There can be incredible beauty in a child's sick days. (Either that or they're horrible!) I'm talking about the sick days where the child has a minor illness, certainly not diarrhea, or throwing up. I mean a sick child who is pleasantly sick for just a day or so. Just sick enough so that he wants to stay in bed, and he doesn't want to eat much. His face is warm and rosy and when you look at him, you are reminded of when he was a baby. Suddenly, he's that sweet, again. (It also helps if you know your husband is coming home at dinner to help you. Even better is knowing that you're going out that night with girlfriends.)
To truly enjoy these days it's best to turn off the TV, the computer, the phone -- and just enjoy the silence of the house. The rest of the family is away and it's just the two of you. You can tend to your child in amiable companionship. He wants tea, you bring it with lemon and honey. I, alas, don't have the green-flowered tray with the metal stand-up legs that my mother had for sick days -- but I find a place to perch the steaming cup, nevertheless.
His face is warm and rosy, and you are reminded of when he was a baby.
The beauty of a sick day: Time is empty and the two of you are in the cocoon of infancy. There is time to sleep, to talk, to fluff him up with pillows, to massage his feet, to give the care you never have time or inclination to give because he is running around like a torpedo and you are working and cleaning and cooking and calling and tending and trying to remember what you were supposed to remember. You sing rhymes from when you were a child with him. You let the dog get into bed with the two of you.
So, you too have a sick day. A lovely sick day like this only works if there is nothing much you have to get done that day. If you are home from work, it is not permissible to do more than an hour of work. Otherwise, the sanctity of the sick day is broken.
Many people have fond memories of days when they were home sick: I remember my father making me hot butter and milk when I had a terrible cough. My mother was wonderful with her cool fingers and her poached eggs that were just the right amount of runny.
My friend Joyce, a paralegal, remembers that on the days when she was sick, she could always count on her father to come home early from work with a puzzle for her. She also remembers stirring the batter for mandelbread when she was home sick with her mother.
My friend Barbara's mother died when Barbara was 14 and some of her most vivid memories of those of her mother taking care of her when she was sick. When Barbara had the measles, she remembers her mother sleeping in her room on a mattress on the floor.
Parents need children's sick days, as much as children need parents when they're sick.
What saddens me is that in America now (and where America goes, the rest of the world soon follows), there are centers for sick children, places a working parent can leave her sick child, where the child will be cared for.
Parents don't have to miss a day of work. But honestly, someone is missing the point. Parents, you need your children's sick days as much as your children need you when they're sick. Not only do you get an unexpected break from work, but your sick child will let you give to him in a different way, in a more tender way. You, yourself, become more tender -- kinder. You have the time to comfort, to nurture, to heal.
And that to me is the essence of parenthood. Give a child your warm heart and he'll get better, not only in his body, but in his soul. And so will you. Then you can return to work renewed, feeling better about yourself, your child, and everything in the world.