Sick of Sick Kids

December 1939: Model Vera Dunlop taking the temperature of her sick son. (Photo by William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Henry threw up in his bed last night.

Over the baby monitor, I heard him mutter about a T-rex. Then there was the unmistakable sound of a child yacking. I trudged down the hall, and found his blanket warm and slimy. Gross, but not surprising. It’s that time of year – my kids, and most of their friends, have been passing around a bug this week. Henry was simply the last one to fall.

In the beginning, we navigated the crud pretty well. My husband was out of town, so I became Nurse Mommy. I found a working thermometer in Lizzie’s marker bin, and a jug of Gatorade in the garage. Armed with a sleeve of Saltines and a blue bucket, I set up a sickbay in the living room. I fluffed pillows, rubbed tummies, and mopped fevered brows. I spoon fed them ice chips laced with Ginger Ale.

When Katie, my champion vomiter, completely missed the collection basin by her side, I forgave. “Poor love,” I clucked, as I sopped up the sludge with a cloth.

We cuddled and drowsed, and only half-watched Harry Potter in front of the fire. I held their smelly bodies and remembered the tiny heft of them as babies, how each one could fit easily in the crook of my arm.

“I love you, Mom,” said one of the girls. “You take good care of us.”

“I love you, too,” I replied. I DO take good care of them.


They call it a “24-hour bug” because that is how long the children suffer through the worst of it. Except my kids stagger their starts. A single virus takes a week to tear through our family. Which is unfortunate, since, as it turns out, I only possess 24 hours of hospital-grade patience.

On day two, I started to dislike my invalid children. I began to doubt their symptoms. “Ninety-nine degrees is hardly a fever. Drink some ice water. You are going to school.” I took issue with their nausea. “And you? You threw up an hour ago. Stop it. There is nothing left down there.”

My transformation from Florence Nightingale to Nurse Ratched wasn’t entirely my fault. If the children would have just stayed cuddly and bilious, we could have endured a quiet week of quarantine. Instead, things got ugly.

Gratitude gave way to entitlement. They demanded more movies, and a better soft drink selection. Instead, I made smoothies that no one drank, and applesauce that ended up in the dog. I slaved over homemade chicken soup, while they plead for Top Ramen.

When the pink eye arrived, I finally lost my cool. It struck down the eldest child first. Her stomach was on the mend, but the school refused to take her back looking like a crack addict. So she stayed home for the fifth day in a row. I plunked everyone into the bath to disinfect, and my middle kiddo promptly had a gusher of a nosebleed. While I attempted to staunch it, the two-year-old, fascinated by pink bathwater, began drinking it down in great gulps. “Stop drinking your sister’s blood!” I yelled.

On any given day, I navigate a ridiculous number of complaints, both real and imagined. Their lips hurt, so they can’t eat broccoli. Someone’s “teeth feel funny” when she tries to sleep. Last year, my daughter missed the school bus because of itchy pants. I bandage phantom “owies” and kiss invisible wounds. And it is all okay. I want my kids to turn to me for comfort, to believe Mommy takes good care of us.

But I also want them to suck it up. I want them to rally a little on their own. I know of no miracle formula for building resilience in a child, but I think it probably starts with dragging your arse off the couch even when you don’t feel 100%. Just ask any boss. Just ask any parent.

Most days, I can be the mom who nurses sick tummies and fevered brows. But after too many crud buckets and slimy sheets, the other mom emerges. She’s a little ragged, the kids even call her mean. But she knows something they don’t – suffering is not the end of the world. Indeed, the ability to overcome discomfort is an important part of growing up, as is the capacity to nourish a healthy body in the first place. It takes that other mom – the one peddling kale chips and a brisk walk to school — to make kids realize this. Sometimes the mom who allows them to feel worse is the mom who helps them be better. Sick of Sick Kids