Why a sick child made me grateful



My eldest child started kindergarten this year, which might be why we’ve had more sickness so far this fall than we usually do.

We all had strep. Then, the 3-year-old came home with a tummy bug. He got sick — really sick — in the kitchen while I was cooking dinner right before Thanksgiving. Very few surfaces in the room managed to escape the grossness.

I washed my hands thoroughly, then texted a friend. “G just puked. All over me. While I was cooking. Maybe I should go clean it up instead of texting.”

That’s possibly not the most responsible text I’ve ever sent, but by then my kid was comfortable. And I needed community. All parents do.

Hence, as a parent, my point of gratitude (POG) No. 1 is this: I’m grateful for my community.

I spread an old towel on the floor. I got the kid on it, stripped him down, wiped his body with a warm washcloth, and dressed him in pajamas. Then I put the whole mess of soiled fabric right into the washing machine, threw detergent in, and closed the lid. Pressed bulky load, hot water, start.

Just like that, all those germs would be washed away. I didn’t have to wash it all by hand in a stream with a washboard. I didn’t even have to travel a block to the nearest laundromat. My boy would be zipping back into his favorite fire-truck hoodie again in the morning.

So, my POG No. 2: I’m glad for laundry machines in my house.

Related: The Home Cleaning Wars

By the time my husband returned home from work, I had abandoned plans for a candle-lit, sit-down family dinner in favor of microwaved leftovers snarfed in the kitchen by those whose tummies were up to the task.

I had texted him, too (“Got puke”), so the poor man knew the situation before he walked in the door. He patted the little guy who was ensconced in towels at that point as well as waterproof pads on the couch. “What can I do to be most helpful?” he asked. Seriously.

POG No. 3: My husband said, “How can I help?” I told him to go change his clothes so he would be battle-ready.

Our son’s sickness continued through bedtime. Could it be the strep we had a couple of weeks ago?  Was it just something he ate, as doctors say most “tummy bugs” actually are?

My POG No. 4: We have medical care. Doctors are on call when I really need them. Health insurance and a medical flexible-spending account help manage the cost. Antibiotics can knock out diseases that could once turn deadly.

Related: Kids’ Cancer Goes to the Dogs

I tucked my now white-as-a-sheet son into bed and sat down on an ottoman next to him. I could tell he was feeling scared, the way I remember feeling when I was sick as a kid. The vomiting could start again any minute, and it would feel awful.

He didn’t want me to leave his side, so, well after our usual story and prayer rituals, I stayed, my hand on his foot in the dark. He was comfortable, at least.

He sleeps on the bottom bunk of a sturdy bunk bed he shares with his brother. He has a fluffy down pillow with a soft cotton case. His comforter, encased in a washable cover adorned with bright cars and trucks, keeps him warm. There are so many stuffed animals in his bed, sometimes I can’t find him. A roof over our heads protects us from rain, and a climate-control system keeps us comfortable no matter the weather. Photos of refugee children sleeping outdoors have reminded me lately that all of this is really wonderful, and not everyone has it.

My POG No. 5: I have a home — our home. 

My son didn’t want me to leave his side, so I stayed with him, my hand on his foot in the dark.

I sat next to him for hours, long after he’d fallen asleep. I listened to his breathing, glad to hear it calm. I heard his brother’s snorty inhalations coming from above, and felt glad only one child was sick, at least for now, and started to think about the next school day. One would go, and one would have to stay home, even if he was feeling better in the morning, as school policy states kids mustn’t return until they have been illness-free for 24 hours.

Related: Two Kids Born in a Row

I mentally juggled my schedule to accommodate this. At first, I felt frustrated. That to-do list is long, especially before hosting a holiday dinner. Then I realized my worries were minor. My family’s income wouldn’t suffer because of a sick day. I didn’t fear I’d lose my job, or miss commissions, if I took the time my kid needed. We might even have fun the next day, since at our house you got nearly unlimited television time if you had to miss school because you’re sick.

My POG No. 6: We would have time together.

Come morning, my big kid was off to school as usual, and the little one was super thirsty and holding down a little dry toast. A friend sent a group text to see if anyone wanted to meet up that morning. I replied that we were home sick, and another wrote back to say she would be running errands all morning. Did I need anything?

Yes! Dishwasher detergent. We used our last pod last night, and I hadn’t figured out what to do about it yet.

It came back to POG No. 1: community. 

I’ve never really felt much holiday spirit. This year, I’m hoping to feel extra grateful to have everyone hale and hearty. But even if I can’t have that, I’m going to feel more grateful than usual for everything else we have — especially when we’re sick.