From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Earning the Privilege of Being Sick

I make my way into the kitchen with the unsteady gait of someone who has spent the last day and a half in a haze of sickness, drifting in and out of sleep. I wobble into the empty kitchen. My husband is at work, the kids at school, and I have called in sick for another day. This is the first I have ventured out of bed.

An empty fast-food bag is on the counter. I guess they had Wendy’s for dinner last night. If I had the energy or inclination, I could probably study the wide assortment of crumbs and drips that line the counters to recreate every snack and beverage consumed by the rest of the family while I was flat on my back. But I don’t.

I open a cabinet and give some thought to trying instant oatmeal. My queasy stomach tells me no, but not before I notice a shelf full of Hostess treats. My husband must have made a trip to the grocery store. At least I know no one is starving.

Wait! My eyes dart to the fishbowl, where Jeffrey II (at six and one-half years of age, now a few months older than his namesake, Jeffrey) is swimming in desperate circles. Someone is hungry. It’s been a long time since anyone other than me has thought to feed the fish. Apparently, no one thought this time either. I give him an extra shake of flakes.

I can tell the dog was not forgotten. I know because her bowl is overflowing with food, some of which has escaped to the floor, scattered around the bowl in an interesting landscape of peaks and valleys.

I stagger into the dining room, where I see four of my daughter’s sweatshirts in an appealing array on the table and chairs. Katy, age twelve, wears a sweatshirt to school just about every day. I can’t decide whether the pile includes shirts she has worn or shirts she decided against wearing. Probably both.

I notice my son’s winter jacked slumped over a chair. I know the temperature outside is hovering around twenty degrees. I wonder what Mikey, age fifteen, is wearing.

I head into the living room, my sights set on the sofa, where I aim to spend the day in repose. I note two days of newspapers piled unceremoniously on the floor. Quilts and pillows are here and about, testimony to a cozy evening spent watching television and reading. I stumble into the sofa, tripping over my husband’s shoes on the floor next to it.

The phone rings. I answer the portable, which I have wisely transported along with me into the living room.

It is Grandma. Her son (my husband) has called her from work asking for her breaded chicken recipe, which he plans to make for dinner.

“I forgot to tell him to season the chicken first,” she tells me.

I assure her I will pass along the message.

The call reminds me that my son Matt, eighteen, had telephoned me from college the previous day. Alerted online by his dad that I wasn’t feeling well, he called to see how I was doing. It was nice to hear his voice sounding so solicitous.

In fact, the rest of the crew has been pretty solicitous, too. Bringing juice and tissues, popping heads into the sick room to inquire if I needed anything.

It occurs to me that I have passed some important milestone of motherhood. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I was not allowed to be sick. The complications, extra arrangements, and added concerns always convinced me that it was just easier to keep going, no matter what.

But I can see from the artifacts scattered around my empty house that my family has handled things just fine without me. Maybe not exactly the way I would have, but fine nonetheless. I grab the remote control and settle in on the couch.

After years of service, I’ve earned my sick leave.

Mary Vallo

“Gee, Mom, I’m sorry you’re sick. But can’t we hire a sub?”

Reprinted by permission of Dan Rosandich. © 2006 Dan Rosandich.

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners