Feminist Parenting: Is Mom Sick?

“Mommy, are you dead?”

“No, Mommy is not dead. Just sick.”

“Are you sure? Daddy said I should check.”

I was not dead. But the assumption was not far-fetched. I had been in bed for days, fighting the stomach bug that my son so generously brought home from preschool. Children are petri dishes. And they are somehow able to bounce back so much more quickly from their own superbugs.

As I wrote in my first column here, my kids are my primary job. So when I take a sick day—or three—I’m still in my office. I can hear my coworkers raising general hell just a few feet from my churning stomach. And my place of employment has no awareness of sick leave for full-time employees.

My four-year-old barged in at least every 20 minutes with his usual litany of questions.

“Mommy, can you smell my foot? Why does my foot smell so funny?”

“Mommy, what are we having for dinner? Does your tummy like fish yet?”

And when I tried, in a fit of desperation, to lock the door so I could sleep, I could hear a muffled voice from the other side. “Mommy, why are doors made of wood? Why does wood burn? Could wood explode?”

Wait. What?

And soon I heard the voice of his younger sister, slightly softer but just as demanding.

“Mommy, have owie hand! Help owie hand!”

“Mommy, I hungry. Mommy have raisins?”

I got sick an hour ago. I do not want fish, and I do not have raisins. Where is your father?!

But it’s not their father’s fault that my children sat perched outside my door, physically unable to leave me alone. I have a wonderfully supportive partner who cooks delicious meals, is way better with bloody boo-boos than I will ever be, looks almost as stellar driving the minivan as I do and genuinely enjoys massive quantities of time with his children.

The fault is all mine.

The fault is mine, because I love that my two favorite little humans rely on me as much as they do. I love that they truly believe that only one person is able to identify foreign foot odor, explain why wood is flammable, diagnose potential hand injuries or locate missing raisins.

The fault is mine, because I have not taken a true sick day in five years. I stumble down the stairs when I hear my daughter cry, because I love that her tears stop as soon as she cuddles her head into my shoulder. I answer my son’s questions about flammable materials not just because I don’t want him to burn the house down, but also because I don’t want to do anything to discourage that inquisitive mind.

But, honestly, that’s nothing more a sweet-smelling pile of excuse poo every mom tells herself to make herself feel better about being so completely unable to stop micromanaging.

The fault is mine because no mom knows how to clock out. We can’t do it. While I was getting sick (my head was literally in the toilet), I was giving my husband detailed instructions on how best to disinfect the bathroom.

“You’ll need the thieves oil.” (Head in toilet)

“It’s in the cabinet by the sink.” (Head back in toilet)

“Spray it like an air freshener. I swear it will help.” (Head in toilet once more)

What a gift it would be to myself—and therefore to my children—to let go of the sweet-smelling excuse poo, even just for a day. To tune out the millions of questions and the potential dangers in order to give myself just one uninterrupted afternoon of recuperation and self-care. The children would not starve. The house would (probably) not burn down. I would definitely be a better mom when I was back on the job. And there is no way this will ever happen.


Rachel is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. She is a recovering political writer and most recently taught high school English in Baltimore. She is thrilled to now be a full-time mama and writer,...

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