Mommy Needs a Sick Day, Dammit

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My husband has been under the weather for the last few days. Yesterday, he took the day off work and spent the majority of it huddled on the couch under a pile of tissues. He looked pretty miserable, and to his credit, he didn’t complain once about how awful he felt, didn’t ask me to touch his forehead to “see if it feels hot,” and didn’t wonder aloud if he might possibly have contracted pneumonia, Ebola or the plague. As you’ve probably already guessed, this is not our first rodeo.

I was so proud of my husband for not driving me crazy with his hypochondria as he used to in the past. So, why did I still feel a vague, prickling irritation crawling up my spine, like an itch I couldn’t scratch?

It started in the morning, when I made the kids’ breakfasts, packed their lunches, washed the dishes that had festered in the sink overnight, and screamed “Why are your teeth not brushed?!” for the 40th time. As I bustled through my chores, I thought of my husband snuggled under the covers upstairs and caught myself thinking spitefully, Are you cozy up there, honey?

Whoa, where did that come from?

Later that morning, when I came home from dropping my 9-year-old off at school after his doctor’s appointment, I found my husband snuggled under a mountain of blankets on the couch, his iPad casting a warm glow upon his face, and I thought, Must be NICE.

Really? “Must be nice” to be sick? Who thinks such things?

I sat at my computer working for the duration of the morning, and my husband shuffled by the office several times, hunched and disheveled, on his way to the kitchen to get himself another dose of NyQuil or to heat up some leftovers. One of those times, he looked at me with that look, the one that says please, I need pity, the one that reminds me of all the times he tried to convince me he had swine flu, and I couldn’t muster even an ounce of pity for the man.

My ugly feelings continued to build after lunch while I folded laundry and he watched episode after episode of River Monsters and Ancient Aliens. They continued to build into the evening as I cooked dinner while helping the kids with their homework, and I looked toward the family room and saw him stretched out on the couch, head tilted back, jaw sagging open, snoring lightly.

I heard myself think, I wonder if, next time I’m sick, he’ll take the day off work so I can have one entire glorious day to recuperate uninterrupted.

It was then that I understood from where my spiteful thoughts originated: good old-fashioned jealousy. I was jealous that my husband got to take a sick day, when I never do. My resentment over this injustice was so profound that it was infecting my normally pleasant thoughts about him. Who’s the sick one now?

But is it really so petty to feel this way? Perhaps my husband does not deserve to be the target of my indignation, but I still want to know: When do I get a sick day? I’ve been a work-from-home mom for five years now, and as I look back on this time, my memories of being sick look exactly the same as my memories of being well, except they are coated in snot, blanketed with fever, and ominously silent due to my lost voice. So, yeah, I can’t help but feel a little resentful.

My husband managed to make it to the table for dinner. I was in a better mood by then, since the kids had finished with homework, were eating well, and were hardly even throwing food or screaming at each other. We took turns making up riddles and telling silly jokes and got to laughing so hard my 5-year-old almost choked on her food.

Toward the end of the meal, my husband reached over, put a hand on my shoulder, and cleared his mucus-coated throat. “Kids, I want you to listen to me now. We need to help Mommy more, okay? She does a lot for us. More than one person should have to do.”

I was so touched I almost forgot to be annoyed with him.

There have been times recently when my husband has asked, as casually as possible, if such-and-such chore has been done. I can see the “Well what on earth do you do here at home by yourself all day long?” in the subtle knit of his eyebrows, can hear it in the pointed silence that lingers after I tell him that, no, that particular chore still has not been done. After nearly 13 years of marriage, I still sometimes get the feeling that he really has no idea.

But yesterday, on his sick day, he saw. So, in spite of my barely suppressed bitterness about inequitable sick days, it turns out I’m glad my husband had the day off. All that time I was going about my business while he appeared to be in a coma, he was paying attention.

It remains to be seen whether or not his observations will parlay into any kind of tangible demonstrations of appreciation, like him taking the day off next time I’m sick, but I’m still calling this progress.

Actually, you know what? Next time I’m sick, I’m crawling back under the covers with a bottle of NyQuil and a book, tossing a to-do list at my husband, and croaking, “You’ll have to call in to work, honey!”

Then maybe next time he’s sick, I’ll have a few ounces of pity to spare.

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