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Caring For Kids In Flu Season Is Exactly As Hard As You Think It Is

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I laid down on my son’s bed one evening, exhausted just like every other parent with young, sweet-yet-crazy kids. I was trying to put pajamas on my 4-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son. They were resisting this event. What’s new? As I laid there, grasping for 5 seconds of rest to keep me going, I looked over at the wall and I saw it: dried vomit. Clearly it had been there for a few days, yet I hadn’t seen it before. It must have come from my son, in one of his recent middle-of-the-night barf fests. Immediately, I was overcome with guilt. How could I have missed that? Am I that gross? What kind of mom just lets their precious little son sleep next to a festering bacteria forest? Et cetera. The badge of dishonor was a visual (and nasty) reminder of the week’s plight: Two kids. Two cases of the flu. One husband who also had the flu, but was trying really hard to just pretend he didn’t — because parents don’t have time to get the flu. And then me, one mom on the brink of losing her mind.

This winter, it seems practically everyone I know has been sick or has had sick kids. For us, it all began with our daughter. I was at her school for lunch to celebrate her birthday. After I arrived, I noticed she had that look in her eye that sends a shudder of horror down any parents spine. Not the “if I don’t get Goldfish in the next three minutes I may cause World War III” look, but the sad glassy-eyed look. My Spidey-sense knew she was sick. Then, I noticed the little boy across the table from her looking like he was about to face plant and fall asleep on top of his untouched birthday pizza. I knew we were in deep. The flu had infiltrated our circle, and this ship was going down. Sure enough, I brought her home and she had a fever. A few days later, my son also began burning up, and so there we were — sick. Influenza A. Super fun.

Over the next two weeks, I constantly worried about my babies. I wasn’t able to fix them. I couldn’t make them feel better. I couldn’t even explain to my son, who is 18 months, what being “sick” meant. I tried. He just blinked at me and said “ball.” I felt terrible for them, to my core.

But then there was the whining. The thick, relentless, never-ending whining. My son wouldn’t let me put him down for anything. And my arms are not strong. (Is this why people join Crossfit?) My daughter became mad she couldn’t get the mom comfort she truly needed because there was a clingy, drooling, second human permanently attached to my hip. More whining. From all that — my tired arms, my racing thoughts, my exhaustion, my inability to accomplish anything more extensive than opening up an applesauce packet, I got frustrated. And sometimes, it came out of me as a Mom Yell. After what seemed like day 809 of putting aside every single basic human need of my own to care for two other people who just wouldn't stop whining, my patience had officially left the building. We were stuck in a never ending circle of frustration — they were frustrated, I was frustrated, rinse and repeat.

I spent a solid week getting up every few hours to rock my son when he wiggled in discomfort. I brought him in my bed where he wrapped his tiny arms around me and finally settled into a peaceful sleep, night after night. I made the most comfy place for my daughter to watch her cartoons.

All week long, I felt like I was failing. At parenting, at suppressing my frustration, at keeping my house in order, my kids happy, at work, and at doing anything remotely soul sustaining. I was a shell of a human, who just kept running the thermometer across her kids foreheads like a robot.

I felt like my kids deserved better, yet at the same time, I was giving every single ounce of effort I had. So what did that say about me as a parent?

But, as always, the tide eventually turned. The sun came out again for my little family. My babies got better, thank God. And you know what? The lies I told myself that week also exited my house along with the virus. Eventually, with some sleep and silent, peaceful days of normalcy, I was able to properly assess what just happened. No, I didn’t see the projectile vomit splash for a few days. That was a mom fail for sure. But guess what I did do? I spent a solid week getting up every few hours to rock my son when he wiggled in discomfort. I brought him in my bed where he wrapped his tiny arms around me and finally settled into a peaceful sleep, night after night. I made the most comfy place for my daughter to watch her cartoons, and bought her her favorite juice boxes and rubbed her back until she fell asleep. I kissed their sweaty foreheads, more than I probably should have. I told them, every day, that they were going to be OK, and tried to keep things light and comforting for them, even while I was so worried, and so, so drained. I laid every ounce of what I had out there, for them. Because that is what moms do. And, I will do it time and time again over the years, without a second thought. Because even though the whining ran deep, the exhaustion was incomprehensible, and the overwhelm just about did me in, my mom love can overpower all of that mess.

So yes, there will be another season when parenting will seem to suck out my soul right from my eye sockets. But most days, it will be the very thing that fills my soul right up and gives me the strength to keep fighting on.