As far as illness goes, winters in our home used to be pretty brutal. In the past, it seemed like every time I turned around, someone had a runny nose, a low-grade temperature or a dreaded night cough that would keep the entire family awake, leaving us all sleep-deprived for days. I was constantly adding Kleenex and cough drops to my shopping lists and asking my husband to stop at the pharmacy on his way home from work to pick up saline spray and children's Tylenol. I'd walk around with a can of Lysol in one hand and a tub of Clorox wipes in the other, wiping down and spraying every surface of our home in a pathetic attempt to keep germs at bay, but it was useless, really. When I wasn't watching my children like the sanitation police and reminding them to cough into their elbows, they were busy eating out of unwashed hands and sharing lollipops with one another.
Last night, while I was lying in bed reading a book, I looked over at my husband and asked him the last time anyone in our house had been sick. Staring back at me, I could tell that he was mentally counting back to almost a year ago when my son had a night cough that came in such rapid succession that I remember wondering how on earth he even managed to take a breath. That night, my husband and I attended to all of our son's needs. We rubbed Vicks vapor rub on his tiny chest, refilled his humidifier and propped his mattress up to help clear his airways. When none of those tricks worked, my husband bundled our son up and took him out into the cold night air, which has been our ace in the hole ever since our pediatrician mentioned that sometimes a dramatic change in temperature can "shock the body into reset mode" and help calm an aggravating cough.
No matter what we did, nothing seemed to work, though, and through the closed bedroom window I could hear my exhausted son's cough echoing out into the silent winter night. The miserable sound was mixed with muffled words of comfort whispered to my son by my ever-patient husband, and my heart broke for all of us. I knew that they were both tired and cold, but I also knew that we had lost this fight. I wanted so badly to be able fix everything, but I knew we were going to have to write the night off as an utter sleep failure. If by some miracle we could fall asleep at the exact moment my husband and son came back inside, we would only have two hours of sleep before we had to get our other two children up and ready for school. Part of me wanted to curl up in a ball and cry, but the other, more seasoned parental part of me climbed out of bed and headed downstairs to start making the morning coffee two hours ahead of schedule.
This winter, we've been incredibly lucky that no one in our home has been sick. There hasn't been a single night when my husband or I have been woken up by the sound of a nagging cough or by a child standing next to our bed telling us that their tummy hurts, and for the most part, I was completely oblivious to it all. The remote learning, the mask wearing and the social distancing (that I so often find myself complaining about), has had a beautiful, unexpected silver lining that I will not take for granted.
In the future, when I look back on these days when life felt so hard, I'll try to remember that despite all the things I could complain and worry about, a sick child wasn't one of them.
Lana Shovlin is a freelance writer from Springfield with three kids who is trying to keep their illness-free streak going.