I never thought a simultaneous strep throat and sinus infection could be a good thing. I was wrong. Last Monday, after a hectic weekend tour of Seattle’s avionic attractions with my dad, I awoke to excruciating throat pain and, not to get too graphic, signs of infection in my Kleenex. I called the doctor and I saw her that morning. She broke the bad news and prescribed some antibiotics and a sinus irrigation regimen — which feels about as fun as it sounds — and sent me home.
I returned home to Matt and the kids, which, for once, was a peaceful, pleasant scene. Matt assured me that I could take a nap – he had things under control. We’ll see how long that lasts, I thought as I made my way back to the bedroom.
I slept until lunchtime and when I came out to the living room, Rose was restless and ornery, and Matt’s voice was starting to tighten, but they were still ok. “Did you get enough rest?” Matt asked.
“Yes, I did, thanks for taking the kids,” I said.
The events at my house on Monday may seem incredibly mundane to some, but for us, it was a huge breakthrough. Normally when I’m sick and Matt stays home he does it under duress and never stops reminding me that he’s unhappy. He grumbles; he yells; he warns me to sleep quickly – he can’t guarantee a child-free naps. When I wake up, he thinks of some work thing that’s needed yesterday so that I must take the kids for at least an hour, enabling him to focus for the first five minutes on the alleged fire and on Facebook for the remaining 55.
This week, when I first woke up sick, Matt offered to stay home without protest. He took care of the kids for me and aside from complaining that we need a backup babysitter, which we do, he was perfectly pleasant. He was competent with the kids as well. Sometimes he does the typical male half-ass to get out of doing a job. In this case, he escalates disagreements with Rose until she’s hysterical and won’t listen to anything so that I will relieve him of his babysitting duties.
This week was a far cry from the last time I needed Matt to care for me. At that time, I was nine months pregnant, had developed sciatica and couldn’t walk but I was still on the hook as hostess to his mom, who also couldn’t walk, and our spoiled, lazy, 13-year-old nephew. It was obvious the kid had brain to butt valet service from his family since he was born. Seriously, he didn’t even know to clear his dinner plate from the table. That visit drove me to a hospital bed. Twice. (See “The Girl Who Cried ‘Help’” )
The day that the sciatica started, I couldn’t walk and all I wanted to do was lie down. Matt spent the day assembling our new bed, “So you can lie down,” he said. It was a good idea in theory but until the late afternoon when he finished, I could not lie down out of sight or without descending two staircases and I still had to wait on my in-laws. After that incident, and the two trips to the hospital, I told him that he didn’t take care of me the way I needed. I always took care of him when he was sick, I said, but when I needed care, I was on my own. And every time I got sick, he’d turn up with some ailment two days later so I’d have to care for him.
He said I never asked for help so he never knew what I needed. I admit, I do not whine like a man when I have a cold, but I could name several times when I asked him to take Rose so I could nap and five minutes later I heard “Mommy?” right next to my prostrate head.
I’d had at least one cold before this one where I got to nap, but nobody asked what I needed; nobody made me an Airborne shot; nobody offered to get me water and I had to pick up my own prescription. This time was different. This time Matt asked right away what I needed and provided it. This time Matt got my Airborne and my soup and my prescription.
Matt talks a lot in our house about how Rose “never learns.” Until now, as I listened to those tirades, I’d tally all the things that Matt “never learns” in my head. I got so bored hearing it, I had to entertain myself somehow. When Rose finally demonstrates that she has, in fact, learned, Matt doesn’t notice. I have to point it out. But this time Matt’s the one who’s learned.
What makes this incident absolutely heroic is that this time, Matt was sick before I was. He’d had a head cold flying back from a business trip and it had pushed water behind his eardrum. The pain never let up and he could hardly hear for two weeks before I got sick. And then, inevitably, he got a head cold two days after I got sick. When he develops an illness while I’m still sick, I usually resent caring for him because he hasn’t cared for me. But this time was different. We traded off babysitting duties and made each other Airborne and got each other water and soup and unlike most sick days, we did not bite each other’s heads off.
Normally, at this point in the story, I’d talk about the catalyst to this amazing transformation. I have no such point here. I think that by telling him what I needed and allowing him time to learn to care for me, we reached our understanding. We both realized that caring for each other is the key. It precludes fights and complaints and extended illnesses, and the more we do it, the more routine it will get. I’m getting over my illness and I’m really happy about how this week turned out. Matt taught me that no matter how futile it seemed, my faith in him shouldn’t waver. And it won’t. Next cold, I’m going to teach him not to whine.