How Do You Find Time to Be Sick?

Health & Wellness on 09.28.11
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Photo: sunshinecity/Creative Commons


When I began writing this post, I was lying on the couch, freezing then sweating then freezing then hungry then not wanting even water to touch my dry lips then clutching my aching midsection then freezing again.

I was miserable.

For the first time since becoming a parent a year and a half ago, I asked my husband to take a day off so he could care for our son, Stefen, while I was in bed. I don't work on Tuesdays so I'm always happily home with the boy, who is in daycare on all other weekdays while we're at work, but on this particular Tuesday, I absolutely, positively, under no circumstances was well enough to be a mother. I was weak and achy and could barely lift my own arm over my head, never mind lift a 26-pound toddler.

It worked out OK because in relation to my work schedule, I can kinda-sorta make time for being sick on Tuesdays, but only if it's not during my husband's busy season. If it's his busy season, I can't be sick at all from April until July. If I'm sick on a Tuesday, I can't be sick on Wednesday too if it's the week before a holiday. During the week of a holiday, I can't be sick at all. Wednesdays are out now because I have to take my son to physical therapy, but Thursdays are OK maybe unless my work schedule is switched around.

You get the idea.

If you do not have a nanny or your child is not in school (and even then as well), the logistics of health and illness when you become a parent introduce a scheduling nightmare, a literal equation of hours earned and time lost and money saved and spent for additional childcare when help is essential. The configuring that goes on when you are the one who is sick is completely different from the one that goes on when your child is sick: When your child is under the weather, you feel terrible for feeling inconvenienced, but their health is the priority, as is their care, so you don't think twice in bending over backwards to ensure the proper supervision is secured, whether it's you doing the supervising, or a relative, or a babysitting service, anybody. But when you are the one who is sick, it's harder to justify shutting down and allowing yourself the same care you insist upon for your offspring.

Every time I feel an instinct to stay home — an instinct I would have indulged before I had a baby — I pause, then talk myself out if it, because the first thought that enters my mind is, "I need my sick days for when Stefen's sick. So what if I have pneumonia and threw out my back? It's not so bad." Along those lines, more than feeling guilty for not parenting my son while being home with him, I felt guilty for eating up my husband's sick time. Double guilt is double fun!

As my best friend, Stacy, says, our hair could be on fire and we still wouldn't go to the doctor because we just don't have time. I mean, if you have a bucket and a sink, you can douse the blaze and be only 15 minutes late for your morning meeting. You may have to change your shirt first, but you have a spare that you shoved into your glove compartment, right? There's not too much baby puke on it.

Here's the part when I complain: With my job (or, including freelance work, jobs), raising a son with developmental delays, managing the logistics of his care, and running the day-to-day of my home, my life is not my own. I don't schedule my own doctor appointments, I haven't found time to get a haircut, I don't work out. I know many, if not most, of you have the exact same problem.

Everybody says you have to take care of yourself because you can't be good for your family if you're not healthy and happy. So how do we navigate that? How can we stay healthy and sane if we can't manage to take a mental-health day? (Remember those? Mental-health days were so pretty. So very sparkly and pretty ...) If you're a stay-at-home parent, you don't even get sick days or mental-health days at all. And if you're a working parent, taking a sick day is about much more than health, because your job represents the financial stability of your family and the opportunities you're able to provide for your child, and stepping away from that for a day, even if for the very best reason, involves a great deal of self-flagellation before coming to a decision.

Here's the thing of it, though: When I chose to have a baby, I agreed to all the sacrifices and difficulties that come with parenthood, including my own compromised health and the schedule wrangling that goes with it. This was my choice. It's the best choice I've ever made. So just like with everything else, I have to set aside pissing and moaning about how lousy I feel and just figure it out. (That's harder to do than we'd like it to be, of course.) Parenting requires an inordinate amount of planning and also the flexibility to handle pretty much everything day by day. Getting sick is one of those things. You have a list of backup babysitters and a rough idea of when you can miss a day of work, and hope the two mesh when you need them to.

So how do I find time to be sick? The answer is: I don't. And when I can't get out of bed, I don't, and leave my trust in anybody who goes to bat for my family while I sleep. And I'll feel a whole lot better on Wednesday.


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