils during this time of strife and chaos. In other words, the insane start to run the asylum. After years and years of trying to limit and restrict, all of a sudden the world stands on end and no request is off-limits. Your powers halt and the strictness that once held your home together peel away as if they were skin from a banana. Root beer for breakfast? Sure. A seven-hour viewing of My Little Pony on the iPad? Why not! Wearing a swimsuit in the bathtub and splashing around until the floors are soaked? Just look the other way. Basically, you allow the kids to do whatever they want, whenever they want, because you are just too tired (and sick) to care.
The smell of burnt toast doesn’t register. How they got up to put bread in the toaster at all doesn’t even compute. Why they suddenly want toast would spark an inquisition on other days. Today, however, it just doesn’t matter. You figure that whatever happens, the smoke detectors will magically protect you. Hopefully the batteries in them still work. If you had energy, you would check. Or make the kids a meal yourself. But, whatever. For this time, this rare moment of parental upheaval (the immuno-version of a coup d’etat) as long as no one gets hurt, you figure it will all work itself out. Besides, nothing seems to matter in the haze of sneezy congestion and a bleary, mucous-ridden coma.
For today, this sick day, it’s almost as though you have morphed into several of Snow White’s dwarves (sleepy, sneezy, grumpy, dopey….and maybe Doc, since most of your awake time has been spent on WebMD). Only instead of making a magical princess find her way to happiness, you are doing very little but hobble through the cavernous existence of parenthood unscathed and (hopefully) unnoticed. You think, maybe if the kids just zone out and watch T.V. all day long, it will be as though this day never happened. Maybe we can all wipe it off the books and go back to normal once the bug has been battled!
Think again. A sick day like this one was had two years ago and my daughter never forgot. She held it up in her court of law from that day forward. It became a landmark case which has since given her the ability to argue “But, we had macaroni and cheese all week long that one time when you had the flu. So, I should be able to have it for this one meal, RIGHT NOW!” And she has a point. I would never admit this to her, but I am pretty impressed by her abilities to reason despite the heartache it causes me. Nevertheless, I have found that one, measly day of rolling back the rules just amounts to a cascading fallout of the laws that remain.
So, seriously, now what?? What is a sick parent to do when it’s just too much of a struggle to keep the kids in line AND fight a debilitating illness? Do what all sensible dictators have done for ages – realize that your time is numbered and someday soon your powers of control will officially cease. That’s right! You will be overthrown and it will be much sooner than you thought possible.
The good news is that it’s not as bad as it sounds. Sure, maybe when a three year old wants total autonomy, it could be a little tricky. But, when your six year old starts wanting “privacy” in the bathroom and you no longer have to wipe their rear after every poop, it can be the dawning of a new age. Even nicer still is the time when your child will repay you by making breakfast for you (even if it is only a bowl of cereal), helping you with household tasks they think are fun (raking the yard is cool for about a month – milk this for as long as you can!), or asking to run errands for you (I have yet to have a teenager to know if this one really works out as suggested). Regardless, once they realize that this is a big world and that they are not just insignificant pieces in it, the results can be dramatic.
I’m not advocating the idea that a two-year old should draw his own bath or make his own dinner, but on those off days when everything is up in the air, it’s helpful for him to at least occupy himself while you nap on the couch. After all, isn’t that why Jim Henson created Sesame Street?!
At the end of the day, everyone gets sick. Just do your best and remember that even the atrocities of Nazi Germany didn’t put an end to the entire world. Giving your kids one day, or even one week, with a diet of Frito-Lay products and Netflix on overdrive doesn’t make you a bad parent. It just makes you a sick one.
Powers are not endless. Parents are not immortal. Kids are not the enemy. Just do your best. Do whatever it takes to get well. And, know that in the meantime you are only strengthening their character, preparing them for the day that they will grow to become parents, with children of their own, who will someday knock them down a few pegs (in terms of health and sometimes in terms of sanity). After all, such lessons in humility are exactly what family is all about.