The challenge of writing a bi-weekly column as a mother of four young children is this: Most writing benefits from the writer leaving the house. Seeing the greater world. Having new experiences. While I do occasionally manage to leave the house, it takes 30-minutes to get out the door, and then my attention isn’t so much on the greater world as on the wriggling little people in my care.
Last month, my usual challenge was made even more challenging when our entire family fell sick over the course of a ten-day period. So, because I’ve left the house even less than usual in the past two weeks, I’m going to write about what I know: illness.
I’m not sure exactly how many viruses made their way through our house. I only know that, one after another, our daughters were reduced to zombielike shells. We had it all: fever, chills, aches, upset stomach, coughing. When the dust settled, there was only one grandfather left standing; each of our four daughters, myself, three grandparents (who came to help while my husband was on a 2-week work trip to Africa), and – after his return– my husband, had all been stricken at least once.
Our 7-month-old was officially diagnosed with the influenza virus when we finally took her to the pediatrician. The doctor thinks the flu was likely what took down the majority of our family, although we’d all gotten our flu shots. She explained that it’s still possible to get the flu if you’ve been immunized, but you probably avoid hospitalization and death. So, there was that bright side.
I know very few families who’ve been untouched by illness this season; many, like us, found their households invaded by the flu. Several local health care professionals have told me that this has been a particularly bad year for sickness in Addison County.
If your own family is in the midst of an outbreak, there’s hope: Our family is still standing; we’re exhausted and still hacking away with lingering coughs, but we’re standing, darn it!
Some things I learned from our ten days in quarantine:
1. Cancel everything. My goal each morning is to get as many kids out the door as possible, so I tend to be unsympathetic when it comes to health complaints; if you’re not running a fever, you’d better be able to produce some impressive coughing or vomiting if you want me to keep you home. Also, I’d like you to recover within 24 hours. This illness that’s going around, however, demands time. If your family gets it, expect multiple days home from school. Expect to cancel at least a week of your life. Better to set realistic expectations and take all the time you need to recover fully.
2. Don’t buy the Gatorade! We hate to see our sick kids lose their appetites, so we try to lure them back to eating by offering special, “sick treat” foods. Sick food is usually a huge waste. For instance, my daughter always asks for Gatorade when she’s sick. The problem? She doesn’t actually like Gatorade. If I gussy it up with ice cubes and a twisty straw, she’ll take two sips with her parched lips. Then she’ll sink back on her pillows and shake her head. (This despite promising me, her feverish eyes welling with tears, “No, really, I WILL drink it!!”) My husband is currently drinking his way through the 12-pack of Gatorade in our mudroom.
3. Jello and Saltines? See #2 above.
4. Prioritize “Parent-Free” entertainment options. As any parent knows, the worst part of illness is when the kids start to feel better, but still aren’t well enough to return to school. One little burst of energy can turn a sick sweetie into a cranky tyrant. When my six-year-old was in the throes of this latest illness, I couldn’t even rouse her by waving my iPod under her nose; two days later, it was like having Leona Helmsley on the living room couch. “Water!” she’d bark. “Read book!”
I find it’s best to prepare for the getting-better-grumps by lining up plenty of entertainment options -- preferably ones that don’t involve you directly. (My personal favorite is the “Sticker Dolly Dressing” series of activity books by Usborne, which keep my girls independently entertained for hours. The “Color Blast” books by Melissa & Doug, and Crayola’s “Color Magic” pages are also good bets – and both feature no-mess markers, perfect for on-couch coloring.)
Then: videos. Use them liberally. Hey, it’s a special occasion.
If you’d like to feel more hands-on with your children, sick days are good times for nail painting. I usually cringe when my girls ask me to paint their nails, since it involves lots of wriggling and smudging and nail polish on the floor. But when immobilized by illness, even my two-year-old sat still for five straight minutes while her nails dried. (I, on the other hand, knocked over the bottle of blue nail polish and stained the living room carpet forever).
5. Enjoy the temporary quiet. Soon enough, you’ll all be well again. And once our daughters had returned to their regularly-scheduled program of shrieking and squabbling and furniture-climbing, my husband and I looked at each other and wondered, “Why did we want them to get better?”
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.