The reality of parenting is that, despite everything we do, our kids still get sick. No amount of time spent letting them play in the dirt (pro immune system building) or not letting them play in the dirt (immune system protection parenting) avoids this reality. I avoided letting my first child come into contact with yucky stuff, but by the time my fourth child came along, I was handing them yucky stuff to play with just to get a few minutes of peace and quiet. There has been no difference in their health. All my kids have, at some point in their lives, had diarrhoea and vomiting, high fevers and sore throats and have had some unidentifiable angry rash. They have also all had the: “Mom, I can’t go to school, I don’t feel well” sickness in the evening before a school exam.
The second reality of parenting is that sick children are going to cost a lot of money, not because they will all get a serious illness but because kids like to get sick in accordance with a particular pattern which does not align with a doctor’s working hours.
Friday 3 pm:
Child presents with a slight, once-off throat-clearing cough. Child eats two small yoghurts and three hotdogs.
Friday 5 pm:
Child complains of a sore head and that sister is hogging the TV remote. Paracetamol is administered for the headache. “Sharing is caring” talk is given to the sister.
Friday 8 pm:
Child complains of sore throat and child’s temperature spikes to 39.5 degrees. Child refuses all liquids and starts with a dry, hacking cough.
Friday 11.05 pm
Child vomits up sausages in yoghurt sauce.
Friday 11.10 pm:
Mom employs Google to find a diagnosis for her ailing child. The child is lethargic, and the child’s temperature hasn’t decreased. Google advises mom that the child has either been exposed to nuclear radiation or the child has the West Nile virus. Attempts to cool a child’s body temperature with a tepid bath are unfruitful.
Friday 11:30 pm:
Mom decides to take the child to the hospital as the doctor’s offices are closed.
Shortly thereafter one arrives at the hospital and begins to fill in the paperwork.
“Medical aid card please,” the receptionist says. Upon learning there is no medical aid in place, she gives a detailed explanation of what the bill will entail – the doctor’s fee, the hospital fee and any extras. You may then experience a moment of pause-for-thought but a brief look at one’s child with the flushed cheeks and the decision is made to forsake vehicle insurance this month, and coffee, and milk if need be. Then one is ushered to a hospital bed to wait for the doctor to arrive. Fifteen minutes later he appears with a big smile on his face.
“What seems to be the problem?” the kindly doctor asks.
“High fever, headache, vomiting and a terrible cough!”
The doctor examines your child thoroughly.
“Can you cough for me?” he asks your child.
“I don’t need to cough” comes the reply.
The doctor will then explain to you that your child doesn’t show any signs of having a cough and that the lungs are clear. He will explain that your child doesn’t appear to be in any discomfort and that the body temperature is in the normal range. He will suggest that perhaps your child ate something that didn’t agree with them and will offer a prescription for paracetamol in case the headache returns. Then he will look at you in a way that makes you feel guilty for taking his attention away from the really sick people he should be attending to. You thank him and take the prescription for the over-the-counter medicine of which you have lots of at home. The least one can do is make the doctor feel like he was helpful. Then you have to return to reception and pay the bill. By now your child is whining that they are starving, and you mumble to the receptionist that your child vomited earlier, thereby indicating that it is not simply because you are a bad mother who doesn’t feed your child.
When you arrive home again you notice how exhausted you are from all the stress and anxiety of the last few hours. Your child, however, is not. They are now right as rain, full of energy and starving – and will request that you make some intricate meal. You do.
Saturday morning arrives and your child is back to their usual self having woken up at 6 am and come to lie with you AKA kick you in the back and steal the duvet. For a child that was so ferociously sick yesterday, they now have mountains of energy and want to go to the park and go down the slide two hundred and fourteen times. Your child will wolf down lunch and supper and ask for seconds. You, however, are running on reserve. Your back-up battery has been flashing “low battery” for the last six hours. Finally, at around 7 pm your child will show signs of slowing down and agree to watch a movie with you. This is when you think you are finally free and clear. Your child has used up all his energy and will be asleep in no time, and you with him. Just as you are both drifting off there is a soft hiccup sound from your little angel and the next moment both helpings of his supper are ejected out of his mouth and onto your lap. Your child’s cheeks will be flushed, he will make a loud, barking cough and his skin will feel boiling hot to the touch. Google will still be convinced that it is radiation poisoning from a nuclear fallout.
You arrive at the hospital knowing that you are now forsaking this month’s utility bill in order to pay the hospital fees. You hope that the same doctor won’t be on duty and are absolutely over the moon when you learn that a different doctor will be attending to your child. He gives your child the once over.
“When did this start?” he asks.
“Yesterday late afternoon,” you reply.
“You should have brought him in sooner,” the doctor says, looking at you as if you are an incompetent parent. “He needs to be on antibiotics.”
The nurse hurries over and gives your child paracetamol and anti-nausea medication.
For the briefest moment you may think of defending yourself but there is nothing left in you that can muster up any sort of useful response. Instead, you nod and say thank you, accept the prescription and head to reception to pay the bill. You no longer care what she thinks of your parenting. All your thoughts are centred on sleep.
Finally, you arrive back home. Your child has fallen fast asleep in the back seat of the car. You quietly unclip his seatbelt and silently thank the anti-nausea medication for its drowsiness side effect. Your little one looks beautiful. As you carry him to the front door you look at him adoringly, the moon illuminating his perfect face. In that instant, you realise that you would go without car insurance and coffee for a year if it meant your little one would always be healthy. You realise that you would forsake the utility bill a hundred times over and make hot water over a fire instead, if it meant that your little one never had to feel sick. The love you feel in that moment is overwhelmingly powerful and you know that there isn’t anything that you wouldn’t do for your child. You carry your sleeping beauty to your bed and as you lay him down, he mumbles something while holding his arms around your neck in a tight hug. He loves me so much you think while pulling the duvet up over both of you.
“What did you say love?” you ask softly.