31 March 2011

Fog of sick

March is killing me this year; there hasn't been a week this month during which at least one of my children was ill. I was feeling a certain arrogance this year for our relative good health compared with last winter, but the ruthlessness of March has cured me of this.

I can no longer keep track of who's been sick when, and on the rare days when everyone has gone to school, I am at a loss for what to do without all the temperature taking, ministering of bromides, brewing of tea and soothing.

I finally got sick myself two weeks ago. It was the most lovely kind of ill, when you know it’s nothing serious but you feel shitty enough to justify taking a few days off. In a 24 hour period I watched Downton Abbey in its entirety. By the time I started feeling better and tired of being housebound someone else spiked a fever, forcing me to spend another few days indoors.

And so it's been all month, my children lobbing viruses around in a very impressive volley, in what seems like a plot to keep me from ever leaving the house. Last Wednesday I started feeling sick again, and woke in the middle of the night with piercing pain in my left ear. Although I am not a doctor I quickly diagnosed myself with an ear infection. Lacking a medical license, I went to my doctor on Thursday. David just started a new job and can’t take days off right now, and I was incapable of driving myself, so my wife had to take me. Yea, verily it is good to have a wife.

Ear infections are mother-fucking painful. I silently issued an apology to my children for any grumbling I may have done when they woke me in the middle of the night screaming in ear pain. The upper left quadrant of my head was weighty, leading me about like a compass seeking due north. Miniscule creatures bored into my ear canal with tiny pickaxes, whilst another contingent used my eardrum as a trampoline.

I am fairly stoic when it comes to pain — I (reluctantly) birthed a child without benefit of anesthesia mdash; and this ear pain was on par with that point in labor when the pain is becoming uncomfortable enough that you request the epidural. (Which in my case, never came, but that is another story.) I spent Thursday and Friday curled in a fetal position taking steadily increasing doses of ibuprofen to no avail while waiting for the antibiotic to kick in, which it did not. When I stood up, I teetered like a drunken toddler, unable to gain my footing.

Sarah and Gabriel were also home sick, and driving was still out of the question, so I kept Sacha home from school as well. Friday morning I told Sarah that I might need some help taking care of everyone, whereupon she declared, “This is going to be the worst day ever, because we are all sick, and there in no one to take care of us.” When the sad violins ceased to play, I replied, “Well, at least you have tv.” And so my children watched the hell out of that television; by the end of the day I heard it gently weeping in the corner whenever someone approached.

My lowest point came at the end of the day. I hadn’t eaten anything, and by evening I was hungry. David brought home sushi, but when I brought the first piece to my lips I discovered that I could not sufficiently open my jaw to allow it entry. Although I was in no shape for marital relations, I began fantasizing about David fucking me in the ear on the off chance that it might relieve the pressure.  

On Saturday my doctor switched my medicine, and by Monday I began to improve. The pressure is still great, but the pain has diminished significantly. I can’t hear very well, but I’m getting used to the constant ringing in my ear.

My balance is still significantly compromised. Driving is questionable, but Sacha has to get to school, and groceries need procuring. Yesterday I experienced a brief bout of motion sickness as I navigated my cart around the bends in the market. I kept having to stop and wait for my brain to stop bobbing around in my skull. On two feet I careen like a marble in a labyrinth. A sneeze sends my flying backwards, and I’ve learned to hold on tightly to railings and stay close to the walls. It’s physical comedy gold.

Meanwhile, Sarah had strep again! She spent almost a week home with a fever before I could get her to the doctor. She finally went back to school today, and Sacha woke this morning with a fever. March, you are fucking with me.

23 March 2011

Beware the green-eyed monster

It remains a mystery to me how families with young children manage to take winter vacations; in my experience if there is a school break, invariably at least one of my children falls ill. Sacha had a fever for the better part of Christmas break, and in February, with the schools closed for two days, Sarah spiked an honest to god fever, as opposed to her recent attempt to will one into existence.

When I took her to the doctor she tested positive for strep. Does anyone else find it strangely validating to take your kids to the doctor with non-specific viral symptoms and leave with a prescription? I always want to high five the doctor and say, “Yes; I made the right choice coming here!” Sarah’s fever did not break until the end of the week, so she spent her second consecutive week home.

When Sarah started to improve, Sacha got sick. Now I had two sick children, and a third who was going to feel mightily put upon in the morning when he discovered that he was the only one going to school.

Gabriel is the middle child, and possesses a naturally unguarded, emotionally open temperament. He is both empathic and extremely sensitive, keenly feeling any possible slight or exclusion. With Sarah and Sacha home, he envisioned missing a day of debauchery spent lounging in pajamas, eating in front of the television.

