During a recent email exchange with a reader, she mentioned something I know too well: what it’s like to parent alone when your child is ill.
Dealing with a sick child can be unpleasant even for a couple. From the smallest colds to the hard falls from 6-foot high tree limbs; when our children hurt, we hurt. Just the other day Logan had a pain in her belly that she couldn’t accurately express with her words. The face she made, the way her little hands grabbed her belly, her cracking toddler voice – it all made my heart ache. I wanted to hug her and hope that somehow all her pain would transfer to my body, and she’d stand erect and smile and say, “Oh. I feel budduh now.” And although that was a small moment and she was quickly back to herself (good thing?), it would have been nice if I’d been able to turn to someone and say, “What do you think is wrong with her? What do you think she ate? Let’s go sit down with her and read her a book.” And then afterward, to have been able to laugh and say, “She is so dramatic, right? I love that goof.”
When Ryleigh was about 2 and I was still married, she had pneumonia. I woke up in the middle of the night to check on her and she had a temperature of 105. I shook her dad and we drove her to the ER, where she was admitted while they tried to bring her fever down. This was my first and only baby. I was petrified. I know it’s silly but seeing her in a hospital bed reminded me of some war-torn country; I’d never imagined my own child would be so sick she’d need to be hospitalized, even for something not-so-life threatening. I didn’t really think about it at the time but I was so grateful to have her dad there. He is WAY less dramatic than I am, and seeing how calm he was kept me calm. And it was comforting to speak to the doctor with someone standing by my side, and to know that someone else was equally as worried for Ryleigh.
Now, not so much. When my girls are sick of course I tell their dads but it’s not the same as having them here, not even close. Especially now that I don’t rely on OTC meds and don’t run to the doc for every sniffle, it can be distressing. I have my girls rest and hydrate when they’re ill, and that seems to cure any problem – except the loneliness I feel when they are sick. It gets scary to know they are looking to me for all the answers. It’s nerve-wrecking to try and find the right foods to feed them when they don’t feel well, and then dealing with the guilt of having made the wrong decision when they vomit. It’s stressful to sit up in the dark at 4am, leaning my head against the headboard, stroking the shoulder of my feverish toddler. And that’s not to mention that I still have my regular duties and another child, even when one is sick. And that’s not to mention that sometimes we’re all sick – and I still have to take care of them.
I wouldn’t trade with anyone for the world. I am on this journey and I have no choice but to learn and grow stronger from it. Most of the time I don’t think about this stuff, especially not in the moment. I’m just doing what I have to do, what’s expected of me, and what I know is my responsibility. I don’t expect a certificate or a cookie (but I like oatmeal raisin if you wanna give me one or seven), because these are my children. I do look forward though, to the day when I can once again turn to someone and say, “This time you’re wiping the poop off the couch. I just got the vomit in the kitchen.”