It’s somewhere around five in the morning when my 9-year-old stumbles into our bedroom.
“My tummy hurts,” she says in a dry, hushed voice.
It takes me a minute to come out of my sleepy fog to understand what’s happening. By then she’s crawled into bed with us. Really, I just want to stay snuggled under the warm covers and blow off this early morning call to parenting. Maybe if I squeeze my eyes shut, click my naked heels and wish super hard for sleep, I’ll fade back into La-La Land.
No such luck. Even groggy with sleep, my mothering instincts take over. I roll over, eyes still closed, and ask her a series of whispered questions: is it a sharp pain or a barfy pain? Has she tried sitting on the toilet? Is she hungry?
Her answers are vague and all end with “but my tummy hurts.” I’m not saying she’s lying, but I’m not convinced she’s actually ill, as in about to vomit or break out in hives. She doesn’t feel warm. Even so, she’s clearly uncomfortable. I reach out to stroke her hair.
“Can I stay home today mama?”
The request prods me into semi-consciousness as I consider the idea of rearranging my day. You’d think with three kids I’d be better at dealing with shifting plans on the fly, but I crave consistency and schedules to keep me sane. I need a little time to think about this. Meanwhile, Ruby is in no hurry. It’s only 5:17 a.m. Time is on her side.
I lie there in the dim morning light anxiously going over the tasks on my to-do list that won’t get done if she stays home. There will be no trip to the dry cleaners and I’ll have to cancel the older one’s orthodontist appointment; I probably won’t get much writing done and will have to put off the workout I’d promised myself. I’ll have to email the potential school gala donors instead of calling them although I might attempt a few other calls that don’t require absolute decorum, like the one to the handyman to come fix our leaking toilet. I won’t make it to the grocery store so dinner might end up being frozen waffles with a side of whatever’s in the fruit bowl.
In my life before stay-at-home motherhood, my to-do list brimmed with very important, unquestionably professional items. “Submit Client RFP” jostled with “Revise Wireframes” for priority and attention. Now my day is bookended by stressful, time-sensitive tasks crunched into a mere few minutes, like getting the kids out of bed and to school on time, feeding them before they turn into ravenous beasts, making sure homework is done. In between is a series of tedious tasks, like grocery shopping and appointment making, that need doing at some point but certainly aren’t crucial to any grand finale.
What I do to keep my family whole and loved and humming, while necessary and meaningful in a big picture kind of way, is an endless project that will never be presented to the client for approval or praise. This mama needs a break from the mundane. This mama needs a short-term assignment. Soothing a sort-of-sick child for the day could be just the thing.
I curl around my girl. My everyday to-do list struts out into the room, tapping her foot, hands on hips, waiting for me to hop to. But I don’t. Instead I conjure up a new one:
- Shower quietly while the “sick” one sleeps in
- When she wakes, ask if she wants some Pepto
- Meander downstairs for toast and tea together
- Burrow into the family room couch with a big blankie
- Watch Pitch Perfect. Sing along.
- Text around to see if someone else can drive carpool
- Watch The Incredibles
- Break for a cup of chicken broth, maybe with noodles, maybe without
- Watch Monsters, Inc. Get teary when Sully sees Boo again at the end.
- Pretend to give dinner some thought then serve waffles anyway
- Tuck in the girls, one, two, three
- Open that amazing bottle of pinot hiding in the garage
- Peruse last Sunday’s New York Times as if it’s still Sunday while your husband watches the Olympics
- Go to bed. Early.
In my drowsy state, this new to-do list sounds like a dream come true. I get to leave the mostly mind-numbing musts of domestic life on the back porch while I hunker down inside with purpose, taking care of my girl.
Ruby shifts in the bed and lets out a little sigh.
“You can stay home, baby,” I whisper.
“Yay,” she whispers back.
I may not be the one under the weather, but sometimes a sick day is exactly what I need.