JOPLIN, Mo. —
It's happening all around us: Kids are coughing, babies are snotting and moms and dads are massaging their aching sinuses. Sick season has arrived.
Hopefully, we all have our trusted methods for denying germs a foothold in the first place, but where do we turn when preventive measures fail? What do we do as parents when our own health is compromised by cruddy microorganisms?
Despite all instincts to the contrary, we're still required to take care of our kiddos even when we can barely get out of bed. If we're lucky, there are grandparental reinforcements we may be able to call in for a few hours, but if that's not the case, we're just stuck.
And when our energetic kids and our throbbing sinuses collide, things can get nasty. We need a few ground rules in times like these.
First, you'll need to expect to fill a full day with parenting on the off chance that school is not in session. Winter breaks and snow days can conspire against us when we're sick, so knowing how you'll handle 12 hours of kid time will prepare you for the worst-case scenario.
Gear up for the day by relaxing your gold standards. Understand that feeding the kids may look neither healthful nor varied, and settle for a day of self-serve snacks.
Also, be aware that PBS Kids broadcasts all day. Cartoons are your friends, and I assure you, your kids' brains won't melt immediately upon contact with excessive screen time.
Aside from the most tedious of parenting jobs -- redirecting toddlers, wiping backsides, corralling crawlers, separating arguers -- try to make each activity into a lengthy ordeal. We might not tolerate dawdling on normal days, but when we're sick, a drawn-out exercise is just the thing to pass the time.
Let the kids take forever to clean their rooms. Let breakfast last for hours. Make sure one activity never steals time from another. For instance, if it's snack time, don't let it be movie time as well. Drag those activities out so they're filling every spare moment while you try not to die on the couch.
Institute mandatory naps, even for your elementary-age kids. The older ones probably won't sleep anyway, but you can still require quiet time for an hour or two in the middle of the day. Call it something fancy; tell them to pretend their bedroom is a deserted island, and you might catch a few winks while the kids decide who gets to be the Lord of the Flies.
If your kids are too young to be out of your sight, set up a tent in the living room. Blanket forts are also good, but only if older kids can make it happen; ain't no sick parent got time for soft-sided architecture.
Once there's a unique and inviting space for playing, the little ones will make it their own for hours upon hours. Don't panic when they bring every last toy from their bedroom into the tent. This is survival mode. If you're alert enough to be clever, you can enforce cleanup time as their next activity.
And have hope: Being a (mainly) unavailable and (mostly) uninvolved sick parent is actually a good practice every once in a while. Your kids are learning all kinds of lessons about self-sufficiency and independence while you mouth-breathe yourself into healthfulness.
Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.blog spot.com.