I like to think that most mothers eventually find their groove. Like finely conditioned athletes, we stoically power through colds, migraines and bouts with projectile vomiting. Sure, we might gag or hold our breath and we might even shed a tear, but we carry on and cross that finish line no matter what the cost. Why? Because that’s the circle of life and, unless you want your children to write tell-all blogs about what a crappy parent you were, you’d better suck it up and perform.
Eventually even the best athlete is bound to suffer an injury. In motherhood, the equivalent of a pulled muscle is strained nerves. It generally occurs after a days-long bout of illness compounded with kid fights, whining, schedule confusion, picky eating and a stint as the parent helper at preschool. Parent Helper Day is the equivalent of the Big Game. Most of the time, you’re prepared for the Big Game and nothing can take you down. You remember to wear your bra and cut up the fruit and show up on time so that you can stand at the door to escort the kid whose mother “has a job” inside so she can tear down the road in her giant SUV.
Eventually, you’re bound to walk on to the playing field with some strained nerves and a nasty cold and, by the end of the Big Game, you are officially placed the injured player list. When your two and a half hours as Parent Helper come to a close, you retreat to the car with your crying children, your shame and your illness and somewhere in the privacy of your drive home you shed an exhausted tear, thankful that you made it through that part of the day.
You cry because you fondly recall the days when you could call in sick and get paid to lay in bed and watch cheesy Lifetime movies. No co-workers ever stood at your bedside demanding that you get up to feed them and wipe their ass. Your co-workers didn’t want to see you in that condition, but your children don’t give a shit. They simply want cookies and Juicy Juice and they don’t care if you have to drag yourself to the kitchen on bloody stumps in order to retrieve them.
In a perfect world, Mommies would be able to call in sick and someone would happily cover our shift without the need to miss work or make the sick mommy feel like a failure for succumbing to germs. But this world isn’t perfect and back when we were dreaming of snuggly babies; no one explained that when you get sick you’re on your own, sister. You’ll throw up then brush your teeth and go make those kids breakfast, dammit! On his way out the door, your hard working husband will cast a sympathetic glance at you and kindly offer you the option of going to bed as soon as he gets home from work. The sentiment is lovely, but the vast amount of time between his offer and the actual arrival of relief looms ahead of you like a hellish marathon.
Once, when Joe was just a baby and we were new parents, I experienced my first bout with simultaneous illness. Joe was running a fever and I knew this because, as a new mother, I shoved a thermometer up his ass at least twice a week to reassure myself that he wasn’t dying. This time, however, he actually did have a fever and as I changed his diaper I felt my own face blazing with heat. In my bleary flu-induced fog, I grabbed the thermometer from the changing table and placed it under my tongue. As I closed my lips around it, I realized that I had just placed the baby’s rectal thermometer in my mouth. The thermometer was promptly spit across the room and I spent the morning disinfecting my mouth with Listerine and toothpaste before calling my sister in New York to cry.
I hate shots, but this year some inner-voice advised me to get the flu shot in the middle of the grocery store on a random Wednesday afternoon. It was totally unplanned. I rounded the corner of the wine aisle and saw a table surrounded by nurses and their shots. There they were, all lined up and eagerly waiting to stab someone in the arm.
Public inoculations generally make me feign bravery. A public inoculation with my four-year-old daughter watching required extra bravado and even a bit of humor. When I feigned terror, the nurses giggled and Gwen rushed to hold my hand. She soothed me, “Don’t worry, Mommy. It’s just a little pinch and it will be over weewy fast.” She patted my hand and tried not to look horrified as the needle approached my arm.
Her eyes widened with terror as she watched the needle pierce the skin of my upper arm. She worriedly met my eyes with panic and expected, I think, for the same kind of wailing lament she lets out when the needle breaks through her skin. I smiled at her to demonstrate my (totally fake) bravery. She stroked my hand and said, “Shhhhh…Just a pinch. Here…have a cookie.” She turned to the nurses wearing a serious expression and with great authority asked, “Can we get a sticker over here?!”
It was that exchange that I pulled from my memory bank in my final moments as Parent Helper yesterday afternoon as that same precious little angel hid beneath the jungle gym, refusing to leave the preschool playground. It wasn’t until I offered to call her cab and asked if she remembered the way home that she came out. Her furrowed brow and public use of the ‘stink eye’ told me that she wasn’t happy. She began her dramatic rage-filled exit from the playground, pissed off that I was making her leave because, well…it was time to go and I didn’t feel well. Then I coughed.
Oh, Mama…are you okay?
I really don’t feel well, Gwennie.
I’m sorry, Mama. Let’s go home and you can rest on the couch with me. Would you like to watch a princess movie under a nice warm blankie?
She’s a beautiful little girl.