In Sickness and in Hell

Warning: The following image will make you simultaneously tear up and say “awe.” Much like the dogs and cats in those ASPCA commercials, add a little Sarah MacLauchlan, and you’ll be whipping out your checkbooks to contribute to my ‘Oliver is sick’ fund.

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Okay so maybe it just makes me tear up a little, mostly because I know how miserable Oliver was this past week while fighting a nasty cold. For anyone who has ever had a sick kid, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it’s just as rough for the parent as it is for the child.

First there is the fact that watching your child suffer, for whatever reason, is torture.

I may not be the one with the fever but boy does my head pound when I realize there is little I can do, Tylenol aside, to bring it down.

I may not be the one hacking and wheezing and dealing with a constant stream of snot dripping from my nose, but boy does my chest tighten up when I realize that, besides cranking up the humidifier, I can do little to ease his cough.

Then there is the rarely admitted fact that dealing with a child who is suffering takes that torture to a new level. Like if watching him suffer is the physical equivalent of getting punched in the gut, dealing with that suffering child is equivalent to getting punched in the gut during a WWE cage match with The Rock. (Note: superfluous wrestling reference for my husband’s sake; translation: really really hard).

I may not be the cranky, irritable one dropping to the floor in a fit of rage because mommy handed me the wrong colored sippy cup, but I am secretly wishing I could throw a fit of my own when Oliver does it.

Is it okay to admit that? Does it make me bad a mom?

I’m going to throw this out there, having a sick toddler requires a black-belt, Zen-master level of patience and nurturing. I’m only a yellow-belt on my best days. Despite knowing Oliver’s increased irritability and clinginess were a direct result of feeling lousy, I was barely hanging on to my sanity by the end of the week. If you ask my husband, I might have actually let go.

When the crankiness finally hit the tipping point, I pulled out all my tricks to try and calm him down. I tried hugs. I tried distractions. I tried ignoring the behavior. I tried talking to him, rationally explaining his feelings and the appropriate reaction (Seriously, don’t even waste your time with this one). I tried falling head over heels to accommodate his needs. He’s sick after all I told myself. But nothing seemed to quell the tears—his or mine.

In order to fortify myself against it, I had to admit that, like his fever and his cough, there was little I could do to control it. Once I let go of the expectation—once I learned to embrace the tears instead of fighting them—I was able to stay much calmer and, subsequently, so was Oliver.

Now on the other side of Coldmagedon 2014, with my happy, bubbly baby returned and my own blood pressure back down to a solid 120/80, I can pass on the wisdom I learned from this experience.

1) Set Aside Routine. I’ve discovered over time that as much as Oliver thrives with a solid routine, so do I.  I look forward to his regularly scheduled naptime. I like to be able to predict the order in which our daily activities will occur. There is a comfort there. When you have a sick toddler though, forget about all that and just run with whatever makes you and your sick kiddo happy in the moment.

2) Indulge in “Lazy Day” Activities. You know what I’m talking about, those things we all love to do—watch TV, curl up with a good book, lounge around doing nothing—but feel guilty doing too often. When you’re toddler is sick, you and he have a free pass to do them as much as you want. If he is too distracted by Mickey Mouse cartoons to remember that he feels sick and, subsequently, scream at the top of his lungs for hours on end, that is a win in my book.

3) Pretend You Have a New Born. Remember when your toddler was an infant and everyone told you things like 1) sleep when the baby sleeps 2) forget about keeping the house clean 3) ignore the advice of others and go with your instincts, 4) make time for yourself, and 5) let go of perfect and just be good enough. All these things once again apply, so embrace that middle of the day nap!

4) Accept Help. I want you to go beyond accepting help; I want you to ask for it. Reach out to anyone and everyone, and shamelessly beg for assistance. Even the strongest will is no match for a sick toddler—you’re going to need support.

5) Tell yourself This too shall pass. Repeat as needed.

What would you add to the list?