Staying Home with Sick Kids: How Peggy Ann McKay Ruined it for All of Us

Image: Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

We all know the feeling. Whether it’s having just enough of a cold that you can’t get motivated to do much more than microwave some soup and scroll through Instagram, or a full blown flu or stomach virus that has you genuinely pleading with God to just let you feel normal enough to function again, there is one common truth.

Being sick is no fun.

So last Sunday, when Gus went from just having a runny nose to burning up with fever and refusing to smile at anything (oh how my heart breaks when he won’t show me those teeth) in a matter of hours, and Emma’s little red cheeks were joined by a case of the sniffles, I had a decision to make.

I go through this every time. Mulling about the house, packing the kids’ bags, getting my work clothes ready for the next day, all the while knowing that I will end up staying home. Each time, my husband is kind enough to wait it out. He knows I will eventually finish stuffing tiny outfits into zippered backpacks, iron my pants, set the coffee maker, then turn to him and say, “Maybe I should stay home tomorrow.”

When our kids are sick he is always in favor of me staying home, which is why I don’t normally say it until I’ve already made up my mind. But why is it such a fight for me? Do I not like taking care of my sick kids?

Actually, taking care of sick babies is one thing about being a mother that I take great pleasure in. Wiping noses, cleaning up vomit, and force-feeding Motrin are all made worth it by those few extra snuggles and knowing that when they are sick, they just want their mama. As much as I hate them feeling bad, my heart swells with extra adoration for them when they need me more. (Does that sound dysfunctional?  Ah, well. We’ll address it in counseling when they’re 30.)

So, what is it?

Guilt over not fulfilling my duty.

Worry about what my boss/coworkers will think. Are her kids really sick? Did she just want a long weekend? Must be nice to have small children to use as an excuse all the time.

Fear of later needing the few sick days I’ve built back up after maternity leave for something more dire than a couple of harmless head colds they probably picked up at Chick-fil-A.

Guilt. Worry. Fear. A wasteful expenditure of emotion that is certainly not healthy to base a decision on.

So did I stay home?

I did. And once I made the decision I never looked back. But it got me thinking about how to avoid that internal struggle to begin with. How do I reconcile my desire to put my family first with being a responsible professional?

I decided the best way to combat that self destructive mental cycle would be to actively replace it with a more productive one. And if I can master that, it could end up serving me well in multiple areas of my life.

Let’s all think back to high school or college and how we felt when a teacher didn’t show up to “fulfill his or her duty.” I know I personally felt disappointed, betrayed, and just generally let down.

Wait, no. That was when Bluebell made its big return, and it didn’t include Rocky Mountain Road.

Are you kidding? I was elated! Cancelled classes, postponed tests, or at the very least, someone taking over class for the day that didn’t know the usual rules? I was all in.

I remember a sweet substitute teacher we had in high school who once gave a group of my male classmates permission to go outside and smoke because he didn’t know any better. But, I digress…

Yes, I care about my students and the progress they are making. But one cancelled class, or even two, is not going to derail that process any more than eating one donut instead of three is going to help me lose weight.

My classes are full of athletes with early morning practices, single moms with multiple children, and students working two and three jobs just to pay for school. The opportunity to go back to bed or grab a coffee was probably a welcome one.

So I should delight in the fact that I gave them that break, even if it was just the second week of school.

And I should delight in the fact that I have the freedom to choose my children. And maybe I should do it more often.

Gus was my alarm clock the next morning, and it was pretty apparent he was feeling crummy. After sending quick emails to my boss and my students I snuggled him in our bed until 8:00 when I could call and make him an appointment.

Fast forward to a diagnosis of bronchitis, talk of breathing treatments, antibiotics for a double ear infection, and a mama now feeling 100% confident in her decision to stay home and take care of him. No matter what people may have been (yet in reality, probably weren’t) saying, I knew I had a sick sick baby. And it struck me at that moment that nothing else mattered.

As the adage says, what other people think of you is none of your business. My business that day, as well as the next day when Emma took a downturn and I cancelled my office hours, was tending to my flock, and doing it unapologetically.

Fear is something that constantly plagues me. As a child, I could have been a decent softball player if not for my fear of the ball hitting me in the face. I always wanted to dance but could never get up the nerve to perform in front of people. I don’t put myself out there, trust, or make friends easily. I have never water skied.

I could name hundreds of ways fear has been an annoyance in my life. Some I’ve been able to overcome; some I’m still working on.

I started to use faith as my anti-venom to fear, and it’s a good one in terms of having the mentality that everything, ultimately, will be okay. I know that’s true. Without fail, God has shown up in my life every time I thought I was about to break, and I know He’s not going to stop showing up anytime soon.

But I find that what I need more often is a remedy for the moment I’m in. Whatever has me anxious right here and now. I need something that is the equivalent of a hand to hold in a crowd of people, a warm cup of tea when it is cold and raining. I need comfort.

The really amazing thing about that is, it’s always right in front of me. All I have to do is reach out to my Creator and ask Him to calm my nerves, to get me through the next day, or even through the next conversation. I find that when I replace the worry in my brain with a pleading of my soul, the voices get quiet. The fear subsides.

Are you obsessing over a decision that is small in the grand scheme of things, but seems huge in the ghastly light your mind has cast on it?

Delight in the fact that you have the freedom to make your own choices. Seek wisdom in the right places and be confident in a well-founded decision. And take comfort in the fact that your intentions are pure, and though sinners may judge you based on what appears on the surface, the Lord sees what’s in our hearts.

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