When a family with many kids begins to show signs of the common cold or flu, it is only a matter of time before they all get infected. Initially, the caretaker approaches the situation with compassion, effectively hiding revulsion to tend to the needs of the sick. Over time, as more children succumb to illness, things change.
Sickness usually starts with the younger kids. After all, the little ones are still putting anything and everything into their mouths and then generously sharing it with their friends. In the middle of the night—it always begins in the middle of the night—a child will come to your bedside and say, “Mommy, my tummy doesn’t feel so good.” Then, before you can rub the sleep from your eyes, the child will vomit. It may fall onto the floor, or it may project through the air and land on your face. Either way, you will be cleaning in the middle of the night. Breathe through your mouth.
When all this happens, you will not like any of it, but you will be understanding and calm. You will patiently reassure your child, “Everything is OK. Mommy’s here. You’re fine.” You will clean up the mess and set up camp on the couch.
That’s round one.
After a day or two of lying on the couch and watching nonstop obnoxious cartoons, your little one feels much better. Just in time for her older siblings to start showing signs of their afflictions: runny nose, cough, nausea. It could be a little bit of it all. You take each moment and symptom in stride and do your best. The ailments are slowly working their way up the line of siblings. Tissues have turned into toilet paper, and popsicles and ginger ale are dwindling.
By the later rounds, the older tween and teen kids’ immune systems are worn down, and they begin to admit (aka whine): “I don’t feel very good.” But when you suggest a doctor’s visit, they insist, “I’ll be fine.” Then they whine again. It is an annoying cycle that will jump on your last, frayed nerve.
By the end of the offspring line, sympathy is a thing of the past. The child who pukes in the middle of the night now gets a “You’ve got to be kidding me!” rather than the original “It’s OK, sweetie.” It’s tough to be the last one to get sick in a large family.
Last week, my 12 year-old came home from school and got close to me. I thought, Aw, she’s going to give me a hug.
She coughed in my face and said, “I think I have a fever.”
“Get away from me now!” I commanded, pointing to the thermometer.
My patience may diminish due to lack of sleep, but I will never lose my appreciation that the only health troubles we have can be healed with time and Tylenol. We are the lucky ones. Germy as heck, but blessed.