Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dad Needs a Sick Day

Mama called the doctor and the doctor said..

There is a commercial for Dayquil/Nyquil indicating that parents don't get sick days.  While the fact is often true, parents don't get sick days, that doesn't mean that we don't need one from time to time.  I get sick, like out of commission sick, usually once a year.  Minor colds a little more frequently, along with my seasonal allergies (thanks neanderthals).  I've commented before that since become a parent, and having a child that interacts with other snot-nosed kids, sharing germs and neglecting to wash hands for the entire ABC song, I've found myself more often sick from natural causes then from being hungover.  When you have kids, comparable to when you are retired, you're inclined to talk about your ailments though.  Common parental banter includes the oft-asked question, especially this time of year, "are you staying healthy?"  

Sick days were not a big deal when I was a working dad with kids in daycare.  Send the kids off, probably to pick up new germs to bring home, while you veg out on the couch, recover and watch the movies you should have seen as new releases four years ago that are now playing on USA.  Because I didn't get sick very often, something I feel pretty fortunate about, I took sick leave pretty infrequently when I was working, and when I "retired" I probably had about two months worth of unused sick leave.  I probably would have had more had I not been able to use my sick leave for when my kids were sick or needed to go to the doctor, another thing I felt very fortunate about.  Since I had a more flexible work environment, along with ample sick leave in comparison to my wife (see earlier post), I was typically the one who stayed home with a sick kid(s) or went with them to an always adventurous trip to the clinic (see earlier post).  While you never want to see your kids sick, sometimes a good cuddle day on the couch can do wonders for both an under-the-weather child and an often over-exerted parent.

Obviously being a stay-at-home parent, without the benefits of paid sick leave, or even at times an outlet for your kids should someone in your family fall ill, your options tend to be a little more limited.  When your kids are depending on you to feed them and supervise their behavior throughout the day, you can only quarantine yourself in your bedroom, or the bathroom should symptoms warrant it, for so long.  This means you are going to have to engage with your kids, at least minimally, when all you want to do is curl up in the fetal position and hit the reset button on your life.  Every little annoyance your kids might typically cause throughout the day will be amplified by 102, or whatever temperature your baby thermometer is reading after you use it on yourself.  

Being a sick stay-at-home parent also means that inevitably whatever you have, your kids will be getting shortly.  Or conversely, whatever they had they have now given to you to pass along to anyone else in your house who has not already gotten it, or something worse, within the last week.  While our kids are probably not getting sick as often without them being in daycare, when someone in our house does get sick, then we are essentially all guaranteed to get sick.  I've heard horror stories about families that had the flu pass through everyone in their house, and then repeat its cycle once the last person was finally starting to feel better.  As Justin Timberlake would say, "what goes around, goes around, goes around, comes all the way back around."  Yeah.  

Since becoming a stay-at-home parent, I've had two instances of really needing a sick day.  The first was this fall, when my seasonal allergies seemed to turn into something a little more serious.  I suspect pneumonia, because after Gus started running a multi-day fever the doctor informed us he had pneumonia.  I let mine go undiagnosed, but took a few swigs of his antibiotic for good measure.  Luckily on this occasion, we had prearranged for my Mom to take our girls overnight, so my parenting responsibilities during that particular bout of illness were limited to a 10 month old who was feeling somewhat under the weather as well.  I tried not to breathe on him, which proved to be a challenge when all he wanted to do was be held.  

The second time was two weeks ago, and manifested itself in the stomach flu, which is always more exciting.  I very much dislike the stomach flu, as it usually has a tendency to really knock me out.  I was never one to "puke & rally" during my younger, considerably dumber, days of excessive imbibing.  If I was praying at the porcelain altar at the end of a night of incredibly bad decisions, the outlook for the following day (or two) was pretty bleak.  Fortunately, in the relative rarity of my getting sick, the stomach flu tends to be even less common, and I think this was my first case of flu induced reserve peristalsis in at least five years.  Aesthetically this is good because my wife has informed me that I'm a "loud puker".  Not something I really take as a compliment.

I could feel my condition deteriorating early afternoon on Thursday, at which point I confined myself to one of our couches (see earlier post) and turned the TV on for the kids.  Havi was also starting to complain about her "tummy" hurting*, and naturally wanted to lie down by dad, literally right on my midsection.  Gus moseyed over to the couch and proceed to hit me and poke me in the face, wondering why I wouldn't get up.  Whatever I had apexed around 3pm, when I bolted for the bathroom to become unwillingly reacquainted with my lunch.  At one point Isla came to check on me and inquire if I was going "poo-poo" or "pee-pee".  I attempted to explain that it was neither, and she seemed to get the gist.  My wife returned home after work to find me half comatose on the couch and the kids (Gus included) zombied in front of the TV.  I promptly put in for sick leave and recused myself to the basement.

