Parenting When You’re Sick
You know Professor Binns, from Harry Potter?
You know how he died in his sleep one night, but then, the next morning, his ghost just got up and went to work as usual?
I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s basically what parenting is. Because, some mornings you wake up, and you’re like, “Oh, OK, I’ve died in the night: that’s the only possible explanation for how terrible I feel right now.” But then the baby monitor kicks into action, and you’re like, “Well, looks like we’re doing this anyway!” And then you get up, and even although you’re LITERALLY DEAD, you still spend the day changing nappies, and reading That’s Not My Elephant, because, hey! You’re a parent now! And that nappy isn’t going to change itself, is it?
On Thursday morning, I woke up dead.
Or, at least, that’s what it felt like, anyway.
My throat was like sandpaper. Every muscle in my body ached. I was simultaneously freezing cold and oddly sweaty. I’d lain awake all night convinced I was about to throw up. I had vague memories of stumbling downstairs the previous evening to tell Terry he’d have to call a doctor, because I couldn’t breathe through my nose AT ALL, and my throat felt a bit swollen, so HELP.
(Terry did NOT call a doctor, needless to say. He DID, however, make me use that horrible nasal irrigation thing where you squirt water up one nostril, and it comes down the other, and, OK, it cleared one of my nostrils, but it also made me cry, so that was fun.)
So, yes, I was pretty sure I was dead. As it turned out, though, I was still alive: I just had the worst cold/flu/no idea bug I’ve had in years.
And so did Terry.
And so did Max.
Thankfully, Max seemed to have gotten the lightest dose of whatever the hell it was. He spent a few days with a runny or blocked nose, and his sleep was understandably disrupted because of it, but when he was awake, he was still – for the most part, anyway – his usual, happy little self. Sure, he was much clingier than normal, and WAY more likely to dissolve into heartbroken sobs because we wouldn’t let him take the batteries out of the remote control and eat them, but still: he didn’t seem to be feeling too bad, which was a huge relief.
Terry and I, on the other hand, felt HORRIFIC. Seriously, I woke up on Thursday and honestly didn’t know how I was going to get out of bed, I felt so ill. I was sure it was the flu at that point (I don’t think it was now, but it really felt like it at the time…), and the only saving grace, as far as I was concerned, was that Terry had caught it a few days before me, so was now mostly on the mend. At least he’d be able to do most of the parenting for the day, I thought, as I hauled myself towards a glass of water, like one of the zombies in The Walking Dead.
Then Terry reminded me he had a client meeting that day, and would be leaving shortly after lunch.
And then I died AGAIN.
Now, I was prepared to try and go it alone – I really was. I mean, I don’t want to give you all the impression here that I’m the kind of person who just falls to pieces when things get tough – even although I totally AM that kind of person, for sure – so let record show that, when Terry reminded me that I’d be solo-parenting that afternoon, I accepted the news without a whimper, even although I was only able to do this by promising myself I’d cry in the shower later. (This is also a good way to define parenting, btw: you have to book in time to feel upset about stuff, because there just isn’t time in the moment it happens. Mostly you forget about whatever it was by the time you’ve got a few spare moments to indulge yourself, so it actually works out pretty well, to be fair.)
Unbeknown to me, though, right before he left for his meeting, Terry called my parents and asked them if they’d mind helping out for a couple of hours. I was actually feeling a little bit better by the time they appeared, but I was also really grateful to know there were other, fully-functioning adults in the house, to step in when Max woke up from his nap and started bouncing off the walls – because, even with the cold, he’s still a very active, very boisterous 10 month old, who doesn’t really understand the need for “quiet time”, you know?
So, my parents turned up, the fog started to lift, and by the next morning, I was functioning at approximately 45% of my usual capacity: which is only about 5% less than I’ve been functioning at since Max was born, really, so I felt almost as good as new.
Honestly, though, without that extra bit of help, I really don’t know how I’d have coped given how bad I was feeling. It’s something I’ve thought many times since Max’s birth, but why aren’t single parents given medals or something? Or people with twins, even? Because I seriously don’t know how those guys do it, and I take my hat off to them, I really do.
But I digress.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve been ill since becoming a parent, but it was the first time I’ve felt so bad that I really didn’t know how I’d be able to cope, and, as well as making me really thankful for the support I get from my parents (And, of course, from the fact that I have Terry here all day with me to share parenting duties), it also prompted a lot of thinking about parenting, and how challenging it can be. Because, this gig’s hard, folks: and one of the hardest parts of it – for me, at least – are those moments when you realise that your own needs aren’t important any more, because, no matter how tired, or sad, or ill you feel, that little person you created still needs you to look after him, just as you would do if you were feeling your best.
Well, ALMOST as you would if you were feeling your best, anyway. I mean, neither Max nor I got out of our pyjamas last Thursday: he got a fresh pair after his bath, but I fell into bed that night wearing the same clothes I’d been wearing when I got out of it that morning, and je ne regrette rein. The bed didn’t get made. The laundry didn’t get done. I woke up on Friday morning to an inbox overflowing with messages I should have answered at least three days ago, and a bedroom littered with tissues.
But Max got fed and played with and loved, and honestly, I think that’s the best you can hope for some days.
It’s hard, though: and not just when you’re ill, either – one of the things I’ve found hardest to deal with this year is the fact that I no longer have time for most of those little acts of self-care I used to take for granted: like getting lost in a book when I’m feeling down, say, or just being able to stay in bed for a while on the mornings I wake up feeling like death. I mean, I’ve read ONE book this year, folks, and it took me about three months. (It was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, just FYI. It was amazing.) And when Max goes to bed, that’s the only opportunity I have to work, so when I see people post on social media about how they can’t wait to get home from work, so they can put their feet up and relax, I sometimes find myself consumed with jealousy at the thought of SO. MUCH. LUXURY. And the freedom! The freedom to just do what you want, whenever you want to! As a self-employed writer, I’ve had that luxury for over a decade now, and, man, but it’s been hard to let go of it. Really, really hard.
So, I spent most of Thursday feeling pretty sorry for myself, not gonna lie. But then, once Max was finally asleep for the night, and I was able to crawl back into my unmade bed, I picked up my phone to check the baby monitor, and it suddenly hit me really, really hard that one day he’s going to be grown up, and off living his own life somewhere, or 18, and out with his friends, and I’m going to wish, more than anything, that he was 10 months old again, and curled up safe in his cot downstairs. My hands are going to itch to open up the monitor app, and look at him on the screen, and I’m going to wish so hard that I could just walk downstairs, and pick up that little warm body, just one more time. I’ll miss it so much that I’ll even think it would be worth re-living that really bad cold, just to be back in that moment when he was still my little baby.
And I guess that’s how you get through it, isn’t it? By knowing that it’s not forever – and that one day you’re going to wish it was.
(I am SUPER glad to be feeling better, though: I mean, let’s not get carried away here…)