It’s all been a bit quiet at Littlebearabroad HQ recently, on the website front, the social media front and the real life front. Sorry! We’re going through the annual VAB ritual that starts at this time of year and usually finishes around the end of March. Since the beginning of January, each of us has been ill, one way or another. Fortunately, we’ve not succumbed to the dreaded stomach flu or “vinterkräksjuk” as it’s called in Sweden. But, the fevers, coughs, sweats, general lethargy hasn’t been pleasant, either.
Last year, my levels of anxiety surrounding this time of year and illness were at critical. It was our first experience as parents of dealing with a sickly kid and it freaked the crap out of me! Mostly, the anticipation of the illness is worse than the situation itself. Once you give into the inevitability of it, life on the VAB frontline becomes, weirdly, more enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s messy, it can be really disgusting and it can be really scary sometimes. But, these situations are often few and far between. It’s mostly feverish kids, runny noses, sore throats and the odd childhood illness. So, think about this, VABbing can also be a good thing!
Getting paid by the State to look after your sick kid.
In Sweden, you get PAID by the social insurance agency, Försäkringskassan, to look after your sick kid. It acts as a form of compensation for loss of earnings to both the employee and employers point of view. The compensation goes further in encouraging Sweden’s family orientated culture and, more importantly, discourages desperate parents from sending sick kids to school because they have to be at work. This compensation doesn’t just apply to parents, it can also apply to carers i.e. grandparents, aunties, uncles etc. The only stipulation is that they are registered as carers with Försäkringskassan beforehand.
Give into the mundane
One of the most difficult things I find about VAB is letting go of all the things I SHOULD be doing. That constant list of “to do’s” in my head tick by as the minutes, hours, days slowly shuffle forward with a sick kid. The best medicine for this is just to give in. Give in to the “to do” list and park it at the back of your head. You know that this isn’t going to last forever, you’ll be back at that “to do” list before you know it. In the meantime, focus your attention on stroking that little person’s back, holding their hair or gently reassuring them. AND PUT THE PHONE AWAY!
Let go of any obligations
The minute you mention “sick” and “kid” in the same sentence you might as well have announced you have the plague. Well, that’s the case in Sweden, anyway. Mix their love of family and heavy hypochondria and you have the perfect excuse to get out of almost ANYTHING. You can easily get a good week out of a bad cold or stomach flu and, even then, people are surprised if you’re back at work or socialising fully. In the words of Elsa, “let it go”. Just let go of any obligations you might have and wallow in the time and space at home with your little one. I was surprised how free’ing it felt to just “be” with the illness and look into my little one’s eyes and being her comfort.
Give yourself a break
There is no judgey wudgey when it comes to sick kids. You do what you gotta do when it comes to helping a sick kid and if that means 4 hours straight of TV, iPad, Netflix or Frozen, go with the flow. Stressing out about what stimulating, sensory, home-made play dough you’ve got coming up next is not going to be an enjoyable experience. And, if the worst comes to the worst, take them out for a short walk. Trust me, nobody is going to judge you for watching day-time TV with a sick kid. I’ve heard stories of mums freaking out because their kid has chicken pox and they’ve run out of pedagogical, sensory play themes…seriously. I’m pretty certain the kid just wants to be transported to his favourite TV land, too. Similarly with food…all we ate today was yoghurt and ice cream. I swear to god. But, she’s eating and I’m happy.
Love the snuggle
It is such a clichéd thing to say and one of the most annoying things to hear as a new parent. “Cherish these early days because before you know it they won’t even want you to hug them”. Blah, blah, blah. Tell that to a sleep deprived, caffeinated new mum and I challenge them not to swipe you one. Been there, got the t-shirt and the baseball cap. BUT, I challenge YOU to not snuggle and cuddle a poorly baby. For once, just let the world stop, grab that little bundle in your arms and let go of the frustration, the “to do” list and all preconceived notions of parenthood. Snuggle.
Ask for help
There are going to be times when the VAB thing isn’t so swell. In fact, it could get damn scary, totally overwhelming and utterly depressing. I experienced this last year after a 10 day bout of stomach flu had done the rounds. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically, and my anxiety levels were shot. I had to accept that I needed help and that I couldn’t pick up from where this sickness had started. We were fortunate that we had grandparents on hand to help and offer relief. I appreciate that most expats and international parents do not have that luxury. But, you do have friends, acquaintances and private daycare. Do not belittle your need for respite and relaxation. Don’t devalue it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and don’t be afraid to throw money at a bit of ‘me-time’. There are some excellent “on call” nanny services in Stockholm, Nanny.nu, Änglavakt.se. Getting the opportunity to respite after a period of infirmity or caring is a necessity, even for a few hours of perspective.