Child One is feeling better. She was sick last week. Missed three days of school and a horseshow. At the first sign of congestion (accompanied by intense exhaustion), I told her to stay home. Her compliance was proof positive that she wasn’t well. Since her incident three years ago, any sign of illness is a yellow flag to all of us. Three sets of parental eyes stare warily at Child One if she coughs, much less shows signs of exhaustion, body aches or temperature. We cautiously watch her frail physique, searching for signs of recurrence of the illness that stole so many months of her 14th year. It was not a major illness this time – not something that would last for months and drain her of her energy and spirit – not something that would shake all of us to our very cores and force us to marvel at our helplessness in the face of her illness. This was just a cold. Child Two is not better. He’s on week two of some mystery illness and is weak and tired and sick of being sick. Maybe it’s a low-grade flu, maybe mono or maybe just a cold.
A cold, it turns out, does not bring out the best in me. Nor does a flu, or any kind of fleeting infectious illness. It isn’t that I’m unwilling to cater to the sick. I’m quite good at squeezing an orange, steeping a cup of fresh ginger tea, creating a tempting meal to feed the low appetite of a cold or fever and run around to find the extra blanket, the perfect pillow and a good old fashioned movie for watching. It’s just that I don’t like it. I don’t want to spend my time around sick people. I redeem no self-esteem vouchers for wiping the noses of others or mopping their sweaty brows. I take no pride in sopping up vomit. I am relatively healthy and want to remain so. The idea of spending time in close proximity to someone who I KNOW is infectious does not excite me.
I know this is not very maternal. I know it is not very nurturing. I know that a lack of desire to cater to the ill is not my strong suit. I don’t want to be around sick people and when I’m sick, I don’t want anyone around me. I don’t want someone around petting me, mopping my brow or catering to me. I look bad when I’m sick. My nose is red, my eyes are puffy and my skin lacks radiance. And I’m either cranky or weak like a kitten. Why, on earth, would I ever subject anyone, much less a loved one, to that?
I subscribe to the Ebola theory. You know what I mean – the tribal practice dictating that members exposed to the deadly virus are locked in their hut the minute they become symptomatic. If they emerge from the hut within four days (the period of time it takes the disease to run its course), they are accepted back into the community and are assumed to have built immunity. If they do not emerge, the hut is burned with the diseased inside. This, I think, is the perfect way to deal with illness. Let me go to my hut and be left alone. I don’t want anyone waiting on me.
But Sig Other does not subscribe to theory of the burning hut. Sig Other likes company when he’s sick AND when he’s well. Sig Other does not want to be alone. When he’s sick, Sig Other wants me to hold his hand and stroke his head and tell him that everything will be all right. When he’s well, Sig Other wants me to hold his hand and stroke his head while he tells ME everything will be all right.
And of course the children are not interested in the burning hut either. They like company. They like to be close. They don’t like to be alone. They want to share their snotty, sweaty maladies and are blissfully unaware of the petrie dish like environment that follows them around like Pigpen’s dust cloud. The children are germ bombs – deadly little explosives just waiting to go off. I love them. But this is fact.
I would love to be the stepmother who turns into Florence Nightingale at the first sign of a sniffle. I’d love to want to wrap the snotty little infectious creatures in my arms until they are healed. But really what I want is to lock them in their rooms and cut a slot in the their doors through which I can pass fresh juice and hot soup until they are well enough to emerge. I’ll make the soup from scratch. I’ll harvest and squeeze the juice myself. I just don’t want to be exposed to their illness. Is that so wrong?