From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Sick Day

I leaped out of bed—on the right side, of course—after eight hours of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. I was ready to start the day. My daughter dressed herself without incident (meaning neither tears nor blood were shed, and no animals were hurt). My husband packed her a nutritious lunch and handed it to me, along with a pink backpack, as my daughter and I walked toward the door five minutes ahead of schedule.

“You look beautiful today,” he said admiringly, as he planted a sweet kiss on my forehead.

He was right. I was ten pounds lighter and four inches taller in my sleek new suit. I was modern motherhood personified: a loving spouse, a brilliant child, a fulfilling career. I had it all, and I had it all under control.

I pondered the possibilities for world peace as I drove off with my smiling daughter for what would undoubtedly be another wonderful day and then—What on earth was that god-awful sound?

I realized I accidentally set the alarm instead of the radio. I reached for the greatest invention of the postmodern era: the snooze button.

The dial read 7:05 AM. How could it be? I had just completed an emergency work assignment a few hours earlier and must have set the time incorrectly in my sleep-deprived stupor.

I had precisely thirty minutes to get my five-year-old ready for school and make myself presentable. Luckily, I had taught my husband how to dress himself years before.

“Wake up, Sarah,” I cried into her room. “We’re running late!”

I took a five-minute shower and threw on the first thing I saw. An ill-fitting sweater and granny skirt, a hair scrunchy and no makeup. Not exactly Sex and the City, but it would have to do. And why did my cell phone keep ringing? I wished I had taken the time to learn how to change the grating standard ring.

I went to check on my daughter, who was still lying in bed. I threw off the covers and threw on her uniform. No time for hair ribbons. No time for a complete and balanced breakfast. No time to notice the child’s listless and warm body.

I dragged the little girl to the front door. My husband, still in his robe, rushed behind us with her backpack and jacket. Today would have to be a school lunch day.

It was 7:40, and there was still a chance we would make it to school on time. We didn’t look our best but, in the sole resemblance to my fantasy, neither tears nor blood had been shed.

And then Sarah, who had been quietly standing at the door, threw up, clearly violating the sick ban I had imposed on the family when I went back to work full-time. It was more like a commandment: Thou shall not, under any circumstance, get sick. In the event that anyone dared defy this order, they were then prohibited from passing on said disease to any unsuspecting family members.

We abided by this law, and as a result had willed away many a cold, cough, and sneeze. But we couldn’t live in denial forever, especially when a kindergartner comprises one-third of the household.

By then I could see that Sarah was burning up. I tried to figure out what to do as I cleaned her up and put her back under the covers. Maybe I could take her to the office with me for a little bit. Or maybe my husband could cancel his appointments and stay home with her for part of the day.

And then Sarah threw up again, and it finally hit me. I wasn’t going anywhere. My little girl needed me.

I had no Plan B for situations such as the last-minute stomach flu. There weren’t any available grandparents or babysitters on speed dial. There was no friendly neighbor from whom to ask a big favor.

To make matters worse, there was neither an understanding boss nor forgiving clients in the picture. It was most unprofessional to stay home with a sick child. Advertising deadlines wait for no man, woman, or child.

I sat down at my laptop as my husband left for work, lugging a briefcase full of his own guilt. I wanted to call my boss, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to bear his verbal disappointment.

I e-mailed him the reason for my unforeseen absence. His response was characteristically heartless: Please e-mail me the copy for the ads we discussed yesterday.

The cold harshness of the workplace does not allow “hope your daughter feels better” or any other sympathetic banter that does not result in increased company revenues. With Sarah in bed and the front hallway cleaned up, I figured I could probably get some work done from home. I scrolled through other e-mails from countless clients with countless requests who did not care that a sick child needed her mother.

Then it dawned on me. A sick day is a sick day. And my child is a part of me, an extension of myself; therefore, if she is sick, I am sick. I put the guilt aside and decided to be thankful that I was home nurturing my little girl’s tummy ache rather than sitting by her side in a hospital room.

I e-mailed my boss the material he requested and forwarded client e-mails for coworkers to handle. They would have to do without me for a day or two, because my daughter did not have a back-up mommy.

And those barf-ridden sheets weren’t going to wash themselves.

Brenda Rosales Rincon

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