Predictably, he feigned ill in the morning, and when I refused to indulge him he became weepy. I began addressing this with a tautological approach, reminding him that it sucks to be sick, because you are sick. This of course failed; adults are barely rational where emotional matters are concerned, children even less so. I pointed out that he had a class trip, play date and birthday party to look forward to throughout the week, which was also unsuccessful. I tried consoling him that given the odds, he too would be sick soon, but delayed gratification ranks just below reason as an effective strategy for reassuring children.

Then he asked me, “Do you ever get jealous?”
“Of course I do.”
“What do you do when you’re jealous?”
As I struggled for a way to explain mindfulness, I began talking more or less out my ass. “Sometimes, I like to imagine my jealousy like a ball,” I said, which is not at all true.
“What kind of ball?”
“It doesn’t mat--” and then I realized I might be on to something. “It's different sizes, depending on how jealous I feel. Sometimes it’s big and heavy, like a medicine ball, or if I’m only a little jealous, it’s light, like a ping pong ball. And I play with it; I toss or throw it around, or bounce it really high. When I get tired of playing with it I throw it as far as I can, or maybe roll it down a hill, so I won’t see it again.”

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for spinning bullshit into a possibly useful metaphor.

Gabriel considered this, then asked, “Can it be a cat? And if I’m only a little jealous I just pet it softly, or if I’m really jealous I can pet it hard.”
“Are you talking about a real cat?”
“No, a pretend one.”
“That’s fine then. You know you have to be gentle with a real cat.”
“I know.”

Acceptable parameters of aggression release on metaphorical cats established, I walked him to school. When I picked him up that afternoon, he asked, “Mama, did you see anything beautiful on your walk home this morning?” Later, on the way to Hebrew school he asked our neighbor, “So, how are you doing in middle school this year?”

This is the flip side of an empathic child: sensitive, vulnerable, and singularly effective at detonating a mother’s heart.


Gabriel finally got a stomach virus, and spent a few days at home enjoying the pleasure of television and my excellent nursemaid services. Once he was feeling better and back at school, he made a confession.

“Mama, remember when Sarah and Sacha were sick and I really wished I was sick too?”
“Well, it wasn’t actually much fun being sick. It was kind of boring, and I didn’t feel well.”  

I did not say I told you so.

01 March 2011


Sarah made a triumphant return to school this week after an almost two week absence. Two weeks ago, she began complaining of amorphous symptoms: sore throat, headache, stomachache, but had no fever. A stomach virus was ripping through town, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt, and picked her up early on Monday. This was my first mistake. 

She was lethargic and continued to complain about symptoms, so I let her stay home on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This was my second mistake.

I had a lovely week with Sarah. We lazed about the house watching television and reading quietly together, baking cookies and a chocolate frosted layer cake crowned with fairy dust gold sanding sugar that appeared to her in a vision. As I consider this more a tactical error than a full-blown mistake, I will call it mistake 2.5.

By week’s end we were veering into home schooling territory. I’d called school so often to report absences that I’d memorized the phone number, which is more than I can say for anyone in my immediate family.

I brought her in late on Friday morning, and was not surprised when she texted me asking to come home. Instead of taking a firm line against this I suggested she could tough it out. This was my third mistake.

Sensing my equivocation, she replied that her stomach was kiiilling her and pleeese could I pick her up? Had she been to the nurse? Of course not, and BTW she was now in French, FYI, so I could save everyone the trouble of having locate her. I may have mentioned before that she is extremely efficient, and an excellent project manager. Because she is just such damn delightful company, and an all around pleasure to have around, I relented. Mistake number four.

By now I was highly suspect of her claims of illness. I had many clues all week, most recently that morning, when she declared her intention to go into town after school, which clearly did not reconcile with a need to convalesce. I didn't doubt that she perceived her symptoms to be real, but it seemed increasingly likely that they were more psychosomatic than viral. I give my children perhaps too wide a berth in this regard — I am overly concerned that they know that I hear them, and also highly susceptible to the flattery implicit in their desire to be with me.

I was in a bind, because now I knew I'd been making the wrong calls all week, and further compounded this by agreeing to pick Sarah up. I was complicit in her deception, and in jeopardy of losing my claim to authority. I called David to get his opinion as to how to proceed, but he was not at his desk. So I resorted to Plan B, and called my wife, aka my friend Sharon, who, taking a harder line than me on such matters, put me straight.

I texted Sarah to say I'd changed my mind; she was to stay at school and rest when she got home. I pointed out that as she was not allowed to use her phone at school, if I received another message I would take away her phone.

I did not hear from her again for the rest of the day. The mysterious illness disappeared, not without leaving me with the knowledge that I’d been thoroughly hoodwinked.

I comforted myself by remembering one of the central tenets of child-rearing: do not fret when you handle a situation wrong, as you will have ample opportunities to take a different approach the next time your children try pulling the same bullshit, as they surely will, and probably sooner than you think.