Photos and Words by Brittany Carlson
I feel like I’ve spent the bulk of this winter caring for my sick kids. And as all moms know, if one child is sick, it’s only a matter of time before the other children (and parents) get sick too. Basically, we’ve just been rotating who is sick at any given time, passing around stomach flu and pinkeye and colds like a very germy and unfortunate game of hot potato.
I’ve learned a lot in the past few months about sickness in children and about what I should be doing to prevent more illness and keep my children well.
I’ve been ordering disinfectants in bulk and taken hand-washing to a whole new level. I’ve also started carrying antibacterial wipes with me and wiping down every surface my preschooler will touch, especially grocery carts and fast-food restaurant tables.
I’ve even tried some alternative wellness and prevention ideas from friends, such as making elderberry syrup as an immune system booster and buying hand-soaps with essential oils (Thieves, which is said to “neutralize bacterial and viral pathogens,” according to organicfacts.net).
In addition to trying to prevent the spread of germs, I’ve also researched ways to keep my family well during cold and flu season.
A recent Parenting magazine by Denise Brodey advocates for exercise, healthy diet, getting enough sleep, daily fresh air and good hygiene. This didn’t surprise me, but what did give me pause was Brodey’s final advice for improving children’s wellness: slowing down and taking it easy.
According to Brodey, stress can break down the body’s immune system. She writes that if kids seem “overtired and chronically cranky” that it might be the result of an overpacked schedule, and the best remedy may be to take “a weekend to simply do nothing.”
This really struck a chord with me because of something my son said to me last week.
It was after a day full of doctor’s appointments, administering medicine, washing hands, wiping noses and basically trying everything I could to rid the house of germs. Adam*, my 3-year-old, said “Mommy, I want you to take care of me.”
“Bud,” I said, “what do you think I’ve been doing?”
It wasn’t until later that night, when we were snuggling in his bed and reading a book together, that I realized what he meant. He wasn’t referring to doctors, medicine, or any of the logistics that occupy all my thoughts during an illness. He meant he wanted me to cuddle him, read to him in bed, stay in my pajamas with him all day and watch Curious George with him. He wanted me to take care of him emotionally and reassure him that even though he felt bad at the moment, he was still loved.
He wanted me to slow down the pace, and just be with him in the sickness, even as I try as hard as I can to help him get well.
When my kids are sick, I usually feel like I’m trapped in the house, trying to get them well enough to go back to preschool or play dates and all the other plans that I have. But I’ve been learning these past few months that not only should we rest when we are sick, but we should rest more as a family practice.
In spite of having stomach bug, conjunctivitis, ear infections or whatever else my kids have been fighting this winter, I could tell that they (my preschooler especially) really loved those slow days when we had to stay in bed and snuggle and read books and order pizza. It made me realize that I do need to reevaluate our schedule and cut some things out so that we have a least few days a week of doing nothing, for the sake of our own mental and physical health.
While handwashing, eating well and prevention methods are all excellent, I believe the best way to help my kids recover this winter has been to slow down and give them extra time at home, just to be together without any plans or places to go. As much as I want to get out of the house, sometimes my kids just really need to stay home and snuggle.
And if that means we spend less time fighting illness, than that’s alright with me.
*names changed to protect privacy
Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and now has two sons, Adam (3) and James (6 months). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She and her family live in upstate NY.