“New Slang” by The Shins is playing in the living room as the rain taps on our skylights. You’re on the other sofa, resting a book on your thigh as you read. In your own orbit. Your toes march along in the air, keeping the beat.
You’re home with a fever, 101.7. Not strep. Not the flu. Just sick enough to stay home. Your cheeks are pink, as mine are when I’m febrile. Your hair falls in limp ribbons. I love your warmth and the sounds you make when you leave the room to blow your little nose.
I wasn’t sick often as a child, but what I remember most is the way my mother cared for me. A sore throat meant Luden’s Wild Cherry Cough Drops, a box of candy masquerading as medicine. Mom brought me Highlights magazine and puzzles with invisible ink pens. Madlibs. I’d take my father’s side of the bed. He was off at work, and I’d take over his bedside table with my sick pile. A roll of toilet paper for my stuffy nose, empty juice cups, a thermometer. Sometimes a tumbler full of Ginger Ale with a lollypop “spoon” to stir out all the bubbles, the remedy for an upset stomach. I’d watch TV all day, so long that I’d become bored even with TV. Mom would leave me with the housekeeper and drive to Blockbuster to rent me movies. Two days of fever and one day of “just in case” where I was probably well enough to return to school.
Phil says you shouldn’t have TV. “This isn’t a vacation,” he says. I say it’s not your fault that you have a fever. We all know your flair for the dramatic, that you need an x-ray because you tripped on the carpet. You limp for days when we know perfectly well that you can walk without one. You want the attention.
This sounds sexist because it is. A mother knows. Call it instinct or animalistic. I know. I know when you’re sick, when you’re not faking. And I’m going to shower you with the same love my mother gave to me. “It’s rewarding the behavior,” Phil says. Which would be true if you were faking. I don’t see the harm in giving you extra tenderness, letting you feel the physical love as I pet your forehead. There’s a reason we call out for our mommies when we’re sad. If I can give you comfort and spoil you when you’re sick, I will do just that. Reward away.