Cold war

One of the drawbacks of working at home is you can't call in sick.

First of all, there's no one to call. You're it. Unless you want to inform your family that you're ill and, believe me, they already know. (Especially if you're a guy and tend to whine a lot.)

Secondly, there's no such thing as a day off to be sick when you're the parent-housekeeper-chauffeur-cook-gardener-and-chief-bottle-washer.

Sick days are a luxury reserved for you who have regular jobs. Come down with a cold or worse, and it means you get to go home and rest. Climb in bed with a fat novel, the TV remote, lots of fluids and snacks, your favorite over-the-counter medications. Pull the covers up to your chin and sleep all day if you want. No one will expect anything of you. You'll have the sympathy of everyone who hears you're ill. Your family will believe you really are sick because staying home from work is such a rare occurrence. And, most likely, you'll still get paid.

You might worry about the work that's piling up in your absence, but there's nothing you can do about it. The work is at the office. You're at home. Case closed.

We who work at home can pursue days of rest and recuperation (though, most likely, nobody will pay us), but our work remains all around us. The kids still have to be commanded to get ready for school. Meals still must be prepared. Laundry grows into dirty dunes. We lie in bed and watch the work pile up. Every stack of paperwork, every unwashed dish, every dust bunny mocks us, reminding us they'll still be there when we feel like moving around again. In fact, the workload will be worse -- paperwork, like dust bunnies, tends to multiply when left unguarded.
Somehow, this takes all the fun out of slumping off to bed to tend your fever.

I was reminded of all this recently when I had one of those miserable, nagging colds, the persistent kind that hangs around the respiratory system like juvenile delinquents around a pool hall.

Now I'm no stranger to these colds. Once school resumes, we all can count on our children to bring home the latest viruses. The colds soon follow. I get two or three a year, and I try to work through them, doping myself with cold medicines and aspirin, waiting them out.

But this particular strain was accompanied by some sort of tropical sleeping sickness. I'd work at my desk for an hour, hacking and spewing, and then I'd have to nap for three hours. Anything physical, such as vacuuming the floor, required a full day of bed rest.

Meanwhile, the work mounted up. Deadlines loomed. Dust and dead grass and dog hair swirled around my bare feet when I padded into the kitchen for more fluids. Dishes overflowed the sink and began staking their claim to the countertops. Toys and comic books and stray homework buried all horizontal surfaces.

I was helpless in the face of this onslaught. I was too busy sleeping. Between naps, I'd putter around a bit, picking things up, hiding the worst of it, but soon I'd be exhausted and forced to lie very still until I recovered.

The kids were no help. They barely noticed that I was going through a box of tissues a day. They were too busy galloping around the house, strewing toys and filth. My wife made sympathetic noises, but by the fifth or sixth day, I could see it in her eyes when she got home from work: "You're STILL sick?"

So I had no choice but to get well. I arose from my sickbed and took a hot shower and breathed the steam. I choked down food I couldn't taste so I'd have some energy. I poured down coffee with my Dayquil so I could stay awake long enough to load the dishwasher and round up the dust bunnies.

And you know what? It worked. Soon, I was sleeping only slightly more than a normal person. Order was restored to the house. Deadlines were met. Super Dad was back on track.

All is well. Until the next virus comes home from school.

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