I hardly ever get sick, even with minor things like colds or stomach viruses, which I credit to a combination of daily exercise, lots of hydration (really, I’m convinced that because I drink three quarts of water a day, a lot of the germs that attack other people simply wash right through me), an enormous helping of good luck, and to a tiny degree the fact that as we all know, mothers can’t get sick, so when we’re feeling a little under the weather, we tend to ignore it. It’s a tree-falls-in-the-forest kind of thing: if we’re the ones who feel foreheads for fevers and dose out Tylenol but no one does that for us, then we must not be sick, right?
This week, though, I’ve indulged in a good old-fashioned head cold. Well, it doesn’t feel so indulgent. My throat is scratchy, my voice sounds like gravel on a cheese grater, my eyes burn, the rest of me is achy, and my thoughts are unfocused. But it’s indulgent in that for once I’ve just succumbed to it: complained to everyone in sight, sucked up every last crumb of sympathy tossed my way (and thanks to the gravelly voice, no one I cross paths with can miss the fact that I’m sick), and spent the day slouching around the house.
I’ve also given myself all kinds of free passes when it comes to parenting in the past 24 hours. Last night, Tim and Rick had a baseball game. I was feeling worn out by six o’clock. Holly could hardly believe her good luck when I conceded to her request to watch TV, but that’s what happens when Mom has a bad cold: everyone has a little more fun than usual. And when Holly admitted all she really felt like for dinner was a bowl of cereal, I felt grateful rather than negligent. So she watched TV, ate some cereal, and then took a long shower, while I felt relieved not to be called on to do anything more complicated than read her a few chapters of Fantastic Mr. Fox before bed.
After we’d read for about ten minutes – all I could manage with my scratchy throat – Holly wanted to snuggle with me before she went to bed. While we lay on the couch, I started to laugh, because it reminded me of a conversation I witnessed years ago between my parents. Holly wanted to know what I was laughing about, so I tried to retell it to her. This took place when my eldest niece was a baby and had a bad cold, and like most infants when they’re not feeling well, she just wanted to be held, preferably carried snugly against someone’s warm front while they stayed in motion. My mother happened to have a cold that week as well, and she commented that it was curious that babies want to be held close and carried when they’re not feeling well, since all she herself wanted was to be left alone. “Really, can you imagine thinking it would feel good to be lugged around all day rather than just allowed to lie in bed?” she asked my father.
He pointed out that to an adult, the idea of being carried around didn’t sound appealing for biomechanical reasons, but for a baby it was different; at their size, their limbs aren’t sprawled and nothing dangles awkwardly down. To know what it would actually feel like and why it might be comforting, he went on to say, you’d have to imagine being carried by someone as proportionately larger to you as an adult is to a baby.
“Imagine if Wilt Chamberlain was carrying you around,” he told my mother. She demurred though, opining that even if the 7’ 1” NBA legend were available to be summoned to the house for the sake of toting her around all day until she felt better, it still wouldn’t be her method of choice for coping with a cold. I had to agree, but the image of Wilt Chamberlain carrying my mother around while she coughs and sneezes is still enough to make me laugh. Even when I have a cold.
So I’ll put up with my cold just the way I’m doing this week: with kind sympathy from friends, cereal for dinner and a free pass on all the usual tasks that make up my day. I’m sure I’ll be feeling better soon. Along with being fortunate enough to hardly ever get sick, I recuperate quickly. Wilt Chamberlain? I’ll pass, thanks. Snuggling with my seven-year-old before she goes to bed is enough closeness for me until the postnasal drip goes away.