The Unexpected Beauty Of A Sick Day

by Erin Matzkin
Originally Published: 
Sasa Dinic / iStock

When I heard strep throat was going around my son’s second-grade classroom, I sighed the mom sigh—you know the one, the deep, exhausted, defeated sigh of a woman who’s been there and knows what’s coming next. My son is a generally healthy kid, but every time strep makes the rounds, he’s one of the first to catch it.

I wasn’t wrong. Two days later he had a fever, sore throat, and headache, and the pediatrician swiftly confirmed the diagnosis. I cancelled my work meetings from my phone as we left the doctor’s office and prepared to hunker down with my cranky, sick child for a couple of days while the amoxicillin did its work.

As soon as we got home, my son gleefully dove for the remote with as much energy as he could muster, knowing that in our house legitimate sickness equals unlimited screen time. I sat down next to him, laptop in hand, and began returning work emails at a rapid clip. And then maybe a half-hour into The Princess Bride, just as I’d begun editing a long, technical document for a client, something unexpected happened.

“Mom. Mommy. Will you hold my hand?”

I looked up from my computer and over to my 8-year-old son, his body so long it took up nearly the entirety of the couch. He was extending his hand to me.

This is the child who no longer lets me kiss him in public. Who cares deeply about the clothes he wears and whether his backpack is cool enough. Who recently insisted on a short, spiky haircut so he’d look “rad.” Who never needs the extra kiss or glass of water at bedtime anymore. Who is growing up so quickly.

“Of course,” I said, trying to play it cool. “Of course I’ll hold your hand. Why don’t you come sit a bit closer to me?” And he did; he curled up right next to my side and leaned his feverish head against my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around him, and we sat together just like we used to sit when he was a toddler, except this time I was afraid to move—afraid to even adjust my posture or lean forward to take a sip of my rapidly cooling coffee—for fear he wouldn’t want to sit that way anymore.

We watched the entire movie together. I ignored my laptop and phone as the email notifications pinged. I ignored my cup of coffee until it was stone cold. I ignored the breakfast dishes sitting unwashed in the sink, and the wet laundry in the washing machine that needed transferring to the dryer.

I ignored everything except the quiet pleasure of sitting next to my son and watching together as the Man in Black defeated Inigo Montoya, and braved the Fire Swamp, and was dragged to Miracle Max to be brought back to life.

After the movie ended, he was clearly feeling antsy, so we brought out the Lego bin from his bedroom and built an amazing tower. It took the entire afternoon, both of us combing through piles of bricks to find just the right pieces for our creation. I only used my phone long enough to text my husband the update that the fever had broken.

After the Lego tower was completed, we ordered some takeout chicken soup and I read aloud to him—three chapters of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

It was, without exception, the loveliest day I have had with my son in a long while. I was almost sorry when my husband came home that evening with my other two children, who’d spent the afternoon at a friend’s house. I was happy to see them, of course, but a little sad to break the spell of the day my son and I spent together.

Because it really had felt like a bit of magic—me ignoring my grown-up responsibilities, him not bothering to act cool. It reminded me a bit of when he was a 2-year-old and my only child, the center around which my whole world revolved, except older and funnier and smarter, charming and interesting in completely different ways. I felt like I spent the entire day seeing my boy in a new light, bonding with him in new ways.

And I think the feeling was mutual. That night at bedtime he kissed me on the cheek without being prompted and said, “Hey, Mommy, thanks for a great day,” before swiftly dropping off to sleep.

I sent him back to school this morning, the antibiotics having done their job. I sipped my coffee and watched as he laced up his favorite sneakers and loaded his backpack with math homework. At drop-off he gave me his usual one-armed hug and darted off toward his two best friends, not stopping to look back at me standing at the school gates. He was cool again, and I know as he gets older he’ll only get cooler.

Still, I smiled to myself as I walked home, back to my laptop, back to my usual daily routine.

Because I know that there are still a few quiet moments left where my son will hold my hand.

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