Just when I assert that I’m ready to buckle down, get into a solid routine again and work my butt off, life finds its way to have a chuckle. Once I improved from my own terrible cold, my kiddo and husband both fell ill with this terrorizing flu/cold/virus thing. It’s been a household of coughing, feverish, miserable, moody boys and I’m so tired. It has been over a week and they are only just barely on the mend.
I’m no stranger to viruses taking over my life for a short period. What parent isn’t? But for whatever reason, some viruses seem to hit my kid longer and harder, so I have quite a bit of experience with being waylaid for an extended period of time, adrift in a sea of worry and home remedies.
This level of care-taking is always intense. It requires focused attention to ensure that the virus isn’t getting worse or needing medical interventions.
It’s constant temperature gauging (I rarely use a thermometer anymore since my lips know the degrees of a forehead just as well by now). It’s steam showers in the middle of the night, setting an alarm for medicine so the fever doesn’t get a chance to creep into the danger zone. It’s careful focus on hydration, simple meal-making that the kiddo won’t eat anyway. It’s handwringing, hushed and worried conversations with your spouse while your kiddo sleeps fitfully between you two. It’s broken, anxious sleep and constant questioning. Survival mode.
It’s basically transitioning back to Newborn Land, but without the grace or bliss.
In Newborn Land, when you are freshly postpartum, everyone and everything around you rightly stops. Expectations from the outside world cease or decrease, at least for a spell, and you are only expected to focus in on your baby. Their needs, their schedule. It’s blessedly simple for all of its complexity because you aren’t also worried about deadlines, returning emails, or cleaning your house (as much). Your baby needs your full attention and we are happy to give it when they are that small. The world is happy to let us.
So what of when they are bigger, yet still need that level of tending and care?
A truly sick kid, no matter the age, needs his parents around, carefully in tune to his needs. Does that mean everything has to stop? Well, in an ideal world, yes. But that stopping is rarely graceful or gradual, and instead can feel like a brutal, grinding halt that makes the brakes shriek. As our children get bigger, life picks up pace, we aren’t needed in the same ways we were when they were babies, making it more difficult to derail routined life and transition back into that space of slow, urgent care.
But routined life should stop. Expectations should cease. Not just expectations from outside sources (like work, which many of us don’t have control over, anyway) but at least from ourselves. Especially from ourselves.
Because in times of extreme stress and sleep-deprivation (such as in Newborn Land or viral illness day six) functioning becomes relative. For example, I hadn’t been to the grocery store in eight days, and if my mom hadn’t brought us some filler groceries we would have had to succumb to the stale Cheez-Its in the cupboard. I couldn’t find my phone for the longest time, but relied on the forgiveness of my friends and family for my disappearing act. The only shower I had had for days was for him to breathe the hot steam, and my house looked like a cyclone had run through it. Outside looking in? Nothing looking all that functional. But my kiddo steadily improved. In the end, that is all that matters. So long as we function well enough to nurture our kiddos to health, we’re doing it right.
Learning to slow down our pace is vital. Not because it’s the end of the world when a child gets a virus, but because it would make it so very much easier on everyone, especially our mental health as parents, if we are able to make a gradual stop, where braking felt like a natural pause instead of a violent jerk out of “real life”. Allowing ourselves the grace, even if all we can accomplish is a mental shift (which is huge anyway), to let everything fall away, and put ourselves back into the Newborn Land Survival Mode mindset. Prioritize, optimize, sleep.
Whenever I resist, push or rush through these times, they often take longer to improve. So I’ve learned to downshift, hone in, and let the rest go.
At some point during this illness, I realized I had done this without specific intention. I simply had to. With practice and experience, my stopping has become more gradual, less of a shock, taking my foot off the gas at yellow and letting myself ease to the line.
He’s coming down with something, the cough is getting worse, time to start cancelling plans, download some new Kindle books, stock up on Pedialyte, honey and Motrin.
My anxiety usually reaches an all-time high when he is sick, but this time, I’ve been able to be so in tune with him, I’m able to gut-check and rely on my own instincts more. I have been so much mentally healthier for it.
We get sick when we are already run down, not taking good enough care of ourselves. This full-stop embargo on real life that has infiltrated my home for three weeks since I first fell sick has been a gift in its own way. I tend to burn at a fast rate; hyper-functioning can become my default. As frustrating as it can feel to be removed from the outside world, to miss out on opportunities or events, or to feel like you’re chomping at the bit of a new scene you want to get down NOW (just me?), it has been really nice, essential even, to slow down. For myself and my kiddo.
We can and should allow ourselves the space to remove outside expectation, external pressure, and go quiet whenever we can feel our bodies, minds or spirits needing nurturing. If you’re looking for permission to do this, this is it. If you are generally blessed with good health, life will resume at a neck-breaking pace soon enough. For now? Hot tea, good reads, long naps and grace.
Surviving so we can get back to thriving.