99 Problems

Published on May 26th, 2023 | by Dana Perry


When the Kid Gets Sick: Five Stages

Stage One: Comes on suddenly like a whirlwind. Literally complete wellness to sickness in seconds/minutes tops, absolutely wild, no warning. Something like this: sitting down to read the Hungry Caterpillar only to have it transition to projectile vomiting before the caterpillar reaches his Friday glut-fest; or “hi mom hi mom hi mom” while you’re frantically throwing together a box of mac and cheese transitioning to passing out before you can even pick them up because their temperature is somehow 103.4 degrees, even though you could swear they were not burning up at the moment you turned on the stove. This stage is dominated by chaos. Fear and a sense of emergency are the primary emotions, which is probably why the stage is very short-lived, and transitions quickly to…

Stage Two: In this stage, for a brief, miraculous time, nothing you do for your toddler will be wrong. The child that formerly needed peas, crackers, gummy bears, and blueberries—all right now at this very moment, otherwise total meltdown city—can be appeased by simply being picked up. This moment of pure beauty where your child actually enjoys being held/cuddled by you (which they have only moderately tolerated since they were a baby), might be considered a gift except that simultaneously, NOTHING you do FOR your toddler (according to society/the internet/your own mother) will be right.

let the toddler fever —no— give the toddler Tylenol

Tylenol every four hours, no breaks—no—every six hours to see if the fever spikes again—no—cycle Tylenol and Ibuprofen at perfectly-timed intervals so the child is never without any type of medication whatsoever

clear liquids only—no—let them eat if they feel hungry

more important that they get the sleep—no—more important their sleep routine doesn’t stray too far from the norm

starve a fever and feed a cold (or maybe it’s the other way around?)

            This stage is dominated by overwhelm, with strong surges of guilt for not noticing the that your child was sick sooner (obviously they were sick, they were trying to take their shirt off all day, which you thought was just in their spunky, whimsical toddler nature, but was obviously a signal that their body was being ravaged by extreme illness), and also guilt for not being able to trust your gut (shouldn’t you have more motherly intuition by now). All of this is quickly absolved, not due to any real resolution or deep parental actualization, but simply because of the transition into…

            Stage Three: Which feels like the hardest phase, but might actually be the easiest. Jury is still out on this one because this is the entire stage is completely dominated by periods of desperate, heavy, sweaty sleep punctuated by episodes of not sleeping at all. During this stage, the toddler must sleep near/at/on top of a parent at all times. Or breastfeed, if you’re still doing that thing. An endless cycle of sleep and milk and sleep and milk. And while it was really sweet to type emails for correspondence/complete work assignments while the precious child could fit in the crook of your arm, nurse without incident, and lovingly gaze into your eyes upon waking, it’s just not quite the same when your now 2 and a half-foot, 25 pound child is dangling over the edge of the couch, sucking desperately at your one sort of misshapen and flaccid nipple while squeezing and twisting the other one (which now sort of sadly points to the left somehow), and threatens to wake with each stroke of the keyboard, and angrily shove her jagged, sharp fingernails into your mouth that still contain playground from three weeks ago because the child will not let you cut their nails for undetermined reasons. This stage is dominated by exhaustion contains two sub-substages that may or may not occur in your particular case.

Stage 3.5: Whereby your child takes their recovery into their own hands and shouts “wak” at you incessantly, which—directly translated—means “pick me up and walk me from room to room until your back starts to spasm.”


Stage 3.75: Where you and/or your parenting partner begin to have feelings of fever/congestion/nausea/general sickness. I largely recommend avoiding this stage if at all possible. After maybe 24 hours or maybe a month, god knows you’ve all just been trapped in this tiny, tiny, tiny apartment together and time has lost all meaning, you’ll enter:

Stage 4: At which point toddler seems mostly back to normal, isn’t really sleeping as much, is actively moving about and playing with toys, but is very, very cranky. Any game suggestion, breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack item, diaper change, or even putting on/taking off socks is met with “no, done” or “all done” or “mmmnommnommnoo” or “all done all done all done” while waving their hands back and forth the way you were so excited to teach them in baby sign just a few short months ago (but are now deeply regretting). Alternatively, activities/suggestions could be met with full-body temper tantrums so extreme the toddler repeatedly injures themselves, only further frustrating them and exacerbating this particular stage.

This stage is dominated by feelings of relief that they’re finally mostly themselves again, followed by moments of nostalgia about the few days ago when they were just slightly incapacitated, followed by feelings of guilt over having that feeling, (why wouldn’t you want your child to be healthy, you monster). Also of note: this stage is deeply impacted by whether or not you experience Stage 3.75. Regardless of the circumstances you will eventually arrive at…

Stage 5: Overall general health and wellness. This stage is dominated by a desperate attempt to put your life “back in order” (whatever that means with a toddler), numerous loads of laundry, and yearning for that time, not so long ago, when you could all watch as much television as you like and it was actually considered a form of healing.

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About the Author

Dana Perry spent most of her childhood constructing elaborate homes for fairies and other small woodland creatures in rural north Idaho. In adulthood, she is a freelance writer and clinical herbalist who holds an MA in sociology from the New School for Social Research and a certificate from ArborVitae. She lives with her perfect daughter, somewhat flawed husband, and verging on senile cat in Brooklyn, NY, and will probably remain there for the rest of her life (thanks to her rent-stabilized apartment). Plant-based musings can be found here.

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