Last year, when I had an infant, I thought a lot about the flu. I thought about it in the way that, in my youth, I used to think about a crush. Slightly obsessively, kind of stalker-y—a Googling-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of way. I read all the articles about how it was the worst flu season in a decade; about the breathing complications that could arise in babies; I knew which states were hardest hit. (In my defense, I was on maternity leave, it was getting dark by 4pm, and it was freezing outside. There wasn’t much to do except binge watch The Good Doctor—surprisingly good!—and worry about my baby getting the flu.)
He never got it, thankfully, but he did get a bunch of colds. So did his older brother, poor guy. And though that was only a year ago, the specifics of those early childhood ailments have since hazily melted into each other, forming an unhappy dark spot in my mind that’s associated with the months of October through March. Spring came and my boys stopped getting sick and I totally forgot that any of it ever happened, a necessary parental amnesia. Sick? What’s sick? My children are tan and healthy and always will be! all moms think in June. Now we’re back in the thick of it and I remember: I hate winter so much.
It’s not a radical stance, of course, to hate winter. I’m sure there are a few lunatics out there who enjoy frigid wind, dry skin, and being surrounded by generally depressed, pasty people. But most of us normals like spring, fall, or summer more. Sunshine is important; warmth is very nice; the beach is a lovely place. I’ve always hated winter, but before I had kids I found some bright spots among the misery: fireplaces, holidays, cozy sweaters. Nothing kills your love of holidays more than having a kid with croup over Thanksgiving or a baby with an ear infection on New Year’s Eve. I used to connect holidays with delicious food and drinks; now I think of them as days when the pediatrician’s office isn’t open.
Then there’s the Purell-ing, the side-eying a kid who’s sneezing, the long, boring days spent inside because the playdate was canceled—Bobby has a fever; Ethan has a cough; Charlotte has a tummy ache. (Also the necessary, sheepish follow-up texts to other parents when your kid comes down with something the day after you saw them. Sorry!) And the constant, maddening bundling. In order to get my one-year-old out the door, he needs to be stuffed into a diaper-onesie-t-shirt-pants-sweater-jacket-hat-hood-mittens-socks-shoes.
This is followed by wrestling the miserable snowman into a stroller, shoving him down with one hand while searching for the straps with the other—the straps! Those goddamn straps!—which are lost beneath the cozy winter cocoon thing that’s been installed in the seat. (If I go to hell, it will just be a room filled with hidden stroller straps, stuck toddler-coat zippers, and car seats that need to be installed.) I long for the simple days of shorts and t-shirts and floppy hats and unencumbered strollers.
Which brings me back to the flu. And the stomach flu. And colds. And coughs. And croup. And ear infections. And strep. And coxsackie (don’t look it up if you don’t have to). And random fevers with no cause. And fifth disease. They all come out in the winter, like cockroaches at night, scurrying over the surfaces of your kids’ preschool or daycare, streaming out of kids’ nostrils, being spread by little fingers that are always going into little mouths. Moms develop an illness spidey-sense—I can hear it in my toddler’s voice if something is amiss, that tiny cough in the other room pinging my ears like a firecracker. “Are you coughing?” I’ll shout to him. “No!” he’ll insist. He’s lying.
So far this winter my two sons, combined, have been sick, like, 20 times. I’m not even sure I’m exaggerating! I truly can’t remember, it’s all a blur of snot. My three-year-old brings stuff home from school and gives it to our one-year-old, and then they share it back and forth until, surprise, I get it or my husband does. I never used to get sick; I was one of those annoying people who’d brag about her amazing immunity. Well, joke’s on my immunity now, because I’ve had three colds, a cough, and a sinus infection since September. In December our family had an epic bout of stomach flu, the details of which I’ll spare you, except to say that, at one point, both kids were throwing up simultaneously on me. Then, in sitcom-worthy-comedic timing, one of our cats puked right in front us. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, they say. For kids developing immunity, that’s certainly true. For parents covered in vomit, I’m not so sure.
The last time we went to the pediatrician I told her that I was worried that they were getting sick too much. Was it normal? Was something wrong? It’s terrible when your child is ill—they’re miserable, you feel helpless, no one sleeps. I confessed to her that I’d Googled “Why is my toddler so pale?” in the middle of the night and had, obviously, landed on alarming results. She looked at me as I’m sure she looks at every mom in winter and shrugged her shoulders and sighed. “Little kids get sick a lot. They’re all pale. Winter is the worst.”
I know this will end. I know that one day my children will be old enough so that winter means movies and indoor soccer instead of germs eyeing them and thinking, fresh meat. I was complaining about it all to my sister-in-law, whose daughters are 10 and 12, and she shuddered as if she’d seen a ghost. “Oh, the sick years,” she said. “I’d nearly forgotten.” It makes me feel better to hear other mothers’ war stories. To know that, like every phase, this too shall pass like a common cold. Later that week I got a Google alert that said that New York City was experiencing “high flu activity.” I deleted it immediately. Spring is coming.