"As parents, we develop an instinctual sense of what to do when our children get sick. Our instincts are part childhood memories of what brought us comfort, a bit of science, a large dose of compassion, and some parental adrenaline."
Kim John Payne, M.Ed, excerpted from Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
I've had a boy at home with a low-grade fever for four days, feeling lousy enough to tell me in great detail how much his skin hurts, but well enough to insist he needs to eat small portions of "I don't know, Mom, something soft/cold/smooth/and with milk...or maybe crunchy ... no, not crunchy, never mind " every hour.
My daughter was home for two of these days with a soul fever.
But hang on, what is that?
(when children feel) upset, overwhelmed, at odds with the world. And most of all, at odds with their truest selves [...] Whether the source of the malady was internal or external, it's now raging within, occupying the child's attention and affecting their behavior. Affecting, also, the emotional climate of the home." (Payne, Simplicity Parenting)
And I, as well, have had a combination of the two: the physical and the soul. I've certainly passed on this nasty cough to my son. I've possibly passed on my soul fever to my daughter, although she doesn't know the reasons behind mine. She doesn't know that I am watching the slow, messy spiral of someone I love. She doesn't know that to anticipate another's rock bottom is to travel partway there yourself, but she absorbs my adult energy anyway.
So I have to do something to fix this.
I read Simplicity Parenting when the kids were younger, studied it twice in book groups and heard Kim John Payne speak twice. His work is brilliant, but I'd not thought about it for a while until today. How do I help these children? How do I help myself?
1. Quiet things down.
If you find yourself -- or someone you love -- with a soul fever, I recommend starting with Kim John Payne's four simple tonics. Remarkably, the cure for a soul fever is the same as the cure for a physical one. And none of it is very easy.
-Do not work. Do. Not. Work. This is hard. Okay, just commit to one day off, despite the fact that you have a solo show in one month. And the photographer is coming in 2 weeks. Don't throw up.
-No NPR. This is hard.
-No television, no movies, only some show tunes allowed (pretty easy, except when you've heard "It's A Hard Knock Life" 3 times, then it's hard).
-Weigh the merits of dispensing Ibuprofen vs. letting the fever do its job. Commit to the latter.
-Ask yourself if the cough you've had for 3 weeks is finally going away or if it's just morphed into a sinus infection and ... is that a cold sore? Crap, you're kidding me.
-Stay home from school.
-Power read 2 1/2 Roald Dahl books, but stop when "The Witches" is a little too scary and you're worried you might have nightmares. Then blast through "The Phantom Tollbooth" in about 4 hours.
-Pajamas and bed-head optional, but highly encouraged.
-Read the "BFG" a second time, but skip ahead to the exciting parts.
-Stay home from school.
-Commune with animals.
-Talk a lot about your feelings. Like, a lot -- like, for example, how you like animals better than people. And how you wish you were an animal. Maybe a unicorn. Yes, probably a unicorn. Or a tiger.
2. Bring the afflicted close.
-Make many small wool felt animals. Assume all design details will be dictated by someone else. Allow several hours.
-Paint 26 tiny toadstools and only slightly freak out when your girl wants to organize them all while they're still wet.
-Think about work. Think about what it would be like to work alone. Like, in New York or London or maybe Paris. Think about being 24 and ... oh, and RICH! ... working in Paris. With a wardrobe that doesn't include stretchy pants covered in cat hair. Yes, think about that.
-Rinse out the Vitamix.
-Master the analog clock.
-Announce the time frequently throughout the day. Because now you CAN.
-Cry for no reason.
-Cry for every reason.
-Master the dictionary. Okay. You totally knew how to do that already. Duh.
-Throw up smoothie.
-Lie on the bathroom floor.
3. Let the fever run its course.
-Attend "The Puppet Show that Lasts for One Hour."
-Listen to the description of the Many Feelings. Try to ignore Whiney Voice often accompanied by Baby Talk.
-Break up ... rather ... "facilitate kindness between" bickering children.
-Entertain the fleeting thought: "Maybe they'll both take a nap so I can wedge in an hour of un-interrupted work!" hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
-Okay, now wipe your eyes because that's some funny shit.
-Perform "The Puppet Show that Lasts for One Hour" with 3 intermissions. Do NOT let your brother watch. Scream, in fact, when he tries.
-Announce the time ... again. Get frustrated and start crying because crap if "5 minutes after 20" totally doesn't sound right and now you've forgotten how to tell time and it's probably because you're stupid. Except we don't say stupid.
-Except smoothies are stupid.
-Draw yourself a bath upstairs but return quickly because bathing by one's self is boring and besides, is that a puppet show I hear my sister performing?
4. Allow for a slow strong return.
-Complain about "The Witches" and explain that you would like the book removed from your Cozy Couch Area because the cover artwork makes you have a tummy ache. Really, you're feeling fine, it's just "The Witches" that makes you feel sick now. Blame your mother for this because she gave you the book and she should have known how sensitive you are to these things.
-Announce the time using the big hand and the little hand for Papa when he comes home.
-Announce that you will maybe perform "The Puppet Show that Lasts for One Hour" tomorrow at school. Because you will go there instead of staying home.
-Ignore dinner, no one wants it anyway, including you.
-Go for a long bike ride as soon as your husband walks in the door, airplane-weary, but still able to brush children's teeth and read (more!) and oversee pajamas (fresh!) and break up bickering (new techniques!).
-Pedal and pedal and pedal.
-Ignore the phlegm you keep coughing up and listen to Hilary Frank's voice in your earbud and know you aren't alone.
-You aren't alone as a mother. You aren't alone worrying about another mother's descent, the messy spiraling one, the rock bottom you're anticipating -- there, you've said it even though you told yourself you wouldn't here -- the root of your soul fever.
-Know this time with your own children will never come again and think about it in the most beautiful, most kind way possible. Shift your bitter thoughts through images and words, then present them to the world so you are left with a sweetness behind these days.
-Know it's okay to make this slight alteration in reality.
-Then wonder if your children would like Paris. Wonder if you even would.