Building up immune systems and wearing down parents

Pink eye, ear infections, colds, RSV, croup, roseola, bronchitis – oh my! You name it and we’ve experienced it over the last six months.

My toddler has picked up every germ possible from his daycare friends. Just when we think that it has to be over, that we’ve at least earned a two-week, sick-free period, I get the dreaded text or call: “He has a fever of 102” or “He threw up.” Insert your own symptoms in here – I have a feeling most parents have felt the stomach-dropping moment that is the beginning of long nights and quarantined weekends.

Everyone continues to tell us that he’s just building up his immune system. Would I really prefer to have my one-year-old go through this now or when he’s five? I can’t help but think that it would be easier during the later preschool years, when he can tell me what hurts and comprehend that his stuffy nose is not the worst thing in the entire world. I never imagined the horrors that would result from the inability to breathe out of your nose! He seemed to take other illnesses like a champ, but a cold is his kryptonite.

I knew there was no way to prepare for daycare life emotionally. Drop off time still wrecks me and I miss him constantly – but I had no idea the toll toddler germs would take on our lives. We’re now at an all-time high of three days in a row at the pediatrician. My husband and I have routines that we don’t even need to discuss: if he grabs the nose sucker, I know to have tissue ready before the breathing treatment mask is unveiled. Time for ear drops? Get the changing pad out and grab a toy for distraction.

Now, I know sickness is not a laughing matter in many situations. But when you’ve been cut off from the outside world for months at a time and your social interactions are limited to doctor’s offices and pharmacy lines, you have to laugh. It’s rarely funny in the moment, but we have to make light of this season to regain a sense of normalcy; to hold strong to the belief that it will get better and we will rejoin society again someday. After all, you start to feel like a broken record when there’s a new medical issue every week and you’re constantly turning down invites or canceling plans.

As a newborn parent, you’re mentally ready to hibernate for a while. But this? We were wholly unprepared for it. We ended up catching many versions of his sicknesses as well, and so our own abilities to “parent while sick” were stretched in new limits. After all, there aren’t any off days in parenting: The need for a bath and requests for snacks never stop! Of course, along with testing your patience and immune system, it also puts a strain on your relationship in a completely different way than any other scenario.

When you promise “in sickness and in health,” it isn’t just a covenant or romantic notion between you and your spouse. In fact, you aren’t just promising that to each other – but to all of your future family members as well. It’s an all-encompassing vow, a plea and a reminder for grace in the midst of kid chaos and constant coughing. It’s an unavoidable aspect of family life: kids will get sick and you will snap at your significant other about spilled Pedialyte. There’s no way to explain what happens on night five of no-sleep and nonstop coughing unless you’ve been there and felt the exhaustion. You can go from synchronized medicine drops to silent treatment over forgotten laundry in five minutes flat.

Marriage isn’t easy – and neither is parenthood. We’re learning that every year and age comes with its own joys and challenges. The happiness that little ones bring is unmeasurable, but what about those weeks when the difficult times seem unrelenting? What if the sickness or sadness overshadows your ability to absorb their light? Our strength is unveiled one appointment, one day, one bedtime battle at a time. Fortunately, motherhood is full of grace – and we are more resilient than those germs!

Easy love & hard-won happiness

“It used to be so easy,” my husband and I mused over margaritas and guacamole on a recent date night. We were checking in with each other and discussing how we’re feeling about work, stress, the future and so on. We never used to have to say “let’s check in” when we needed to vent or wanted to bring something up — life was a continuous date full of connection and conversational opportunities.

Now, we try to steal a kiss while tripping over our dog and catching the bowl of salsa our toddler is attempting to throw. We still text throughout the day, but it’s changed from debating the happy hour we’ll hit after work to questioning our budget (yes, I did need those shoes!), gushing over said crazy toddler and planning when we can chat in person. Life involves more bills and babysitters and less sleep and relaxation than ever. Our time used to seem endless, but now it feels like a constant, limited loop. It’s marked by work schedules and nap timelines and so much else we couldn’t have imagined back then.

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It’s taken us years (almost seven) to get to this point. We started out just as starry-eyed as everyone else. You don’t realize at first that you’re building the base for a big future full of marriage, babies and a mortgage. Dating begins with an indescribable feeling of possibility; a flattering pursuit. My husband and I met through mutual friends and he quickly convinced me that a first date would be worth it even though we lived in separate states. It took just one shared pizza to realize that I wouldn’t be able to walk away from this.

I admittedly see a lot through rose-colored glasses, but I knew marriage wasn’t something to be entered into lightly. He gave me confidence. I was also fortunate to have an excellent example of what marriage could be. My parents always put each other first, above us. As a kid, I thought it was strange that they wouldn’t take our sides when one of them was (clearly) wrong. As an adult, I recognize the respect they gave each other and the hard work that’s gone into their 30-year marriage. They are always a team, and in many ways, they make marriage seem easy — which is the ultimate sign of partnership. I recognized similar partnership potential in my husband early on, which made it a clear choice. I could see us choosing each other again and again, whether that was picking a date night over a work event or backing each other up in front of our (future) teenage children.

“Shouldn’t this be the easiest part?” One of my best friends asked when struggling with a long-term relationship that didn’t yet include marriage or kids. I listened to her explanation and quickly realized that she was right. The reality of love is so different than we expect. I recalled that recent check in date with my husband (along with the planning and money that went into it) and agreed that it only gets more difficult to connect and prioritize. It isn’t always easy initially, but it certainly doesn’t get easier when you add more stuff and tiny humans into the mix. You need a solid foundation before all of that comes along; an infrastructure that’s strong enough to withstand all of the inevitable trials. Sleepless nights and colicky babies require a lot of grace for survival. We all have different courtships and stories woven together by our decision to choose love; to put another person’s happiness above our own.

So maybe love should be easy at the beginning, but there are too many variables and tests over the years to maintain that level of simplicity. It can set your foundation, and that’s it. Everything else is built in time, through a partnership comprised of obstacles and accomplishments that may or may not include: paid debt, achieved goals, happiness, unhappiness, moves, children, travel mishaps, broken A/C units (testing love and our civility!) and so much more. If marriage starts with spontaneous notes and weekend getaways, it’s sustained by intentional compliments and on-going, sometimes mundane, acts of love and commitment. Now, he fills up my gas tank because he knows I’m too impatient to do it. I cook for him because I know that otherwise he’d subsist solely on scrambled eggs. Life is full of sweet memories and difficult conversations. We’ve gone through college courses, career shifts and vacation disasters. We’ve had periods of more money and then less. Our love has changed, grown and solidified. We still have a lot to work through and figure out together.

It’s not easy anymore. But it’s hard-won, and it’s ours.