I’m off the couch, which right now is a superhuman effort. I have some sort of late summer virus where I’ve got chills, a fever, and body aches. I’m fortunate that my two teenagers are fairly self-sufficient and can heat up frozen pizza for dinner. Hannah can drive herself to swim practice and a friend is picking up Daniel from soccer practice. So my only job today is to nap and drink lots of fluids.
I always felt terrible when the kids got sick when they were little. By the time Hannah was 2 she had multiple ear infections, dysentery, and rotovirus. She’d spike high fevers with the ear infections and I spent many nights walking with her to try and soothe her. As awful as it was, I felt competent, like I could handle having a kid with the normal childhood illnesses. And I could. What I hadn’t considered is what happens when I get sick.
There’s a saying, “Pride goes before a fall.” I fell, HARD. Having survived most of Hannah’s childhood illnesses unscathed, it never occurred to me that I might get sick. Especially when their father was out of town.
When Hannah had just turned 6 and Daniel was 3, we all picked up a scabies infestation while visiting my sister-in-law. Everyone except for me responded well to the cream used to treat the infestation. I was allergic to it. So I had to treat the infestation the old school way: wash and iron EVERYTHING that we all came into contact with. OK, I’ve got this. Seven loads of laundry EVERY DAY. Every sheet, towel, pillowcase, pajamas, clothes that we all wore—I washed, dried, and then ironed with a hot steam iron. For days.
The kids and I started getting cabin fever. No one would come to our house and I couldn’t let Hannah and Daniel go anywhere. And then I got sick. Really sick. In bed with a high fever, and I couldn’t move my head or neck. I figured it was a combination of jet lag and maybe I pulled a muscle ironing.
I left sippy cups of diluted apple juice in the fridge for them and poured out small bowls of Cheerios. We didn’t have cable so I left the TV tuned to PBS. When they woke up in the morning, they went downstairs, got sippy cups and Cheerios, and turned on the TV. Turns out kids can live for several days on juice, milk, and Cheerios. And endless amounts of television. Occasionally Hannah and/or Daniel would come into my room with a question. I’m pretty sure I said “yes” to everything. If they had asked for the car keys, I would have handed them over.
So we were still doing pretty well, all things considered. And then they came into my room. Hannah was giggling and quite proud of herself. (I am going to pause to say here that smugness runs in the family.) She had dressed Daniel in a t-shirt and underwear. UNDERWEAR! No no no no no. I had started toilet training Daniel before we went out of town but stopped because I realized a long plane ride and a stay somewhere unfamiliar were not compatible with toilet training. And then with scabies, and me getting sick, it didn’t happen.
Daniel lifted up his shirt to show me his Thomas the Train underwear and he was very proud of himself. The fact that had had NEVER gone on the toilet didn’t seem to occur to anyone but me. And that Daniel was going to probably make some very messy mistakes that I was going to have to clean up. I suggested he wear pull-ups but they didn’t have Thomas on them, so the kids overruled my feeble suggestions to put Daniel back in diapers.
I realized I had ceded all my authority and the monkeys were running the zoo. Unlimited Cheerios and television and no parental authority for days left the kids drunk with power. So this is how the world ends, I thought. Not with a bang, but a whimper: me wiping up kid pee while running a high fever.
In the end, they survived quite nicely on Cheerios and juice but also raided my Oreo stash. And the lemon ice pops in the freezer. Oh, and Hannah did toilet train Daniel in those days I couldn’t get out of bed. The power of sibling love is not something to be tampered with. And I learned that sometimes, I should just get out of the way.