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There are five little words that any parent shudders to hear between the hours of 1 and 6 a.m.

"Mom, I don’t feel good."

It’s my experience that those words are usually followed by someone throwing up in the bathroom. Sometimes it includes fever, coughing, congestion – any combination that means someone isn’t going to school or daycare that morning, and – just as importantly – one of the adults is staying home from work.

A sick child in our house brings a carnival ride full of emotion, and it’s not a "fun house." While making my daughter comfortable I’m simultaneously running through the day’s schedule in my head. What’s happening at work today? Can I postpone an 8:30 a.m. class presentation? What about that 2 p.m. meeting with a donor… can my assistant handle that? What could I handle from home?

As the clock ticks down the minutes towards 6 a.m. the bargaining-negotiating with my husband begins. Can he stay home in the morning while I make the classroom presentation? If the "can’t miss" item is in the afternoon, maybe my mother—nearly an hour away—would drive over to help?

I sit at the kitchen table making the required phone calls – to my boss, my assistant, a donor requesting a reschedule – with my older daughter watching me carefully. When I finally hang up the phone she pipes up, "You’re really good at that. You sound real important."

Once the adrenaline of bargaining is over and everyone else leaves the house, I walk around the house frustrated and disoriented. Sickness just interrupted my family’s schedule and we work best when we’re following our daily routine.

And then the guilt arrives. What kind of mother doesn’t think first about her sick child?! My baby is sick! It’s not an inconvenience, it’s my child. Why am I worried about work when my daughter is running a fever?

Concern arrives on the heels of guilt. Should I call the doctor? How long is she going to be sick? Is it a sinus infection? Allergies? Asthma? What if it develops into something serious? What if it lasts for more than a day? If I get her into the doctor’s office today, will they be able to say what it is? This is a big dilemma and I’ve erred on both sides of this equation. If you call the doctor too quickly on the first day, it could be that whatever the illness is won’t be developed enough to diagnose and then you’re off work a few days more and seeing the doctor a second time. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the Dr. office and heard the word "virus" followed by those dreaded words "…5-7 days to run its course." Where other moms might have the luxury of waiting out a fever or stomach bug, I have to figure out what to tell my boss.

Invariably, somewhere in this unexpected, unscheduled day at home, I find myself sitting on the couch, stroking the forehead of my sleeping child. For a long moment, I’m filled with overwhelming parental love for her. My day may be interrupted and nothing is being accomplished, but I thank God that she’s not seriously ill. I pray for those children who know real suffering and their families who have much, much more to worry about.

Copyright 2010 Shelly Kelly