Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dr. Mom, Nurse Nana, and Undoing My To-Do List

As a mother for thirty-four years, and a grandmother for four, you'd think I would have figured this out by now.

Kids get sick!  And then the other kids get sick!  And then I get sick!

I'm sick of this!

One of the most frequent interruptions to work I have tried to do, and a life I have tried to make, has been the illnesses of children.  Acute and chronic.  Slight and more serious.  Physical and mental.  And quite often, some combination of these, and affecting more than one child at a time.  And always requiring some alteration of my routine, either minor or grand.

I accept that providing the care and nurturance needed to support these children who depend on me in their return to health and functioning is my responsibility.  Not my responsibility alone, but one that has fallen mainly to me, if for no other reason than that I am capable of fulfilling it.  Exceptionally capable.

At present, my household includes one minor (in his late teens), and one young adult, in addition to a spouse who is by nature helpless when it comes to dealing with his own incapacitations, let alone those of others.  Additionally, I provide part-time childcare for my daughter's four-year-old and five-month-old.  I am no longer chiefly responsible for any of these individuals.  But their illnesses still throw a wrench in my works, as they have done this week--what with the extra trips for Pediacare, and for prescriptions and sick food; the extra hours spent sitting on the floor with a barfy preschooler; the worrying and advising as my asthmatic, acutely ill, and recently employed son learns to work while sick.  The chicken soup.

But here's the thing.  Not only is it inherently stressful to deal with sick people, and particularly small sick people.  There's all that regression, the whining and screaming and demandingness.  And there's the barfing, the uncovered sneezing, the shiny green snot on the upper lips.  The hacking cough that hurts to hear.  And the loss of sleep, the twenty-four-sevenness of the whole thing.  But added to all this are the demands of work that are incompatible with this job of home nursing.  Demands that don't go away, just because we are not in a position to respond to them. 

In our society, we don't arrange our work lives to accommodate illness, though it is pretty much a given that it will occur.  And it is generally women who pay the price of this lack of "intelligent design."  For some of us who are employed outside the home, it is an issue of paid, or unpaid sick leave.  Some workers cannot take time off, period, to deal with illness.  Others must sacrifice income to do so.

In my community, we recently passed a paid sick leave ordinance, which was subsequently stopped by an injunction; then the injunction was overturned on appeal; then the governor signed into law a bill blocking the ordinance.  The ordinance would have required that employers allow workers to earn paid sick leave, which could be used for their own or family members' illnesses.  It would have been a major benefit to low income women and their children.  Other communities have passed measures mandating paid sick leave, and still others have attempted to do so.  The National Partnership for Women and Families is working to establish support for national legislation providing for paid sick leave.

It will never be fun or easy to take care of sick children.  Or to be sick ourselves.  But we shouldn't be punished for stepping up to the task.

In addition to the paid sick leave issue, there is the societal more that work must come first.  No excuses.  This expectation is increasingly problematic as work creeps into our homes, and beyond its workday boundaries, with email, texts and smartphones expanding our accessibility.  It is difficult to contend with the feelings of guilt and resentment engendered by these requirements while simultaneously carrying barf buckets, washing extra laundry, administering medicines, visiting doctors, taking temperatures, and providing TLC.

In this environment, it is a radical act--one that I am trying to educate myself to perform--to let oneself off the hook.  So this week, I intend to let go the work that interferes with what I need to do for the sick people in my family.  And I will not push said work into the time I need for rest, so that I don't get sick.  'Cuz God knows, no one has time to take care of me!

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