My bug seemed to be about a 24 hour thing, and by mid-day on Friday was making considerable improvement.  Saturday morning I felt good enough to consider myself a functioning parent, which was perfect timing because my wife had to go work that morning and almost made it through her entire shift before tossing.  While she was away, Isla also got sick, throwing up on me multiple times as I attempted to carry her to the bathroom.  If your going to spew, spew into this (dad's shirt).  Her inability to predict her urges to honk turned most of my morning into doing laundry, cleaning floors, and trying to keep non-vomiting kids away from the vomit, all whilst trying to hold down my own vomit as my stomach was still somewhat queasy.  At least kids tend to be pretty resilient, and Isla always seemed to be able to produce a lighthearted chuckle after pointing out that she threw up.  Yes, honey, I saw it.  And felt it.

By Sunday everyone seemed to be back to normal, and fortunately neither Gus nor Havi came down with anything as bad as what the rest of us had.  Havi still complained occasionally of her stomach hurting, and Gus was going on a week of a smoker's cough, so any odd sound from them was followed by a tense waiting for projectile vomit to follow, but nothing serious ever materialized.  To make matters even more exciting, the weekend we fell ill, the outside temps scarcely nudged above 0, and wind-chills hovered in the -20 range, making leaving the house for supplies (7up, saltines) a polar expedition.  My wife was also on-call for work over the weekend but fortunately didn't get called until Sunday when everything seemed to have passed.  We made it through another bout of family illness, hopefully to have a little reprieve before the next plague descends on our house.

Even beyond the family illnesses, being a stay-at-home parent can produce a perilous environment at times.  It's very morbid to consider, but when I'm holding multiple children while descending our staircase, I occasionally wonder what might happen if I fell down the stairs and became incapacitated.  Or if I just had a completely unforeseen medical emergency during the day that hindered my ability to perform my parental duties.  They are intricate tasks, and attempting them with any sort of handicap is never fun.  A few weeks ago, I took sizable chunks out of the tips of my index and middle finger on my dominant hand while using the new slicer I got for Christmas.^  Have you ever tried changing diapers of a squirmy 1 year old without the use of your two most important fingers?

Not that anyone needs to be calling me every hour to check-in to ensure that I'm still breathing and the kids are being looked after (okay, Mom?).  But taking kids to the ER when you're fully functioning is taxing enough, imagine if you were the one that needed medical attention and the kids were just along for the ride (and moral support of course).  That would definitely be some good blog material, once you were fully recovered.  Family life can be a treacherous place, so stay safe out there parents.  Head on a swivel and wash those hands.

It had been at least 20 years since I'd seen "Babe"

 Of the two below photos, one is taken with a sick parent and one is taken with a hungover parent.  
I won't divulge which is which.

*I take most of Havi's bodily sensation pronouncements with a grain of salt, as her tummy also occasionally tells her that it wants to watch a movie, but this time there seemed to be justifiable concern.

^This item was not on my SAHD Christmas list, but it is equal parts awesome and dangerous.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

It's the Most Wondeful(ly stressful) Time of the Year

"You Do It To Yourself, You Do"

So we survived the chaos that is the Holiday season.  It's no easy feat with small children, but we all made it to 2016.  The emotions oscillated between the highest highs and the lower of lows, and the tears were plentiful, sometimes of joy, mostly of frustration and exhaustion.  Given the fact that two of our kids celebrate birthdays between Christmas and New Year's (Gus' actually being on Christmas Day) and my wife and our oldest share a birthday just before Thanksgiving, the last six weeks of the calendar year are usually awash in celebrations.  This year was no different.  It started the week before Thanksgiving with a birthday tea party for Isla with a dozen other 5 year-olds, included multiple Thanksgiving and Christmas Celebrations, and found us making our inaugural trip to Chuck E. Cheese for Havi's 3rd birthday.  The #brunsfamilyfun culminated with Jess and I celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary in style at a rock show^ the weekend after Christmas.    

