By Patricia Lorenz
Written on her tombstone: "I told you I was sick."
There's something about being sick and being a parent that doesn't mesh. The very instant we give birth, it seems that all mothers are slapped on the back with a bright red bumper sticker: CAREGIVER: NO SICK DAYS ALLOWED.
Mothers understand what I'm talking about. It's the unspoken, unwritten, but very real rule about how long a mother is allowed to be sick. I think the rule says something like two or three hours every fifth, even-numbered year in a month that ends in E.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not a bellyaching sort of person who conjures up imagined headaches or three-day flu bouts the way some people do just to get a break from the routine. I just think mothers deserve a little more consideration than most families seem willing to give them when they are sick. And that's why I'm spouting off.
I remember the last time I had the flu as if it were the day before yesterday. The year was 1987. I left work early that day, head pounding, body shivering, glands aching, nose sniveling, mouth dry, chest full.
The drive home in the snow was no basket of cherries either. As I tried to keep the car on the road, I wondered why I couldn't get sick in July and lie on the cool sheets in my underwear, sipping cold drinks until the fever passed.
At home, that cold, gray December day, I undressed, pulled on my bleakest-looking, washed-out jogging suit with the elastic waist and ankles, popped two extra-strength cold tablets, slid between the flannel sheets and pulled three blankets, a bedspread and a heating pad over my body.
It was 2:20 p.m. I could sleep for an hour before my oldest daughter arrived home from high school. I'd already made arrangements for a neighbor to take her to her piano lesson at 4:00 p.m.
At 3:40, my two junior high teens would be waltzing in the door, stomachs growling, ready to eat Milwaukee. One of them would walk to the babysitter's to pick up the five-year-old. If I got out of bed right then and wrote them a note telling them I was sick and to please be quiet and let me sleep, I might even make it a two-hour nap.
So I wrote the note. Back in bed, I dreamt of the day when the children would all be grown, and I wouldn't have to write them any more notes of any kind. Just letters telling them I'd be jetting out to Denver, Phoenix or New York or wherever they all lived by then. I'd tell them to get the guest room ready and that I'd take them out to dinner in a fancy restaurant. After a long, luxurious candlelit meal, we'd walk to one of those elegant round restaurants that rotates ever so slowly on top of a skyscraper and order an oversize fruit drink with a name that sounds like a Hawaiian volcano, and we'd talk about our exciting, fulfilling lives. Then later, I'd fall asleep in the guest room of their new condominium....
Aaaaa-choooo!! The phone rang. "Hi, Mom. I hate to tell you this but you know I have my drum lesson after school, and I forgot my drum sticks and music. Could you bring 'em down right away?"
The front door opened. "Mom! Where are you? I brought Lisa home with me so we could practice our new cheers in the family room."
I deserved my bed, my heating pad, some quiet time. I had earned it. No matter what they said or how much they pleaded I was just going to lie there and be sick.
By 9:00 a.m. of day two (after somehow getting them all off to school amid one exaggerated crisis after another), I practically overdosed on flu and cold medicine, trying desperately to get my household back in order. By evening of day two, the whole darn family was mad at me for being sick. I had to beg the oldest to come and sit in my room and talk to me that night. I was lonely, but did they care?
That night, I paged through my Bible. There it was, proof that mothers weren't supposed to get sick. Right there in Matthew 8:14-15: "When Jesus came into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him."
By ten o'clock that night I actually wondered where Jesus was when I needed him.
By morning of day three, I figured that I would feel just as bad whether I was lying on the living room sofa or in my bed, and the sofa at least provided a central place from which to direct family life and/or at least help solve one family crisis after another.
By day four, I couldn't take it anymore and was off to work, still sneezing and aching but having learned my lesson — that it's impossible for a mother, especially a single parent mother, to escape under the covers for four days without the entire household threatening mutiny.
Getting sick is simply not in the mother's handbook of life. Since then I've only thrown up once. I resumed my phone conversation two minutes later and went to work twenty minutes after that. I figured by the time my youngest graduated from college... then, and only then, could I get away with being sick. In the meantime, if I felt a shiver coming on, it was simply time to pull on the long underwear and forge ahead with gusto.