There is nothing better than lime popsicles and ginger ale when you are sick. I remember.
Hot papery skin, glazed eyes, fever dreams, the contented blur of dozing off over and over again with nothing to do but be sick and get well. And then the mama hand on your forehead, the sip of fuzzy gingerale from a straw, the cool of frozen lime juice on a sore throat. A clean bed after you’ve barfed for the thirteenth time in the middle of the night. Damp towels after a tepid bath. A cool washcloth over burning eyes. All those little mercies were heavenly.
I’m a firm believer in childhood illness and fever being good for kids. Partly for scientific reasons like building a stronger immune system. Or even spiritual reasons about our evolving souls shouldering their way to the surface a little more each time our body goes to battle to protect itself.
But most importantly, it is the vividness of my own childhood memories about the hazy, dreamlike quality of being sick and how special I felt. Protected. Surrounded. Nurtured. Known.
Not only by my mom – who was a rockstar nurse for sure, the kind that showed up with cool washcloths and jello at just the right moment – but held by something even bigger. Some unseen force that was both within me and beyond me. The experience of a common cold or strep throat or a nasty stomach flu being transcendent in its very ordinary way.
While I was in this space (and coming out of this space) I was deeply aware even though I was often only dimly awake and usually feverish. There is no doubt in my mind that through this process – a day or a week – I evolved, just a tiny bit more, into a new person. The memories are so distinct and clear, more vivid than other childhood memories, that I believe these moments held some special magic.
It’s no secret that illness or physical challenges are often an opportunity for one’s spirit to grow. For knowledge to be uncovered, courage found, humor unearthed, faith instilled. And I believe it is the same for children, their unavoidable childhood illnesses somehow breaking down doors so insight and health and strength can come through.
My kids follow a pretty clear pattern: big growth spurt or developmental milestone = sick.
Have a birthday, get a tooth, lose a tooth, learn to crawl, start a new school year…get a fever and throw up for a few days. It’s kind of like clockwork around here.
And so it was no surprise that both of my kids got sick on summer solstice – the day both of them lost another tooth in the unending cycle of baby teeth becoming adult teeth. They are both growing taller, getting leaner, reading more difficult books, asking more sophisticated questions, changing right before my eyes. Happening, as it often does, all at once.
This time we’ve been sick for 10 days. For whatever reason this was a rolling onset kind of sick. One, then another of us got in turns. Finally when I thought we were out of the woods and Temple had been feeling great for a few days, she woke us up two nights ago barfing in her bed.
There was Matt, scraping the barf off her sheets with a spatula while I layered clean towels and got a cool washcloth. As usual, she was a trooper. Our kids are brave about being sick. They actually celebrate and say “We are getting stronger!” (Matt’s done a really good job teaching them that being sick is a good thing because it makes your body tougher, stronger and healthier.)
Last night we all went to bed, again feeling ‘better.’ Only to wake up just after midnight with Satchel throwing up in earnest. And again, it was an all-night affair. He’s still sleeping it off now.
Of course inside my heart is breaking for them. This has been an epic round of illness that won’t stop.
As a mom, it slows me way down when the kids get sick. Not just slowed down in terms of chores and work, but slowed down in really important ways. Like tuning in deeply, heart to heart. Connecting to them without words even. Just in the simple acts of caring for someone. Bringing water, freshening the washcloth, emptying the barf bucket, pulling the hair back from their face, getting them a glass of ice chips, running a bath.
Now that they are 11 and 6, this kind of slowed down pace, this extra attentive nurturing doesn’t happen as much as it did when they were tiny. We’ve encouraged them to be self-sufficient, to take good care of themselves, and so they need us less in the ways they used to need us so much. Sickness undoes all of that and they become ours to care for, to safeguard while they do their own important work of healing and growing.
Today, when I thought I was home free and ready to get back to the long list of things that were put on hold last week, I struggled with the frustration of another day of putting things off. And then I remembered some words I’d read on childhood illnesses, inspiring me to cherish this moment and to witness growth.
I’ll close with some of these words here:
A child will attempt to remodel his physical body many times, breaking down the inherited structure through fever and illness in order to rebuild it anew and imbue it with his own individuality. Childhood illnesses promote the whole development of the child, working from above to below to support the healthy incarnation of body, soul and spirit. In this sense, fever can be seen as the instrument of the ego.
[As caretakers we can] promote the cleansing process and help the illness work its way out of the body, supporting not only the bodily functions, but also the soul and spiritual development, which encourages true healing.
“Children become ill in their own individual way and each illness will have a meaningful part to play in their biography and development.” (Dr Philip Incao, ‘The Reason for Childhood Illnesses”, 2001, Anthromed Library, www.anthromed.org)