Face it, nothing is getting done. Your kid's taking a sick-day during your work-day. Does he bark orders from the couch like an African dictator in a leopard fedora? No? Mine does. My column this week explores the pleasures and frustrations of having to throw in the towel on productivity and give yourself over when there's a tiny, coughing autocrat underfoot.
Face it. Nothing Is Getting Done Today.
Monday mornings exist for me like a floating life raft. A raft that comes equipped, however improbably, with a good chair, an acre of desk and a laptop, alongside endless coffee refills and the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish I need to eat while I write. Porcelain ramekins with orange chemical dust are littered all over the house after a day of writing—without those Proustian salted fishies, I can’t scribble a word.
Weekends are filled with youth sport spectating and piles of half-read Times sections. There are also movies to see and nights out at good Brooklyn restaurants with extra long waits (see last week’s column on Brooklyn dining). There are meetups with friends, lots of museum visits, and impromptu playground basketball (Pathetically, I carry a satchel big enough to hold a regulation NBA ball should one of these games erupt for my son). But for the most part, there is the shuttling around of four highly scheduled kids, all under the age of ten. It’s the transport of their bodies from sports to parties and back to sports again that fills the days. Saturdays feel like a sprint from morning cereal and uniform laundering right up to the succession of nightly showers and wet towels heaped on the bathroom floor. In between, without question, there are 40 distinct snacking sessions and many full meals picked over by little fingers. Is it too early for wine? Did I say that out loud at a soccer game?
As filled as our weekends are with Family Togetherness, and the stress and sweetness therein (goals are scored, touchdowns made, pas de chats perfected, and holy crap—look how cute and soapy they look piled up on the couch right before bed), I still need my writing days to be solitary, populated by a party of one. Reaching a ceiling-max of two, when factoring in whomever my patient editor is. In short, my career is kid-free by design. I want to mother kids, take care of them, not work alongside them.
Having said this, it seems the week ahead is going to be ugly. I can see it unfolding, or rather, folding in on me. I suspected it two nights ago when our bed was taken over by a hacking, sniffling, 8-year-old boy who needed more of all the blankets.
And this morning, a foot away, here he lays: a feverish lump under a pile of knits on the couch, battling bronchial pneumonia. Home sick from school. He’s sleep-watching Clash of the Titans (the best version, with Harry Hamlin as Perseus, the hilarious Kraken Release, and the revolting, eyeless Stygian Witches. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082186/). The poor kid is very sick, very sad about it, and as lethargic as a nest of Thai vermicelli. Oddly, his fever makes him look gorgeous, as flushed and wilting as a Victorian street urchin with consumption.
When ailing like this, the Boy rules over the family like an African despot. Picture an angry 50 pounder, recumbent on the sofa, wearing a leopard fedora and barking menacing demands. It would be best if everyone stayed somewhere else for a while because I need all the space I can get feeling this way. I need both bunks of the bunk bed. Why hasn’t anyone brought me more peanut butter on a spoon?! What’s going on here? It’s basically my jar of peanut butter and I’m not sharing it when I am this in need of a lot of peanut butter!
This morning I’ve been accused of “putting a bad flavor” in his mouth (antibiotics, I explain to him), making him “feel weaker” by not carrying him around the house Pieta-style, feeding him “poisonous, rotted food,” (a bruised Granny Smith apple), and depriving him of “the only thing” he feels he can eat (Sour Patch Kids). When I said no, he said, simply, “Jesus Christ, Mom. Jeeee-sus Christ,” and rolled over. In short, I’m supposed to be clacking out Important Words and instead find myself placating a dwarf dictator. It’s tyranny.
So, I’ve decided to commiserate and share that if you’re a parent working from home and find yourself caring for a sick kid who should be in school, it’s okay to feel resentful. As long as you remain sympathetic and provide warmth and shelter and doctor prescribed meds to the unwell party, it’s normal to feel perturbed that the kid is there, asking for things, needing a million different kinds of assistance. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to get one goddam thing of consequence done today. You’re doing your best. You’re cranky but you’re counting to five before you speak. You’re providing mild foods, flat ginger ale, making toast, lovingly sprinkling cinnamon on it and then making the toast over again because “Didn’t you hear me say that cinnamon makes me gag???”
It seems to me, Creative Professional, that if you have the rare luxury of being able to do so, and it IS a luxury, you should give yourself over to the palliative care of whomever is home sick. Don’t do anything reckless like jeopardize your job, but I’m suggesting not tormenting yourself for falling behind with work. Cut your professional losses for the day. Because you’re going to do a very poor job tackling anything besides waiting on your charge today. Perhaps even a piss-poor job. Speaking of which, the Boy just mentioned in passing that he “basically peed a good amount on the bathroom floor because of weakness and bad aim due to the fever.”
Sure, you might be able to squeak out a few self-interested, careerist acts if you’re willing to ignore the couch-surfing sickie (shame on you/me)—emails to colleagues, four consecutive movies for the patient to watch (next up, something Hobbity and five hours long), and a period of useless wallowing about why you don’t just have a spontaneous babysitter to help with this scenario—but really your focus will be divided. You should just console yourself with the fact that THANK GOD it’s not a stomach bug. The psychic trauma and cleanup from those eruptive odysseys kills a whole day minimum of productivity (laundry, beach towels prophylactically lining every piece of furniture, massive paper towel hemorrhaging), and it’s too heart wrenching when little kids barf to even mention.
Just stop fretting about the work and try to settle in, Creative Professional. Look how cute that convulsively-hacking Mobutu is laying there on the chaise. All he wants is a cheese stick with a single ribbon of Sriracha squirted along it, a glass of juice in the green cup with the disgusting pulp strained out and a Vicks Vapo-foot rub. Plus, Perseus is about to slay Medusa and put her head in a burlap sack. Harry Hamlin, circa 1981 in a loincloth is enough to inspire many hours of creative output tomorrow. Tomorrow: this is when I get back to work, the tiny autocrat goes back to school, and things get very brass tacks around here again. With apology, this is also when he infects all his classmates with copious germs. You have kids, right? Come to think of it, get as much done today as possible. You’re next.
This essay first appeared on the South Brooklyn Post on December 12, 2015.