I sit in the rocker cradling a barely awake Mallory, staring at her face for a while as her focus drifts in and out. Her head feels hot in the nook of my arm even through my thick sweater. My light pink hoodie is now stained orange with vomit on the left shoulder. Her shirt is saturated with vomit too. I wiped away the chunks at the kitchen sink before I gave her Advil to reduce the fever. Now we sit and wait it out a while, just being close to each other, by the open window, before it’s time to change our clothes. The March air breezes in as we rock in silence.
It’s a terrible thing to have a sick child. I just want to keep my girls from all pain and suffering. Of course I can’t. I can just try to manage the symptoms and keep them feeling secure. But I have truly learned the meaning of the phrase, “my heart goes out to them”. When my girls cry in the night there is a physical pull on my chest as I feel visceral sympathy and a desire to help them.
When it’s a fever, some things I do are:
- Crack the window to varying degrees depending how cold it is outside
- Dress them in lighter clothing, skip the sleep sack for sleeptime
- Offer water-filled teethers from the fridge
- Offer frozen mango chunks in silicone feeders
- Offer a cold wet cloth or a wrapped freeze pack
- Advil and Tylenol, sometimes alternating if I feel they’re needed often enough. But sometimes with a flu the strong sweet smell of these is so repulsive to the girls that they both will vomit if it comes close!
For congestion (cough or nasal or both):
- Run humidifiers in their rooms while they sleep
- Prop their mattress up a little with a towel to raise their head a bit
- Vicks “Baby” for Mallory and Vicks “Children” for Madison on their chest or on the outside of their clothes (so they inhale the scent).
- Cross my fingers that any of that does anything but know I will still be up several times in the night
For any illness I do my best to offer sympathy above all else. Madison loses all sense of that toddler independence when she doesn’t feel well. She wants me to do everything for her. I do as much as I can manage but I draw the line at carrying her around because I usually have to carry Mallory, and also I have recurring neck and shoulder issues. It can be hard to have sympathy for a toddler though, let me tell you. She is not a perfect little patient, that’s for sure. I find sometimes it helps if the illness hits me a little too so I’m actually more empathetic, even though feeling awful myself should give me less patience. I guess it can go either way.
Despite everything I do I still feel that tug when they cry out. I want to help them. I want to do something. What more can I do? Nothing. I have to wait it out. I can go to bed earlier to be better for them tomorrow.
The colds and flus come way more often than I ever knew. Madison goes to a daycare with lots of kids and she is usally our patient zero. She has a fever or a runny nose first and then it trickles through our family usually one by one though I usually have milder symptoms and Matt sometimes has barely any. By the time we’ve all had it, it’s been about 3 weeks since hers started. Then we might get a break for about a week before the next one hits. Since she began daycare just over a year ago we have averaged 1-2 illnesses per month. That’s a lot. Basically the only time I feel “safe” from something coming is when it’s already here. I’m told this is normal for a child in daycare, albeit the “high end of normal”. I am shocked. Supposedly it peters off after a while as their immune systems start to build up. When, please? I’d like to know EXACTLY how much more of this we all have to endure!
It’s not just regular cold and flu symptoms either. Have you ever heard of croup? It’s a real-life nightmare. We’ve learned about a few other popular viruses, too. According to our family doctor there are five common rashes that basically all kids get. We started with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease courtesy of Madison and a breakout at daycare. Doesn’t that sound awful? Yeah it is. It’s a blistery rash concentrated on your hands (including painful finger tips), feet (including clusters between the toes) and mouth (outside and inside potentially). Oh yeah and some clusters between their little butt cheeks and a few blisters spread on Madison’s legs and arms and Mallory’s neck. It hurt the soles of our feet to walk. It hurt my finger tips to open containers. I thankfully didn’t have it on my mouth. It’s highly contagious though so I did get it and so did Mallory. I had intense head aches and fatigue. I felt dreadful. We all did. Matt somehow escaped it. I guess because he gets to go to work (lol) so he wasn’t around it as much. There was very little we could do to soothe it but cool water felt good and the doctor prescribed a topical ointment to prevent fungal infection on top of everything else. It lasted several days and I felt like a leper during and after the fact.
Illness of any kind during a pandemic is a bigger curse than it once was. Not only are we basically not allowed to go anywhere with symptoms, but I also can’t really call in reinforcements (AKA my mom, mostly) because getting them sick would mean they can’t go anywhere or do anything either. The stakes are so high. So at our hardest times we are alone in it. It’s lonely and hard. Phone calls for to vent or distract are helpful. The offers to come take care of the girls (that I don’t accept) are helpful. Fresh air and sunshine out with the stroller helps. We do what we can. We survive. We wait it out. We try to have some fun when we’re not deep in the throws of vomit and fevers.
And when it’s over, and Madison goes back to daycare, we reset. I treat the laundry stains, change out the germy hand towels, wipe things down. And Mallory and I enjoy the peace and quiet again. For about 5 days. Until the next one hits.
There are things to enjoy about this and I have to call them out for my own sake and for yours if you are reading this and going “oh God, what am I in for?” We watch movies together all comfy on the couch, without any shame about screen time or laziness. We rock in the rockers. We read extra books. I have more opportunities to teach Madison things when she is home with a runny nose. We have time to bond. I am their safety net. I am of the utmost importance to them in those times. We love each other and need each other. We’re building strength together. And one day we’ll look back on this and be grateful we came out the other side, as a family.