explorations of mindful fatherhood

Sick Day: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Good Pillow Fort (and TV and Star Wars II)


pillow fortSick days are sacred.  They’re about taking care of yourself, sitting on your butt, and doing whatever the hell you want. We had a sick day recently, and I recommitted to this idea, while getting the chance to reflect on my everyday (non-sick?) life.

You know your child is having a hard time sleeping when you roll over in the middle of the night to find him staring straight at you as he says “Hi Dad,” with absolute lucidity.  That’s what happened the other night when my son couldn’t sleep, plagued by terrible fits of coughing that thwarted his attempts at rest.  He eventually made it across the hallway into his parents’ bed, keeping us all marginally awake for most of the night.

Needless to say, he was a mess the next morning and had to take the day off of school. I opted to stay home with him so my wife could go to work, and after firing off a few work-related emails, I was free the rest of the day to relax and enjoy.  But at first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.  I tend to be a “let’s get out of here” sort of dad.  On the days that my son and I have had together without his mom, we tend to go to the park, hike, visit museums, enjoy street fairs, that sort of thing.  I tend to be pretty active.  I’m not as good sitting at home coming up with activities.

That’s why this sick day posed a certain challenge for me.  What was I to do with my son for the day, stuck at home?  And here was the fear: We’d only watch TV.  I’m kind of a TV addict.  That’s one of the reasons why we got rid of cable recently.  And yet, without cable, there’s still hulu, amazon streaming, youtube, blu-rays, and a host of other non-cable media options.  When I’m kind of stuck, parenting-wise, I tend to rely on TV as my old fall-back.  We’re tired after dinner: How about an episode of AFV?  Groggy at breakfast: Why not watch an episode of Ninjago?  Mom’s on a work call: Did you see they’re streaming episodes of Ultraman on hulu?

So, a day stuck at home with a sick kid was just screaming out for non-stop television/movie time.  And what did I do?  I turned on the TV of course.  We had breakfast on the couch, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, but the whole time I was wracking my brain for things to do.  My son’s been learning chess…no, I’m crap at that.  He has reading to do….no, it seemed unreasonable to make him do homework while he’s sick.  We could do some math….no, for the same reason as the reading.

Then I realized the conundrum I was in. I truly believe that sick days are  sacred, and that in this age of achievement and ambition, our bodies sometimes put on the breaks.  When we get sick, I firmly believe that we need to take cues from our bodies and slow down.  So, on a sick day we’re supposed to sit around all day.  We’re supposed to do the things we want to do.  We’re supposed to put everything else down.  The tricky part was that I’m a little too quick to sit around watching TV on days when my family and I are healthy!  I tend to use TV to numb us out on a daily basis.  My sick-day anxiety was due to this push and pull: feeling the need to honor what my son wanted to do on his special sick day (TV) and fighting the laziness that I tend to embody daily (TV).  So what was the answer?  TV.

I had to prioritize the fact that it was his sick day, so we were going to do what he wanted to do in order to feel rested and rejuvenated.  I realized I couldn’t make up for my laziness on that day, of all days.  I would have to start embodying more conscientious ways of unwinding when he or I weren’t sick.  That way, when we’re truly sick or truly exhausted, television can be a special treat.

For that particular sick day, I just needed to be a little savvy and break up the day, because 8 hours of the tube wasn’t going to do anyone any good.  When AFV concluded, I suggested, “Hey, why don’t we build a pillow fort?”  Within a few minutes we had a fort of pillows and blankets scaffolding the couch.  Dad’s fat ass nearly pulled the thing down getting in, but it survived.  Then I suggested I read him a book inside the fort.  He said I could pick the book.  “Even the Hobbit?” I asked hopefully (I’ve been pushing Middle-earth on him for months).  He said yes!  So we cuddled up for nearly an hour under the almost-too-hot blankets, enjoying Bilbo’s unexpected gathering together.

And in the end, more TV.  When I asked him what he wanted to do next, it was to watch Star Wars.  Yes, there is one word that describes both my son and I: Nerds.  He settled on  Attack of the Clones, and I tried not to laugh too hard when Anakin and Padme frolicked in the meadows of Naboo.

In the end, we had a great time.  Sometimes it takes an sick a day to realize you need some rest, but it may also take a sick day to realize the ways in which you spend your everyday life.

Author: CJ Nigh

I am an East Coast writer with a Midwestern soul. Undead Dad is a blog about mindful fatherhood in the deadening age of hyper-technology and over-work. I also write science fiction for young adults.

10 thoughts on “Sick Day: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Good Pillow Fort (and TV and Star Wars II)

  1. Sick days….the great challenge of the ‘ants in yer pants’ dad….or mom. Sounds like you made the most of the day. Good for you.

  2. I love it !
    Brings back memories, mine are all teenagers or young adults now but Harry Potter books were definitely on the menu, way before it became real famous. We also read Eragon and Lord of the Rings.
    I sympathise with your “moral” dilemma regarding TV and wanting to do something more meaningful 🙂
    But hey believe me, kids build Happy memories on things you would not expect and I’m sure that in his heart that sick day with you already holds a special place…

  3. I don’t get sick days at work. But depending on how sick I am and if I were to take a day off from work, I think I’d be pretty lazy catching up on Ellen and other shows. And of course, snuggling with my dogs and taking them to the park.

  4. I laughed when I read about him standing over you. My daughter does this, like some freaky Child of the Corn and it creeps me out! Last week it was monsters (too much Dr. Who) and being hungry (the kid has a tape worm, I’m sure). I actually enjoy a “down day” here or there. We lounge quite a bit – TV is also a go-to when we get tired of entertaining each other. Last time, we did frustrating origami projects which ended up in a paper ball fight, as we destroyed our sad projects. Those moments or days are surprising gifts.

  5. I ran into a similar circumstance recently, and we ended up playing video games together. My wife and my daughter left on a road trip to visit the in-laws, leaving me with the boy. This has happened before, and we have the same routine, a kind of unspoken agreement. We will rend movies and video games, and we will eat fried chicken and pork rinds. Yep, that’s the tradition. I do’t have to cook, so we get more time together. My son isn’t much into Star Wars for some reason. (I love it, but he isn’t excited). We ended up watching Ghost Rider II, and then took turns playing BioShock Infinite (both rented from Redbox). The next day, I took him to see Oz the Great and Powerful. He’s too old for pillow forts now, unfortunately, but we do still engage in the occasional Nerf battle.

  6. I really respect your honest self-reflection, your commitment to owning it as you tell us about it, & your willingness to change your behaviour and be more ‘mindful’; good on you. Plus pillow forts rock! Go Dad! 🙂

  7. Love this post. I am also a super goer and tend to have many activities planned for myself and kiddos. But sick days are sacred. I give myself permission to rest and to watch endless hours of Mythbusters and yes even Starwars. The sick kids battle of who misses work is always a tough one in this house and because I am a teacher, if my kids are too sick for their school, I sometimes drag them to mine. Totally the opposite of what a sick day should be. That was long, sorry. 🙂 great blog btw

  8. So funny your son does this too…. I wrote a post “ever feel like your being watched?” Never fails makes me jump 4 ft off the bed…
    Sick days are for healing… The sick and non sick need a time out to slow down and appreciate life… 🙂 love pillow forts.

  9. It’s coo that the sick day turned into a great time and a lesson learned.
    I also try to push my kids off of tv but often come to depend on it.
    Stopping even on a sick day can be a hard thing. Glad you guys figured it out.
    In the end, we had a great time. Sometimes it takes an sick a day to realize you need some rest, but it may also take a sick day to realize the ways in which you spend your everyday life.

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