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It’s Time To Embrace The Man Cold

Let’s make this the winter of “man colds” for all.

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Mothers, type-A spouses, and everyone else who goes through life as if they’re the only responsible person working on the group project: I have a proposal. This year, let’s embrace the “man cold.”

Last year around this time, I noticed how irritating it was that sick mothers are told to “just get some rest.” When small children depend on you for every comfort (and to remember where all the shoes are), it can be impossible to absent yourself for a day or even a nap. But I can’t argue that the idea of resting when you’re sick is a bad one. So I wonder — what if we chronic doers took a page out of our spouse’s restful playbook and chucked our mountainous to do lists in the trash when we got sick?

Could we learn something from the freedom with which they announce the slightest change in symptoms, or the development of a new, rather mild one? Should we be less silent in our suffering? Can we trade our long-suffering side-eyes and commitment to martyrdom for a hearty “me too!” and join them on the couch?

I want to be clear that though I am using the phrase “man cold,” I am not here to contribute to the ongoing debate about division of labor and the domestic imbalance of the sexes. This is about the fact that one partner is usually better at resting, while the other one — me, maybe you — has a hard time with it. I am flat-out bad at resting. Sure, I believe in it. I covet it. I read books about it. I tell other people to do it. The enthusiasm with which I greet my bed every night at bedtime is almost NSFW. Mostly, though, I’m a little restless, beyond the doctor-approved eight hours of nightly sleep. Day rest? Come on. I’m the anticipator, the juggler, the smoother-outer. I can’t stop! What would happen?

I know and you know that we can’t just turn it off. It’s not just hard, it’s excruciating to let things be messy or undone or even — brace yourself — let go of them entirely. If you’re like me, you’ve got the tissue ready before your kid sneezes. You know all the pickup times, drop-off times, the weekend schedule, the name of every teacher, your children’s shoe size, and what toothpaste they like (and which will cause them to gag). You know the expiration date of everything in the fridge, and which leftovers need to be eaten first so there’s no waste. Your mind is constantly scrolling a list of things that need replenishing ASAP (waffles, bananas) and things that can wait until the next big shop.

You know for sure that no one knows all the things you know, no one can cover you. But, you could, I could — maybe — let them try? Or, better yet, let it unravel for a bit. I know, I know. You’re vibrating with fear imagining all the balls you juggle up there in the air with no one to catch them.

May the sound of each ball as it drops be a note in the lullaby that lulls you into the rest you deserve. May that scratchy throat be a siren song!

May the sound of each ball as it drops be a note in the lullaby that lulls you into the rest you deserve. May that scratchy throat be a siren song!

My lovely spouse is irritatingly good at rest. He sleeps deeply at the drop of a hat (really jealous of that in the newborn days) and goes into an enviable hibernation when he’s sick. He’ll power through if he’s truly needed, but I’ve always admired how he simply goes to bed when he’s not healthy.

I do not live in my spouse’s body. I cannot completely understand his experience of reality. That said, I have, at times, very strongly suspected that my helpful, wonderful husband is experiencing basically the same symptoms as me but interprets their severity in a vastly different way. Or so his behavior — in this case, his choice to rest — tells me.

I bet you know exactly what I mean. He and I have the same exact cold. We know it’s the same cold because it’s the one that our germy kids brought home from school a few days ago. He opts for rest over keeping up with the gazillion home-and-parent chores that fill our days. I don’t, because the guilt and stress of letting it all slide overwhelms me. The best I can do is text my friends something snarky about this month’s “man cold.”

But this year, as our first cold of the school year descended upon us, I experienced a light bulb moment. I was walking around the neighborhood, sniffling, when the thought popped into my head like a revelation: What if the “man cold” havers are onto something? What if their way is the path of wisdom?

How many times have I been schlepping my kind-of-sick self around the house, mumbling about doing twice the work while he has the gall to just lay there when I, too, could have simply been resting? Maybe his rest was just him resting and didn’t — in fact — mean that I couldn’t rest, too?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was living by arbitrary, unarticulated rules of rest, based on nothing but my own inflated desire for control. Since becoming a mother, the maximum “luxury” I’d allow myself when I caught a cold was an afternoon of napping. He, meanwhile, seemed comfortable not feeling good for days. Days, I tell you!

My kids are 2 and 5. This year, I plan to luxuriate in more than one afternoon of not doing much around here. I don’t think anything catastrophic would happen if I stopped doing all the things I do for 36 or 48 hours or possibly even a number of hours that nobody counted and was instead simply the number of hours I needed!

I invite you to join me in handing your children the remote and their school’s hot lunch menu, and crawling into bed. Take a day, most certainly. But really ask yourself — what would your household’s resident man cold expert do? Not the laundry, believe me.

Sick season is upon us, friends and verily I say unto you: Rest, caretakers! Rest with abandon! Embraceth the man cold as your own!

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