The Unicorn: A Sick Day for Mom

Sick days top the list of “what I wish I would have appreciated before becoming a parent.” I had no idea how much I could miss sitting listlessly on a couch because of some terrible virus. If there were honest parenting manuals, they should include the chapter, “Moms Don’t Get Sick Days.”

It has been like clockwork for the past eight years. If I come down with something, I am sure to be taking care of someone else. One weekend my husband went to a family wedding out of town and I stayed with our 1-year-old and 3-year-old. Soon after he left, my stomach started the churning of a stomach bug and I had no way out. I remember the 3-year-old asking, “what’s coming out of your mouth?” as I was, of course, surrounded while kneeling on the bathroom floor.

That’s why when this last weekend a stomach bug struck me down mid-Sunday, I ended up with a miracle.

One of my all-time worst days as a parent was when all of us got food poisoning, except the baby. Of course, the girls at ages 3 and 5, started throwing up in the middle of the night, and were fine by morning, right when we were struck. So my husband and I hadn’t slept, and could barely suck on an ice cube or move from our couches, but we had three kids not even close to self-sufficient to somehow care for all day.

I went years without vomiting in my adulthood. YEARS. It’s common knowledge that having children means more sickness, but how much so? A recent study in Utah found that adults without children spend 3-4 weeks of the year with illness; having one child increases that to 18 weeks and families with six children had an average of 45 weeks a year with illness! If this sounds like a lot even when it seems kids are "always" sick, the study explained that these "weeks with illness" included tests positive for a viral illness, even if those germ incubators (aka children) did not show symptoms. This may explain why on more than one occasion, a standard wellness visit has revealed a double ear infection for my kids.

For any of us with experience doing the daycare dance of contagion (should we send them to school or not?), we know if we kept our kid home every time he had a snotty nose, he would never be at school. Data from the Utah study backed this up, showing that children younger than five “had at least one virus detected in their nasal mucus for 50 percent of the year.”

So living with these cute little cesspools we love so much, who often have no personal space and freely share their snot and saliva, what does that mean for parents? You can probably guess: It means that we get sick more too – like 150% more often than adults our age without kids. (And this does not count the extra fun stuff like food poisoning.)

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As if it's not bad enough that family life with young children seems to be a circle of sickness and waiting for sickness, I was able to find one statistic that mothers miss an average 17 days of work a year to care for their children’s health (this presumably does not include their own health when the mothers get sick). How many work places give 17 days or more of annual sick leave? So on top of dealing with sick children and possibly our own sick selves, we have this added stress of how to miss work and possibly not get paid for it.

As a Mom, the common cold, flu, and stomach bugs take on a whole new meaning. They are totally disruptive to any semblance of routine, ruin any good sleep stretches, can add major work and financial stress, and if we get sick too, we can’t even wallow in it because most of us don’t have our Moms next door to take care of us. For those of us with multiple kids, the phase of lots of sicknesses in the early years can feel relentlessly constant.

That’s why when this last weekend a stomach bug struck me down mid-Sunday, I ended up with a miracle. It was painful and terrible through the night, but eased up Monday morning. I stayed home Monday to recover, alone, and I cherished it. I watched some TV that no one else wants to watch with me. I lazily listened to podcasts while dozing on the couch. I took a 2-hour nap – something I can never do when children are in the house, because I just wait to be woken up. I mostly ignored the possible household tasks surrounding me, just washing a few dishes. It was peaceful and quiet and all I had to worry about was me. It was the best sick day ever.

My husband and I are planning a getaway this weekend as rare as this sick day I just had: one overnight stay at a hotel while grandma comes from out of town to watch the kids. So clearly that means this stomach bug is lurking in other bellies, waiting to pounce. And the snot of springtime that arrived this week in all the noses may be breeding something more devastating than the sniffles.

But at least I had my unicorn sick day.