It started a few days ago with a little tickle in the back of my throat. Maybe I burned my mouth with that gulp of scalding coffee I never have time to finish before herding the kids into the car for school. Hmm. I quickly ditched the coffee, made myself tea with lots of honey, and hoped for the best. The next morning, I felt a bit congested, so I did the whole Neti pot thing, squirting warm water up my nose and into my sinuses. Gross, I know, but usually effective. Not this time though. By bedtime my eyes were watering, and I couldn’t stop sneezing. Oh yeah, I thought, here it comes. I giddily popped two NyQuil and burrowed into my bed. I was officially under the weather.
That’s right. There are times when I actually want to be sick. Yes, I know it sounds a little crazy, and I know the end of the year isn’t a particularly convenient time to be bedridden. There are presents to buy and wrap, pounds of cookie dough to mix and roll out, cut and bake, winter recitals to sit through, and holiday parties to prance off to. Then there are the everyday chores: work assignments to turn in; meals to shop for, prep, and cook; laundry piles to wrestle with; children to parent in meaningful ways; and a husband to have a relationship with. Exhausting, isn’t it?
That’s why I look forward to the one or two days of winter when I’m sick enough to blow off everything else and stay in bed. I’m not talking about stomach flu or anything that leaves me achy and feverish — no one enjoys that — but a solid head cold accompanied by just enough fatigue to render me useless on my feet is, in a weird way, welcome. It’s a forced opting out of my daily, jam-packed routine that feels completely acceptable. It’s the justifiable excuse I need to really take care of myself.
Listen, we moms do not do a good job taking care of ourselves. We take care of everyone else first: our partners and parents, our kids and work colleagues, the dog, the hamster, the neighbor’s dog and hamster — you get the idea. Whether we work full-time, stay at home with the kids, or some hybrid in-between, many of us are running perilously close to empty. I don’t know who to blame — a culture that values productivity, my type-A personality, or the ridiculous number of tasks that need doing to keep my family humming along.
What I do know is that I’m not good at slowing down and that taking time for myself feels oddly like sneaking the last cookie out of the jar.
You could argue that this is all a bunch of bullshit, that I really don’t need to be doing all the things, that I should just kick back with a strong drink and let the ship take on water, if not totally sink. I don’t disagree. I’d love to be that woman on a regular basis, but despite all the encouragement from self-care advocates, I still have a hard time getting on board.
I want to take care of myself, but I don’t make it happen. I count grocery shopping on my own as “alone time,” and when I do get a manicure, it makes me antsy sitting there with nothing to do but let my nails dry. I can’t help but think of all the things that need doing, big and small, now and in a week. Doctor’s appointments jockey for position with the dog grooming appointment I should have made two weeks ago — poor doodle has hair growing in her eyes — and the work deadline coming up in two days. Reading a book during daylight hours feels indulgent. Napping feels like the ultimate forbidden fruit. Besides, it’s impossible to nap with kids to pick up and a high-energy kindergartner to monitor in the afternoons.
When I’m sick, though, all that guilt flies out the window. I don’t even crack an eye in the morning. Instead I let my school-aged children help each other with breakfast while my husband helps them make their lunches. I say “yes” to the darling friend who offers to bring my kids home from school. I nap, drink lots of tea, and watch Netflix for as long as I can keep my tired eyes open. I ignore Facebook and Instagram — my friends know I love them without me liking their updates all day long. I give my body a break and skip my sweaty spin class for at least 48 hours. I gratefully accept the box of tissues the 5-year-old brings me, and I don’t even wonder about dinner, which ends up being leftovers, takeout, or pancakes whipped up by my teenager.
And guess what? The world doesn’t end, my people deal, and I get a break. I like to think of my sick days as practice for the real thing — the day when, with nary a sniffle in sight, I put aside the to-dos, leave the beds unmade, and settle down with a cup of tea and my favorite book. Sounds like the perfect New Year’s resolution to me.