Winter is coming. These three words have hung over mothers like dark clouds for decades, long before Game of Thrones came along. For we all know what that short, ominous phrase means: months of interminable sickness in the house. As the days shorten, germs will invade our kids’ undeveloped immune systems with all the mean gusto of the Lannister clan.
I’m experiencing the horror of winter sickness for the first time as a mom. My 15-month-old, Amber, recently started nursery school and is living proof of what all of my mom friends say: “Once they start nursery, they get sick ALL OF THE TIME.”
My daughter, not one to disappoint, got sick after her very first day of nursery eight weeks ago. She been various shades of ill ever since.
The Jewish Florence Nightingale, I’m not. I’m not naturally selfless. Each time bubs gets ill, I worry — not so much about her health but about the sleepless nights that lay ahead. The inability to get anything else done, because of my sick baby — usually a sparky and independent little girl, made clingy and sad by yet another episode of “Germ of Thrones,” as I call it. Of course, I feel bad for her. But I also feel bad for myself.
The unending, tiring job of looking after an ill baby has ground me down the past few weeks. The countless times getting out of bed at stupid o’clock; padding sleepily to my baby’s bedroom to administer more medicine or cuddles; the broken sleep made even more restless by bringing baby into bed with us — cue lovely warm hugs accompanied by squished ribs and dead arms.
It was during another 3 a.m., tear-filled cuddle that I remembered the soothing words my rabbi’s wife recently said. One night, after Amber had been coughing for hours, I took her to the ER. I mentioned this on our synagogue moms’ WhatsApp group, typing through exhaustion as Amber snuffled on my lap. Empathy and good wishes flowed from the other moms, and then this from our Rebbetzin: “Another person’s gashmius (physical needs) is your ruchnius (spirituality).”
These words struck me. They were simple yet deep, and so different from the answers I usually got when complaining about the germ grind. Instead of, “Well, that’s kids for you,” or, “Yes, it really sucks, and it won’t get better for years,” I was offered a perspective that lifted me out of the drudge for a few minutes. I’m not especially religious, but I see my spirituality as my core, and exactly where these words went — right to my core.
This week, after hours of sleepless sniffles, Amber and I saw in yet another dawn together. As I sat in her room, with her wheezing on my chest, I remembered: her physical needs are my spiritual calling. For a moment, I was elevated out of the shattering grind and grit of caring for a sick child. Instead, I thought: “This hard work has a greater purpose.”
Caring for a sick child is hard work — but it’s work that is grounded in a huge amount of love. Maybe it’s that love that nourishes your spirituality. Maybe it’s the feeling that there’s something greater than yourself, your needs, and your ego — and that’s what enables us to be caregivers, no matter how exhausted we may be. Maybe that’s why serving another isn’t just a practical act; it’s a spiritual act, too.
The last time I had a full night’s sleep, Britney Spears was at the top of the charts. I need all the help I can get to get through the relentlessness of looking after a sickly Amber. Perhaps knowing that there’s a higher spiritual purpose in all of the hard work helps to lighten the load a little.