Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The multiple sick day: A survival guide

Every parent everywhere has had to deal, usually many times, with the phenomenon of having a sick child who isn't desperately sick. In other words, they're unwell enough that they can't attend their normal Thing (be that school, creche, kinder, or even usual lessons / extracurriculars) that ordinarily shapes the day and provides some sense of routine / activity; but they're not unwell enough to curl up in bed in fever-laden stupor and worry the living crap out of their hovering parent.

I venture to guess that every parent has also had the funtimes experience of caring for a sick child while sick themselves; often, for extra difficulty points, with the parent actually being *more* unwell than the child, but having no choice but to dig in and do.

One experience that I have been lucky enough to have only had a handful of times, however, and that I'm only just starting to perfect, is the Multiple Sick (But Not Desperately Sick) Day. Oh, I've had two out of my three kids sick at the same time before, but usually when this has been the case, it's been Desperately Sick - like the winter when A had pneumonia while E & I had full-blown flu (well before Miss C was born). My advice when dealing with the Multiple Desperately Sick Day is this: Survive. It. That is all.

But here, it's been a while between drinks for shared illness. A, who was the ear and chest infection queen from ages 1 to 4, has apparently outgrown her tendency to contract scary lingering bacterial infections, and is now very rarely ill with anything worse than a mild cold, usually not enough to keep her home from anything. E, still prone to tonsillitis whenever a heavy cold strikes, is ill somewhat more often, but nonetheless, still not all that often. And Miss C gets about the average amount of snotty noses for a 2.5 year old, but other than that, has been remarkably healthy, having a total of two ear infections to her credit and that's literally *it* for non-cold-virus illnesses in her lifetime.

So Monday, when I kept both big kids home from school with snotty noses and heavy coughs, toddler was a ball of cold-virus and I was suffering badly from a relapse of flu (and I think also a chest infection), was something of a novelty for me. Three sick kids, none of whom was sick enough to warrant or accept being confined to bed; one rather sicker mother, whose weak over-the-counter cold medicines were not providing nearly enough support to stave off the pain; one dad who confided sorrowfully that he'd be working back that night to prepare for a forthcoming business trip, which, he reminded me, meant he'd be away from Wednesday morning for four days.

Can we say AWESOME? Oh yes, I think we can.

The day wasn't nearly as craptastic as I'd feared, although it would be stretching a point to describe it as "good". Here are things I did that I *think* made it a bit more bearable for us all.

1. This sounds counter-intuitive, but try not to go for screens (TV, computer) in the morning.
I know it's an axiom of modern parenting advice pieces that "you should not worry about how much TV they're watching when you're sick!!" but I still reckon, based on my own experience, that overdosing on screens too early in the day is not a good move. In the case of my own kids, none of them are very screen-driven, and while I'm sure they would have been happy to sit down at 9am and watch Scooby Doo for an hour, this almost certainly would've meant that by the afternoon, they were bored of visual entertainment and looking for something else, just at the time when I was hitting my own brick wall.

I guess the point here is, even in sickness, use technology strategically to get the maximum benefit in terms of respite and fun. I put Shrek on for all three kids after the toddler's nap (around 2:45), and they all enjoyed it, which gave me a much-needed hour to slump around when I was feeling at my worst.

2. Be ever-mindful of the fact that sick kids have shorter attention spans, less patience, and much higher irritability than well kids.
For us, this meant that I had to accept that a quicker rotation of activities and much shorter periods of independent play would characterise the morning. We started off with playdoh, an activity that all three girls enjoy and that usually they will happily play with together for an hour or even longer. On Monday, within 15 minutes I was summoned from my dishwashing in the kitchen to mediate a dispute, and found this pattern repeated throughout our drawing /colouring time, music time, and leggo / duplo time.

Following on from this revelation was my third observation, which is:

3. Make frequent opportunities for the sick kids to play separately or do different activities apart from each other.
Peace was restored several times by me setting up different activities for the kids and actively / firmly separating them. While the toddler napped, for instance, the 8 year old lay in my bed reading a novel, while the 6 year old & I played Uno. Giving them some breathing space is even more essential than usual when they are unwell.

4. Feed them little meals often, rather than trying to go for normal-sized or big meals at morning, noon and night.
Kids' tummies often feel a bit wonky even when the virus is essentially respiratory, I've found. By giving the kids 6 or 7 little nibbly meals, they are more likely to eat enough to feel sated without getting nauseated. Frequent snacking is also a good way to break up the day and inject some quiet togetherness into things. I served my kids, across the day: crumpets & honey; fruit salad; cups of chicken vegetable soup; cheese & crackers; rice pudding; home-made chicken nuggets; and steamed veggies. None of the servings were large, but all got at least sampled by each child.

5. Don't expect to do anything at ALL other than care for your children and (hopefully) yourself.
The laundry can wait. The vaccuuming can wait. All those niggly little things you've been putting off can certainly wait. The only thing that can't wait is your kids, and yourself.

6. Try to see the funny side.

I say this because there will be stuff go down on these days that is not optimal. One example might be, say, a toddler deciding to stick her fingers in her pooey nappy and paint the loungeroom window and curtain with it while you are busily coughing up a lung. Or, perhaps, a 6 year old coughing mucus into her sister's cup of soup, prompting a screeeeeeeeeaming match of epic proportions.

It's not funny at the time, no, but you have two choices here - explode and be part of the problem, or try to see it as theatre of the absurd, put on your best face, and deal. Either way you're gonna be cleaning that window and replacing that soup, so you might as well do it gracefully.

Do you have any other tips for Multiple Sick Kids Days?

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