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I'll Always Be a Stay-at-Home Mom Because My Kids Are Always Sick

Photograph by Twenty20

I'm a working mother, but not in a traditional sense of the word, because I work from home. When my kids and I are barfing, or everyone is running a delirious fever, I'm still here, plugging away, albeit probably covered in vomit and counting a running tally of meds in my head.

With four kids at home, all 9 and under, and a husband who works as a middle school teacher, it feels like someone is always sick. Maybe it's because we're privy to the latest and greatest viruses that crop up among germ-infested middle school students, or maybe it's because my preschooler has (on more than one occasion) licked a grocery cart handle. Either way, there's a lot sickness going on in this house.

So this is my honest-to-goodness, not snarky at all question I have for every mother who works outside of the home:

How on earth do you manage it when your children are sick?

I am genuinely curious as to how other mothers manage their working lives, because the truth is, I truly do not feel like I can hold down a traditional out-of-the home job. When I did try, it was a constant source of stress when my kids were sick, or I was sick with them, which was, um, always. I even got written up because when you're an on-call nurse, you're not allowed to get sick unless it conveniently happens two hours before your shift begins, and I had the audacity to start barfing right as my phone rang to call me in. So selfish of me!

There is a part of me that would love to be an out-of-home working mom. Sometimes I dream about getting up and getting dressed and heading out the door.

That little incident was enough to show me that most likely, I would be fired in a week from a "real" job because there is no rhyme or reason to this season of my life. We're not, unfortunately, independently wealthy, so we do have bills to pay, which means we have to make my at-home employment work. But there is a part of me that would love to be an out-of-home working mom. Sometimes I dream about getting up and getting dressed and heading out the door, coffee cup in hand in what I imagine will be like every opening scene in those chick flicks with a mom in heels striding to her job. (And yes, I know it's not that glamorous, but just go along with me, OK?)

There's a huge part of me that dies a little inside every day when I wake up and have to juggle work and diapers and lunches and constant cleaning and whining and school runs, but there's an even bigger part of me that can't fathom doing all of that while trying to meet an employer's schedule. I can't figure out if my kids are just abnormal, I'm abnormal or maybe it's some plot against women everywhere to keep us home. How would I survive against the trap that is children who are constantly sick?

In so many ways, it feels like just another thing that mothers are responsible for. Because when a kid gets sick, who's the one trying to figure out how to rearrange a schedule, take off work or explain to a boss why they need to skip that meeting yet again? And the stress of trying to catch up after a day "off," scrubbing the vomit, cleaning the sheets and disinfecting all the things? I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

The point is, taking care of children and work is no easy feat and there are so many families who are dealing with more serious, chronic illnesses and situations. How is anyone making it through?

So working mothers, I raise my bottle of NyQuil to you, because you are all amazing. Maybe your secret to making it all work is that there's no secret at all. You're just doing what every mom does best: buckling down and getting the job done, even when you're not sure how it's possible.

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