Of course, one good thing about having a cold is that nobody expects anything of you.
Let’s just say, for example, you’re expected to show up at an annual Christmas gathering where you’ve never felt entirely comfortable. Well, you can call the host and plead infirmity. Voila! You’re off the hook! (If there is a note of doubt in the voice at the other end of the phone, allow yourself one polite little cough to make your point).
Suppose you are expected to cook the turkey for Christmas dinner. Well, you don’t want to spread all of those cold viruses around to the guests, so once again, you can say something polite like, “I don’t want to sneeze on the turkey”. Your worries are over. (Besides, you can’t very well cook the turkey and then not show up at Christmas dinner).
Now, let’s suppose that you’ve been shopping and wrapping presents for the past three weeks. Your house has gone to wrack and ruin. There are ants on the kitchen counter. There is mold on the bathroom tile. There are dust bunnies flying around every room. The windows are smudged. The laundry basket is overflowing. You’re in luck. Your partner takes one look at your pitiful face and says, “Lie down. I’ll do it.” Once again you have the option of dramatizing the moment for effect. You could say, “No, no darling! Let me! You’ve been working so hard!” Then you have the added pleasure of appearing virtuous in spite of the fact that you are stretched out on the couch eating bon bons and leafing through a magazine while your husband does the dishes.
When I was a very young child, I hated school. As a matter of fact, I hated school until I went back as a graduate student at the age of thirty. (But that’s another story for another day). Anyway – I was not above faking a stomachache or a headache or a sore throat. It wasn’t so much that I lied about it, but rather I would take the tiniest bit of discomfort, real or imagined, and would magnify it just enough for my mother to keep me at home “as a precaution”. Sometimes she would call Dr. Silverberg, bless him. He was the old fashioned kind of pediatrician with a little black bag and wire rim spectacles that would come to our house. He would look down my throat, examine my ears, and palpate my tummy. Then he would take my temperature. This was the true litmus test. If I had a fever, he would pronounce me officially sick. Then (to my horror) he would give me a shot of penicillin. More than once I was shocked because I knew I wasn’t “that sick”. Or was I? (Did Dr. Silverberg give me placebo shots to scare me out of my hypochondria?)
But the upshot of all my shenanigans was that I got to stay home and watch old movies on TV. That was my secret guilty pleasure. I loved to watch movies from the thirties and forties. If there was a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical on that day, I was in heaven. (“Heaven – I’m in heaven. . .” I would sing along with Fred). My mother must have wondered that I was such a cheerful little sickling.
When I was thirteen I contracted viral pneumonia, somehow. I was sick in bed for two weeks, and this time, I was really, really sick. I couldn’t stop coughing. I had a high fever. I couldn’t keep anything down and got a terribly undernourished look. For the first time in my young life, I understood that being sick is not a good thing. But the consolation prize then, as now, was to be totally without responsibility, except to take my vile-tasting medicine and to rest as much as possible. So I was able to watch old movies to my heart’s content. I watched classics like “Casablanca”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (loved Shirley Temple – wanted to be Shirley Temple), “The Wizard of Oz”. I feasted on movies for two whole weeks.
Some time between first grade and the winter of my pneumonia, my mother caught on to my scheme. She wisely realized that I was actually teaching myself how to make myself sick in order to stay home from school. Not wanting to reinforce that behavior, she actually began to let my sisters and me have a day off school once in a while. We didn’t have to be sick, either. She would keep us at home and let us play Monopoly or Scrabble, do arts and crafts, and of course, watch movies. She would then calmly write each of us a note the next day saying, “Please excuse Robin’s (Michele’s, Sherry’s) absence from school yesterday. She was sick to her stomach”. I was sick to my stomach, alright. Sick to my stomach of school.
So, if you are among the millions of Americans who find themselves just a teensy bit under the weather on Christmas Eve, my advice is to play hooky. Get plenty of fluids, rest, and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”. You’ll feel better in no time.
© 2004, Robin Munson