When I was little, staying home from school sick typically meant spending the day at Grandma Hamm’s. Mom would drop me off on her way to school, and then it’d be a day at Grandma’s until she’d be back around 4 to bring me home.
I both loved and hated this. Loved, because a sick day at Grandma’s meant I could lay in her bed and read old Nancy Drew novels cover to cover, interrupted only by Grandma checking on me every so often. I hated it for silly reasons that seemed incredibly not silly to my seven-, eight-, or nine-year-old self: Grandma always had Robitussin cough drops in awful flavors, unlike the Luden’s cherry cough drops I preferred, that basically just tasted like candy and did absolutely nothing. I was convinced she’d had the same bag of cough drops for decades, because of the way the paper would stick to the cough drop as if the two things were actually merging together. I’d force myself not to make a face as I unwrapped the cough drop and slowly place it in my mouth, because Grandma would be watching, and as soon as I’d make a face, she’d scoff, “Oh, it’s not that bad” and I’d immediately feel ridiculous and sulk into my book for the next half hour. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was worse than a rebuke from Grandma Hamm. Which was probably why I typically did everything possible to avoid a rebuke at all costs, even when sick. So I’d choke on the cough drop and mind my own business until Mom came to get me after school.
It was understood that if either my brother or me were out of school sick, it was the other one’s responsibility to collect the homework, which was particularly annoying if it required lugging one or more of my brother’s books, in addition to mine, home from school. Most days, we rode the bus, but if one of us had a sick day at Grandma’s, it was more likely that Mom would pick the other one up from school. When the tables were turned, and Jay had been sick at Grandma’s all day, I’d run into Grandma’s, feeling smug that I was the healthy one, knowing Grandma would be excited to see me, unlike Mom, who would often be cranky and “so stressed out” that she didn’t seem to be as delighted by me as I felt was necessary.
But although there was something special, and somewhat sacred, about those sick days at Grandma’s, there was one sick day from my childhood that I’ve always remembered quite vividly, at least in part.
It was my second day in a row having to stay home from school, and I had a fever. For whatever reason, my mom decided to stay home with me that day. I felt miserable, and my whole body, particularly my legs, ached and ached. I was probably whining about it. I mean, who am I kidding—I was most certainly whining about it.
But that day, I wasn't told to quit complaining, or to toughen up. Instead, Mom sat on the couch with me, my legs propped on her lap, and we watched The Sound of Music together.
That’s it: The part of the day I remember vividly. It’s not much, but it’s enough.
As an adult, it’s different. You can’t whine to your mom when your body aches from a fever. Your parents don’t ultimately make the decision about whether or not you go to school (work) when you’re sick, or when it’s the right time to go back. In college, when I first started having to deal with the reality of becoming an adult and taking care of myself, being sick also brought this strange sort of homesickness along with it. It wasn't just that I wanted to go home—I wanted to go back in time, when Mom or Grandma (or both) were still there to take care of me.
But I guess it’ll never change that every time I’m sick, there’s a little part of me that will always think of, if only for a moment, Nancy Drew and The Sound of Music.