By Lisa Sugarman
So I’m sitting here typing, starting what I was sure would be an award-winning column about something super timely and impactful, when I sneeze all over my tablet screen. Like need-to-get-up-and-get-Windex-and-paper-towels kind of sneeze. And then it hits me. I have a moral obligation to shelf that column idea and write about something that’s way timelier and more impactful than almost anything right now—the winter cold and flu season. Or, more specifically, how the winter cold and flu season impacts mothers everywhere.
So I just shifted gears and changed direction. My screen is now squeaky clean again and I’ve got a whole new purpose.
Now that it’s the dead of winter and the folks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are busy tabulating all their flu outbreak data from across the country, it’s safe to say that we’re officially in the thick of the season of the Terrible Awful. Which is exactly why I think it’s important to acknowledge and talk about all of the cruel and unusual suffering going on with mothers everywhere.
So with a box of Kleenex to my right, a bottle of Afrin to my left, and a murky orange cocktail of Emergen-C on the side table, I’m thinking ahead to the rest of my week and wondering just exactly how bad this head cold will get. Will the megadoses of vitamin C, Echinacea and zinc I’m taking keep it at bay? Or will the germs coursing through my body breech the borders of my immune system and morph into something ghastly like—I hate to jinx myself—the flu?
At the same time I’m wondering all this, I’m staring at Dave’s business trip flight itinerary in my email inbox, realizing that it really won’t matter if what I have turns into the Swine Flu, because with him away for half the week, I can’t go down, no matter how sick I might get. Going down just isn’t an option.
And that gets me thinking about all my unwell friends out there who have called or texted or visited me at my little reception window at work, who are popping vitamin C tablets like they’re Skittles. Sick moms everywhere are hoisting themselves out of bed every morning, feverish and congested, to feed and drive their kids around. Because while dads are off doing their jobs—either at the office or out of town—mom is on call.
You see, moms, for the most part, don’t have the luxury of succumbing to illness. It’s just not built into the job description. There are wonderful perks to parenthood, for sure. Stuff like lopsided pinch pots and misspelled birthday cards and snuggling and butterfly kisses and all sorts of other great stuff; but there’s very little vacation time, hardly any worker’s comp, and zero sick leave. For a mom, getting sick is just a sidebar that really has no direct impact on the bigger story.
And since the majority of caregivers are moms, if mom goes down, everyone goes down. If mom stumbles and doesn’t get back up, the earth will automatically start rotating the wrong way, pull out of its orbit, and everyone will slide right off the planet.
I mean, think back. Back to a time when getting sick, even if it was something really awful and ugly, was never all that terrible because you had mom there to take care of you. The only thing you had to worry about was sitting up high enough in bed so your chicken soup didn’t dribble down your face while you were eating it off the TV tray. But for us, now that we are the mom, there’s no rest for the weary. It’s all on us.
I remember, back in the day, when we caught a virus or the flu or some other nasty germ, it automatically meant endless hours of daytime TV, feety pajamas, and Dimetapp by the tablespoonful. Aside from the feeling miserable part, it was almost like being at a spa. Almost. We were responsible for absolutely nothing, except maybe changing our pjs every two days and making it to and from the bathroom without making a sissy in our pants. Those were the good-old days. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. When we were sick, we had the ability to take advantage of the one and only upside of feeling awful: Mom.
Now fast forward 15-20 years. You’re a grown up. You’ve got a husband, a job, a couple of kids, a house, and 25 hours’ worth of chores jammed into the average day. Now you’re playing in a whole new ballgame. Only this time, there are no subs or timeouts or delays of game. Play never stops. Ever. Not even when you’re vomiting up organs or crawling to your minivan on all fours.
Ok, I’m exaggerating. But only a little. Truth is, when we all said “hello” to those ten little fingers and ten little toes for the first time, we punched in on the job and there’s no punching out. There’s no double overtime, no worker’s comp plan, no vacation pay, and no weekends off. I mean, even the leader of the free world can shoot up to Camp David for a break when he’s feeling overworked, but not the average mom. It’s all on us.
But that’s ok. It’s worth it. And most every one of us agrees. Us taking care of our young is just the natural order of things. And as challenging as that may sometimes be, none of us would change it for the world. Remember when, as a new parent, all you begged for was your screaming newborn to fall asleep because you were exhausted? Then what did you do? You sat there watching the baby sleep for 45 minutes because you just couldn’t get enough.
I suppose I’m just saying all this because I feel your pain this time of year, that’s all. Especially at this exact moment, while my nasal passages are so thick that it’s like trying to inhale while my mouth is stapled shut and I have a metal clamp my nose. I get what you’re going through and I empathize. I really do. It’s not easy doing what we all do on any regular day, let alone doing it while we’re hallucinating, vomiting, sniffling, sneezing, limping or crawling.
But the way I see it, life is cyclical, so it’ll come around again in another 50 or so years, when our kids will be taking care of us. So just be patient. Personally, though, I’d like to prolong that inevitability as long as possible. So for the time being, I guess I’ll just keep a stiff upper lip and drag myself through the week until Dave gets home and I can call in the Reserves. Until then, it’s business as usual. Power on, ladies.
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Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn OR follow her blog at https://itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com.