If it’s not one kid it’s your mother!

So I am currently home taking my sixth sick day of the school year and it’s not even the end of November!  The trouble is, I haven’t even been sick yet!

(The truth is, I’m actually at home for another sick day because of dental surgery and it is February 14th, but it seems I neglected to post this blog before Christmas.  Can’t imagine why I didn’t have the time then!)

It seems that the Covey clan is getting hit hard this fall with every communicable disease going.  From colds, to lice, to flus, to pink eye – if it is out there, someone in our house has had it since September. And it never fails:  we don’t get it at the same time, the virus staggers its way through our family and turns a 24-hour bug into a week-long saga.

I’m sure there are many factors that have contributed to this current dilemma in our house, not the least of which is the fact that I have young children who do not use discretion about appropriate places to stick fingers and frequently rub eyes, pick noses, and chew on fingernails!

Yes, I have taught them about germs and proper hand-washing but they seem to be willing to risk it when mom is not looking.  The thought process is something like this: this one time won’t matter, what mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her  or it’s not going to happen to me. (Come to think of it, that sounds like a teenage mentality!)

Alas, no matter how often I disinfect, we are at a stage in life that seems to be characterized by illness (or perhaps, antibody development if you are a “glass-half-full” kind of person).

I have a bit of a unique (and wonderful) daycare arrangement for my kids.  For the most part, my mom is their Nanny.  It is win-win-win:  I know they are loved and safe, mom has a source of income, and the kids have their grandmother as an important part of their lives.

I must say that it is very comforting going to work each day knowing that they are in the care of family and able to play with their beloved toys and nap in their own beds.  It also means that I do not have to have all four ready to go in the morning by 7:30am when my husband or I have to leave for work.  And, as many of you moms know (especially those who have to drop your kids off somewhere in the morning before work) the morning routine can be a nightmare so this is a bonus that I do not take for granted.

But, I have run into a glitch in my splendid plan:  illness. What do I do when that wrench gets tossed in? How do I juggle my obligations? And what do I do when Nanny is sick: take a sick day to cover her shift? (I did.  That’s why I’m home blogging instead of working!)

Truly, if it’s not my kid, it’s my mother!

If I actually calculate the number of days in total that at least one person in our family has been “under the weather” it is a least triple the time I have taken off (I think we are at least 20 days now).  Jason has also been unwell and has taken his share of sick days to care for himself and the kids but even with the two of us the burden can be overwhelming.

How are working parents doing this? One friend assured me that it does get better as the kids get older (they are sick less often, for a lesser amount of time, and are able to care more for themselves) but in the meantime it is really hard.

When I am not at work, I have a guilty conscience and I feel I am being irresponsible, even when circumstances are out of my control.  I am learning from Andy Stanley’s book, Choosing to Cheat, that parents often have the wrong perspective on that.  I am trying to remind myself that my primary responsibility is my family and that not caring for them in their illness is actually the true irresponsibility.  I can tell myself that 1000 times but it doesn’t negate the very real pressure on working moms (and dads) when it comes to this issue.

I wish I could be more like my husband who is far less swayed by the opinions of others and is content to do what is necessary, in spite of how it may be perceived in his workplace.  I am learning a lot from him about not getting caught up in the “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” of people pleasing and false guilt.  He’s good for me (more on that in another post).

I would be interested in hearing about other working moms and how they handle the disruption that illness brings to their schedules.  I am learning to expect the unexpected but I still need practical help with how to manage it.  Can you identify with the struggle to care for little ones at home and the demands of your career? Do you have any tips or sage advice that you would be willing to share?

Note:  Since January, I have enlisted the support of another excellent in-home daycare provider and that has helped alleviate some of the pressure!  Options and backup plans seem to dispel some of the worry associated with the inevitable changes in plan that characterize parenthood.

A Little Idea to Share

If you have been following my blog at all, you’ll know that I have 4 children under the age of 10. As you can imagine, it is tricky to provide undivided attention to each of them in the amounts they might desire. I was concerned because of the frequency of the situations that arose where one of the older kids had something they urgently wanted to tell me or ask me but I wasn’t able to listen at that particular moment. Of course, this bothered me because I wanted to be sure to keep the lines of communication open and not have my kids feel like what they wanted to share was unimportant. So, I thought I’d try to put a new idea into motion.

A few other moms have asked about it so I thought I should share it with you:

Purchase a simple journal and present it as a gift to your child with the idea that it can be a place for ongoing sharing. Essentially, my child is free to write in it at any time though they usually write at bedtime, if I am out of the house, or if I’m not available for conversation and they have a pressing concern or idea. They can include anything that they want to share with me, and write as much or as little as they wish. Then, they leave the journal on my pillow. I find that I read them just before bed and then, after writing an appropriate response, I place them on their bedside tables where they will see them in the morning.

This little system provides an opportunity to be involved in one another’s lives in a variety of ways, most of which are very light-hearted and fun. In particular, though, I am finding that it is also a great place for kids to ask a difficult questions, to share a hurt or an apology, or generally to communicate things that are hard to say out loud. It is amazing what they will write but not say and, as their mama, I want to know what is occupying their little hearts and minds. Usually it is in the form, “Dear Mama, …” but not always. Sometimes I write little comments in the body of their letter if it makes more sense to do so. Sometimes the kids will enhance the comment or letter with drawings or doodles.

Inside the front cover, I wrote a list of possible items to include in the journal to make it clear how broad its applications could be and here it is:

  • a thought
  • a verse
  • a worry
  • a joke
  • a question
  • an idea
  • a quote
  • a suggestion
  • an apology
  • an update
  • a memory
  • a reminder
  • an encouragement
  • a need
  • a request
  • an anecdote
  • a hurt
  • a promise
  • a drawing
  • Any other thing you want to share with your mama!

So far, it has been used regularly (practically every day) and it is really helping to make us all feel that much more connected. I have encouraged them to write things in there particularly when there are times that I cannot give them my full attention but they are concerned about forgetting something important. I try to do the same for them. It has now become a wonderful part of my nightly routine to read their thoughts and to respond to them.

Certainly not rocket science, but it has been rewarding to share in this simple way and I’m hoping it will be something we can continue to do. Perhaps, because we have developed this communication habit, it will even work in the teen years! Too optimistic?

And (insert shameless English teacher plug here) it is an excellent way to promote and develop literacy skills!

Currently, I am using it with my 10-year-old girl, Gwyneth, and my 8-year-old boy, Wesley. I have a few friends that have recently tried it with their children that are around the same age. Just the other night, though, my 4-year-old, Edmund, asked his Daddy to help him write an “I love you” message in Wesley’s journal while I was out so it seems I may have to get him started as well!

Let me know how it goes if you decide to try it with your child(ren). I’d love feedback and ideas about how to modify it for different ages, stages and/or purposes!