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Cherish the Sick Days

by Elisa All

It’s nice to be needed.

That’s what I found out the other day when my daughter Julianna, 18 months old, was sick. Feverish and frustrated, weak and weepy, she wouldn’t let me out of her sight or out of her arms.

At first, I tried to multi-task as I normally would: feeding my other two children, answering the phone, preparing things for work – all with Julianna on my hip. Soon, though, she let me know that this was unacceptable. She wanted my undivided attention, and deservedly so. I looked into her troubled, teary eyes and they told me everything: Mom, I need you.

With my husband, Alvin, managing our other kids, I took Julianna upstairs and sat in the rocking chair. She draped herself over my shoulder, pressing her flushed cheek to mine. Her hair smelled dewy and sweet, and her warm, milky breath washed over me. After a few moments she relaxed visibly, and I knew she wanted to sleep. We rocked for a while, clinging tightly to each other. I eventually picked her up, went to my bed and lay down. But not content to lie by my side, Julianna crawled on top of me and lay across my chest, her face snuggled into my neck. I didn’t move; I just quietly stroked her back until she fell asleep.

In the silence, I heard so much. I discovered two Julianna breaths for every one of mine; two Julianna heartbeats for every one of mine; two Julianna thank-you-for-being-heres for every 10 of mine. It’s amazing what you can absorb when you just stop and listen.

That rhythmic beating of hearts in sync taught me something vitally important: Our kids need us in ways we may not even understand. Julianna needed to feel close and safe and protected – she needed to trust that she could fall asleep on Mom and know Mom wouldn’t leave. Without saying a word, she made that clear. She made that happen. My daughter couldn’t vocalize it, but to her, I meant security and warmth and familiarity. And somehow she knew that no one else could give her those things in the same way that I could.

Her unspoken intuition was correct. In fact, recent research has shown that sick kids get well faster if Mom or Dad takes care of them. According to a report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, however, only 42 percent of parents say they are able to take time off to care for their sick children. Parents with paid sick or vacation leave are more than five times as likely to be able to care for their children, and education level is strongly linked to a parent’s likelihood of having this paid leave (92 percent of parents with a high school diploma or more have this type of leave).

For those of us fortunate enough to be able to care for our sick kids, there should be no question about what our priorities are when they need us. Most everything else can wait while we nurture our children back to health and let them know they don’t have to share us with the world, at least for this brief moment in time. These sick days are days when our children need us fundamentally. And since they may not understand the extraordinary fulfillment that comes from being needed until they have little ones of their own, we should cherish these days and the intimacy they bring. After all, it won’t be long before our kids won’t need us as much as they do now.

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