As a cynical realist, I always get a little miffed at the general approach to the Holiday season.  It's the "Most Wonderful Time of the Year"; with so much "misletoeing" how can our hearts not be glowing?  A time to sit inside by the crackling fire and watch the snow fall outside because we've no place to go.  All of this Holiday Merriment tends to stress us out though.  Between decking the halls, going over the river and through the woods to grandma's house, or putting presents on the tree (who actually puts presents on the tree?), there never seems to be enough time, energy or sanity to get everything accomplished.  Without fail, we get a little closer than we want to snapping a gingerbread man's head off* and cancelling Christmas.

I tend to think of myself as a relatively calm person.  An old coworker once asked me what sedative my doctor prescribed me and how he could get his hands on some.  Even though I did do a few things this Holiday season that I vehemently swore I'd never do, like put up outdoor Christmas lights, I felt my typical stressfree self going into the whirlwind that is the Christmas celebration.  I did however have my moment of overwhelm the Monday after Christmas, after returning from three straight days of celebrations.  In the process of making my third trip to our recycling container with empty boxes from new toys accumulated by the kids, I noticed the smear of finger prints on our back door.  I was certain these were from Gus, as one of his top five favorite activities is to give continuous high fives to any glass window he can find, and that they could range anywhere from a few hours to a few months old.

As I sighed, realizing all of the other things I had neglected over the past few weeks while we were rocking around the Christmas tree, I recalled something my 94 year old Grandma said when we stopped by her apartment on Christmas Day.  Gus had found his way over to her patio door to engage in his typical window banging, and I offered to windex the glass before we left.  She told me not to bother because she hadn't cleaned the ones off from the last time we were there a few months prior.  What I saw as another thing to add to the cleaning list, she saw as a memento of the time she got to spend with her great-grandkids.    

My Mom, another preserver of grandkid fingerprints on windows, has a quote on her fridge by Cesare Pavese that reads "we do not remember days, we remember moments."  I think this is particularly poignant during the holiday season, as we bend over backwards to find the best gift for our kids or loved ones or try in seeming vain to create those perfect holiday moments.  I remember standing in a lengthy return line at a large retailer shortly after Christmas a few years ago thinking of how stores have to build in the expense of return cost when pricing an item, and how all of us probably pay more for things because we are overtly picky and bad gift givers.  Along with including a gift receipt with the gift, the most common thing that seems to be said after a gift is open is, "you can return it if you want."  'Tis the season.  

I once read a suggestion about doing a "buy nothing" Christmas with your family, and I really hope my family can do this at some point.  Not because I am cheap (though I am pretty cheap), but because I think the concept could resonate powerfully with young kids.  Of course at the time it would be powerfully negative, as they would be pissed as hell.  But hopefully they might understand the reasoning eventually as they get older.  Whether you celebrate Christmas in the traditional fashion or not, taking a break from the excessive commercialism that roles around at that time of year can offer a needed respite from the stress that tends to come with "buying" into those societal norms.  We all know "things" don't make us happy, at least not in the long run.  People do, relationships do, moments do.  If my parents had done a "buy nothing" Christmas when I was growing up, undoubtedly that would have been the most memorable Christmas I ever had (in a very bad way then, in a good way now).

The hard part comes with the kids, because they can easily get filled with the Christmas "magic".  We want to see their eyes light up on Christmas morning when they are tearing through their presents.  It makes us feel accomplished as parents to see the smiles on their faces.  Or as author Lisa Earle McLeod puts it, "childhood happiness has become the scorecard by which adults measure their success or failure as parents."  But I think it is important at a young age to help them understand what really is the Christmas magic.  After a while, typically a lot shorter than you probably think given the price tag, the allure of the toy will probably fade.  The kid will be on to the next thing (or more interested in the box it came in), and you'll be left stepping on the many pointy accessories that came with the toy and never seem to get put away.  But the real Christmas magic is in the happy moments together with the people you love, no matter where you are or what you are doing.  Fortunately, or not in some cases, thanks to our memory bias, you typically remember more of the good ones than the bad ones.  I think about the irony of this, as I'm currently going through our photos from 2015 to create our annual year-in-review slideshow montage, deleting the bad ones and keeping the good.  And of course creating that 2016 photo folder so we can do it all again next year....

   This is probably where that family photo 
of us from Christmas should go.
Had it gotten taken.

Yes Mom, I will gladly eat this cake you made for my birthday.

Nothing like a little video arcade road rage at Chuck E. Cheese.

^Okay, bit of a stretch.  After a two year hiatus, the "band" that I "play" in conveniently booked a show on our anniversary.  Her gift to me was allowing me to pretend to be a rock star for a night - best present ever.  I bought her a drink at the bar (with her money of course).
*I know it's sexist, but I don't want to condone violence against women

Subtitle courtesy of Thom Yorke