Every mum knows that the worst words you can hear at 2.30am are ‘Mummy, I’ve been sick.’
In the early hours of a recent Bank Holiday Monday, I stumbled, half-blind with tiredness, into my son’s bedroom and found bits of half-digested chicken and carrot all over his pillow and duvet cover. I stripped the bedding off, gagging, while my husband took him into the bathroom and sourced a sick bowl. ‘You know,’ I said, once I was fully awake, ‘I don’t feel great’. My husband grimaced at me. ‘Me neither.’
The following twenty-four hours were grim, as we took it in turns to hog the bathroom, neither one of us fit to parent. For the first time in my almost-four-year motherhood career, I put no restrictions on TV time. Our son watched more Paw Patrol than is advisable in a year, and our daughter (newly walking) just wandered from one room to another a bit sadly, looking for someone to play with. It got me thinking about the best and worst-case scenarios of weekend and holiday illness.
You’re ill; everyone else is well
It’s sad to say, but this is the top trumps of family illness, in my opinion. How did we get here, where being ill is a plus? But as long as you don’t feel too grotty, there’s something slightly delicious about staying in bed with a book while the chaos goes on downstairs, not quite out of earshot. I had a couple of days of fever a while ago, and my son came up to see me for kisses and updates on his busy day every few hours. He drew me a picture. And my husband kept checking on me, too, bringing our daughter up for cuddles and proffering paracetamol. It wasn’t bad, really, all things considered.
Your partner is ill; everyone else is well
If you’re the one who’s at home with the kids the most, this is a bit shit. Because it turns a family day into one more day of solo childcare. Except it’s the weekend, so your mum mates are all busy with their families, and there’s no-one to chat to while your collective offspring clamber all over the furniture and try to send you insane. Plus, if you quite like your partner, you feel obliged to look after them a bit, too. And every time you nip upstairs with a cup of tea, you just know someone will do something ridiculous, like putting the toilet brush in their mouth or drawing on the walls with felt-tip pen.
Kids are ill; parents are well
This is no picnic, but at least you have your full parenting team on hand to deal with it. One of you can stock up on tissues and Calpol while the other makes up stories and mops fevered brows. And then you can swap. If there’s vomit, four hands are better than two. One person can clean up the child while the other cleans up the furniture/carpet/bedding. Having to do one and then the other is rubbish, because you might forget to do the child first, and that’s frowned upon.
You’re all ill
You’d think this was the worst of all, right? But it can be strangely ok. As long as your kids are ill in a snuggling-up-on-the-sofa-and-having-extra-naps kind of way, rather than vomiting in every room or endlessly crying. If everyone feels like shit, you can all just take it easy. Staying in your pyjamas all day, eating whatever you feel like (but certainly no proper meals) and watching endless TV. And when that message comes up on Netflix, asking in a rather judgey way whether you’re *still* watching Fireman Sam, you can throw all your snotty tissues at the TV and tell it to piss off, because you’re ill, goddamnit. There’s a kind of comfort in all being in it together.
Parents are ill; kids are well
This is the worst. No question. My son likes to get his doctor’s kit out when I tell him I’m ill. Sadly, if he can’t find it, he usually decides his toolbox will suffice. And he’s a bit gung-ho with it. I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s tried to saw my arm off before I’ve even told him what the problem is. When you can barely lift your head off the pillow and your partner’s in the same boat, perky children are your enemy. Ship them out to friends or grandparents, if you can. Even if it’s only for a couple of hours. Other than that, all you can do is try to invent games that involve lying on the sofa. If you come up with any good ones, be sure to let me know.
Finally, a note about single parents in the relevant above scenarios: You are incredible. Truly. You’re the definition of awesome.
Laura is a writer who lives in Leicestershire with her husband and their two children. When she’s not writing or reading, she can usually be found trying to get her son to put his shoes on, encouraging her daughter to sleep past 5am or moving small items from one room to another. You can follow her on Twitter and on her blog about getting cancer when she was pregnant.