The flu arrived on Christmas Eve; it hit me hard, knocked me down and still refuses to leave. I don’t remember the last time I was so sick: fever and chills, aches and coughs… all of that dreaded “crud.” Needless to say, the last week has been horrible.
It’s also been sweet — a blessing in disguise.
On one of my worst days, as I was laying on the couch cycling through all the PBS morning cartoons with my three and a half year old daughter Maggie, I texted my mom that I felt guilty for all the TV and iPad time. She replied right away with “No guilt! Feel better!” But I wasn’t convinced to let go of the guilt until I was putting Maggie to bed that evening. As I curled up next to her and started drifting off to sleep myself, I realized what a calm, relaxing and fun couple of days we’d had. Sure, we missed out on a few get-togethers and gorgeous ski days, but because I was sick, I was forced to do nothing. To rest. To just be. And to just be together.
So while the flu made me miserable, it also made me a better mom, and brought joy to my daughter. Here’s why.
One: I didn’t yell or raise my voice. I simply couldn’t; my voice was gone. Surprisingly, I only had her to ask her to do something once — get your PJs on, come eat dinner, brush your teeth — and she listened. The whisper worked and didn’t allow impatience or frustration to creep in. And while it was often a struggle to “use my words” and actually speak, bedtime books read in a whisper turned out to have quite a calming effect, on all of us.
Two: I slowed down. Mentally and physically. A simple task like taking the garbage out to the dumpster tapped all the energy reserves of my aching, chilled, weak body. But as we sauntered up the driveway, all bundled up in ski pants and winter gear, not once did Maggie whine that I was going too fast. I was taking my time, and moving at her pace, something I frequently fail to do when I’m rushing from one thing to the next. (I always try to remind myself of this Hands Free Momma blog post, “The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up!” which is such a great read if you missed it!)
Three: I slowed down some more. And actually stopped. I don’t think screen time equals quality time, but when a parent (or in our case, both parents!) is down and out, movies, cartoons and apps are a fantastic option to get through the day! But what I realized this week was that it is rare for me to actually sit still and watch an entire movie. This week was one of the first times I actually sat still long enough to watch an entire movie with Maggie… or in several cases, a couple back to back, like our Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 marathon (she loves those “immions” — not a typo, that’s what she calls them.) When I’m healthy and full of energy, I find myself constantly puttering or cleaning or doing… instead of just playing. Make dinner, do the dishes, tidy the toys, put the laundry in the dryer, finish an email… all part of the endless list of chores and responsibilities that inevitably distract me from spending true quality time with Maggie. The flu forced me to stop. I simply ran out of batteries and there’s no question that we all benefited from the lack of inertia.
Four: I played on her level. The Dayquil/Theraflu/Mucinex-induced fog left only a small amount of brain space to get through the day. I had no choice but to live in the moment, and that was so incredibly freeing. When we made it out to the swings one afternoon, I watched her flop off backwards and lie on her back quietly looking up. So I let my exhausted body do the same; gazing up at a blue-gray sky that was threatening snow was comforting, peaceful and felt like a thing of the past… childlike daydreaming that I don’t let my adult self experience nearly enough. I wish I could say that I always do that, but the sad reality is I don’t. I let my to-do lists distract me from these amazing moments with my little nugget — my happy, curious, adventurous, hysterical kid who, by the way, is growing up way too quickly.
Five: I let her eat cookies. And pie. And whipped cream. And hot cocoa. And “coconuts” (her name for our favorite holiday treat: milk chocolate covered almonds.) It’s not that she’s deprived of sweets. It’s that my head is usually rationalizing healthy food choices over sugary treats. But when I was sick, I simply didn’t have the ooomph to hold tightly to my own “should’s.” Not only was I fine with her indulging, but I loved the resulting sugar-induced “hop on mom” tickle fests, even though I was about as lively as a rag doll.
Six: I let her stay up late. Even though she wasn’t napping (that’s nothing new) and was waking up early and was probably fighting off whatever sickies had nabbed us, it required so much less effort — and was so much more satisfying and fun! — to watch her and my husband play contentedly with the new Christmas Legos than to try to rally the troops to bed. No question, vacation is made for exceptions and extra family time and extra fun, but I wonder if that would’ve been as obvious to me if I hadn’t been forced to slow down and observe, shedding the need to control.
Seven: I was content being a homebody. I’m not one to sit at home. Especially when I’m off work and hanging with Maggie, I like to do stuff. We’re always running around, doing chores, going to the pool or skiing or meeting friends… And when we’re out and about, she’s such a trooper, always chiming in from the back of the car “I don’t want to go home — can we go somewhere else?” But this week, I had no choice but to stay at home. I relished it. And so did she. We were never in a rush to go anywhere or do anything, so had all the time in the world to play Legos, work on our new family puzzle, hang around in our PJs and build forts (even if I immediately ended up flat on the floor, resting and beat once it was built!)
For a few days in a row, the first thing Maggie would say to me when she woke up in the morning was: “Are you feeling better mommy?”
The answer is yes. I feel amazing — not yet physically, but my heart is full. I feel so blessed and so appreciative of my family and this amazing little girl who teaches me so much every day. And if I can’t have my mom nearby to take care of me when I’m sick, a sweet three-year old is certainly a fine replacement.
Slowly on the mend, I’ve caught myself falling back into old patterns, but by simply being conscious of the shift, I know I’ll have the strength to keep the good stuff going. As we head into the new year, I hope none of you get the flu. But I do hope you have the chance to slow down, and just be… whether it’s with your kids, your partner, your human and furry friends, or even just with yourself. Here’s to a happy and healthy new year!