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In Sickness and in Health

Why does it always happen that way? I’d literally just been thinking how long it’s been since toddler Eliza was last ill when guess what? She gets sick.

I feel like the world’s worst parent when it comes to a sick Eliza. I’m forever in awe of mothers who calmly talk about their babies’ ear infections here and that small matter with the croup there. The very sound of these ailments gives me the hives. These same mums can discuss the merits of ibuprofen vs acetaminophen as knowledgably as if they were breakfast cereals. I on the other hand, can’t even get medicine in Eliza’s mouth without a wrestling diploma, never mind talk with any authority about whether the stuff works or not....

The trouble is, when Eliza’s ill, it’s me who wants to be the child. I want to run away and hide under a rock until someone calls me for dinner, tells me everything’s better and that she’s back to her pink overall-wearing, nonsense-chattering self.

I simply don’t know what to do with an ill toddler. It took months and months to fathom my daughter - to know what her cries mean, to discover that singing ‘Guys and Dolls’ show tunes guarantee another five mouthfuls of previously rejected food, that she’s terrified of kitchen appliances and regards the humble hand blender as the baddest boy of them all. But at the merest hint of a snotty nose all parenting credentials I’ve worked so hard to achieve seem to unravel quicker than you can say a-tishoo.....

I guess experience makes parents good at this stuff and we’re fortunate that Eliza’s 16 months of life have been relatively sickness-free. The sum total of her illnesses include a brief spell with a virus at seven months and cold/cough combos I can count on one hand.

But it also means that I’ve had no means of building that parental inner toughness that comes with caring for a sick child. Facing my crying, feverish toddler I feel catapulted back to the giddy, knee-knocking days of early parenthood when I knew nothing and felt I never would. My stomach knots, I can’t eat, my blood pressure bubbles at boiling point and I fear the absolute worse. None of which is good for a pregnant woman....

What makes this more shameful is that as a journalist, I write all the time about incredible parents who live day in, day out with their children’s terrible illnesses. Their strength and courage never cease to amaze me. They’ve told me time and time again, how they’ve just got to get on with it. So why then is a simple throat infection in Eliza enough to send me into a dark corner in tears? I’m using the pregnancy hormones as an excuse. Kids get sick – dealing with it is part of being-a-parent territory.  

Of course I go galloping off to the online parenting forums once again for cyber cuddles and advice but everyone has something different to say and I often step away from the laptop more alarmed than before.

As I’ve discovered, US drugs have different names from ones in the UK. Thanks to friends here I raced off to one of the drug-store chains with a list of medicines I needed. I’ve been in the place a dozen times but for nice things like shampoo or a shower cap. On this particular mission of course, everything seemed chaotic. Despite having a list, as tear-streaked Eliza sat caterwauling in the stroller, the drugs aisle swam confusingly with choice upon choice of medicine I’d never heard of and brands with strangely superhero-like names. The boxes instructed me to ‘compare ingredients’ here and ‘see new warnings’ there. Then, did I want the infant one or the children’s one?! It was baffling. I wasn’t shoe shopping – I hadn’t the time to be leisurely....

Lessons were learnt of course, aren’t they always? Sensible parents would have all this stuff at home, ready for immediate action on sick child. Our medicine drawer is now stuffed with liquids and potions but this whole on-going spell of toddler sickness got me thinking. I may be good at stocking up on kitchen roll but it seems facing the fact my little one could get sick? You’ll find me hiding under that rock again....

So with becoming-a-mother-for-the-second-time-in-the-not-too-distant-future firmly in mind, I’ve had a stern chat with myself. We’re in a contract together my toddler and me. It’s not just about the fun times, it’s about the crappy ones too - in sickness and in health. Medicines can only do so much and it’s up to me to fill in the rest, most probably with cuddles, a significant dose of patience and a few more show tunes.

 

 

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