Does this sound familiar?
WIFE: Uhhhh…baby, I don’t feel good.
ME: (backing away slowly) What’s wrong?
WIFE: I have a sore throat. I’m getting sick, I can feel it. Can you take care of me?
ME: (covering mouth and nose with t-shirt) Ahhhhh, yeah, no. I’ll get you some NyQuil, though. You want some tea?
WIFE: No, I just want to be taken care of.
ME: Um, well, maybe when you’re feeling better.
WIFE: That doesn’t make sense. Will you hold me?
ME: Not a chance. How about that tea, though? I’ll just slide it under the door.
It’s not that we don’t take care of each other; it’s just that standards have fallen in that particular category. Gone are the days of chicken noodle soup from scratch these days, and the era of sick presents. But I CAN bring you the laptop so you can watch some Netflix in your little isolation tank. Love you!
I may sound like a selfish jerk, but it’s an instinctive act of self-preservation. It’s actually not even SELF; it’s about protecting the tribe. It’s parental preservation. When one goes down, the other must fill in the gaps. Pick up the slack. In short, nobody wins. She would (and has done) the same to me.
It’s simply a matter of inertia. We can’t both go down at the same time; it would be anarchy. No, someone has to remain at the wheel of the familial bus; there is no auto-parent button. Like Tom Berenger said in Platoon: “When the machine breaks down, we break down.”
And speaking as one whose machine has broken down before, trust me, it’s not a happy place to be. Considering the coddling lavished upon our darling offspring when they have so much as a runny nose, kids reciprocate with shockingly little compassion. They just don’t have the capacity for empathy; they only know that their needs are not being met, and you are the one who is supposed to meet them. So get your feverish self up and put those clammy hands to work on a grilled cheese, Daddy.
I used to pride myself on my immune system; I really did. Then I had kids, and have since accepted that once the sickness enters the house, regardless of the conduit, 98% of the time the other members will succumb in no particular order. This last time started with Mommy. Bub next. HP followed shortly thereafter. I held out, thought I was past the threshold. I had just begun touting my mad immune system skills again. Then I got it anyway. It just happens.
So what can we learn from this? Well, here’s the thing. Counterintuitive as it may sound, the best way to take care of your partner may be to actually take care of them. Hold them, sit with them, watch Netflix with them. Who cares? You’re going to get what they’ve got anyway. Might as well do it on your terms. Think of it as a flu shot.
On the plus side, you won’t have it at the same time; theoretically, by the time you start showing symptoms, she’ll be at least on the upswing. I mean, right? I know, this is a hard sell. It’s like telling you to jump out of the life raft, into the shark circle instead of clinging to the hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ll stop being hungry. I certainly haven’t tried it. But everybody loves to be taken care of when they’re sick, so I will try it next time. Hey, parenting is all about experimentation.