Back when I was a kid, sick days seemed a little golden, somehow, tinged with a magic to them, spun from something out-of-the-ordinary. It was never fun to be sick, but getting to stay home was like being given a chance to step back into those perfect days of very early childhood, when you could lie cocooned in bed, drifting in and out of sleep to the steady hum of household rhythms, or the comforting background of the television or radio noise rising and falling around you in waves and you waited. Waited for the fever to break, or the sore throat to fade, or for the clock to wind its way into the late afternoon (you might fall asleep at 3:00 and wake up to find it dark outside), bringing home your siblings from school, with their stories of the day, and what you missed.
I remember my dad’s “magic potions”—hot water laced with lemon and honey, and my mother’s soups; cool hands on my hot forehead, and, if I was well enough to leave bed, the rare and almost unbearably exciting treat of getting to watch daytime television (I always equate being sick with watching The Love Boat and sipping soup). Even after I grew up and moved out to go to college, some unseen homing beacon in me always kicked in whenever I got sick. My senior year in college I caught strep--a very bad case. My dad came and got me and I remember thinking, as I crawled into my girlhood bed, back in my old room at home, now I’ll be okay.
I'll be okay.
And there have been many sick days when I've just been too far away to go home, no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how hard that homing beacon tuned into those same comforts I craved so much as a child.
One time I was horribly sick all the way in London, my junior year in college. My semester was over, and I was just biding my time until my flight back to the States. I kept telling myself over and over again, I just need to get home, as if just getting there would somehow fix it all. And maybe it did.
But when you're a grown-up mom, in a house of your own, with children of your own who need you, and a husband who needs you, and a kitten and a dog and rabbit, and two tanks of fish who also need you (as L. would say, "fish are family, too"), you are rooted in your here and now, firmly and unquestionably. No matter how hard that homing beacon pulls you have to stay where you are and be needed, even if your forty-year old self feels very small again, like a curled-up piece of a girl who longs to be back in another bed, in another room, in another time.