'Tis the season for sniffles. Shall we compare notes?
We are, today, all very well, thank you. But one week ago Sunday, around 2 a.m., I awoke to the sound of a seal barking in Zoë's bedroom. Except of course when I checked, there was no seal, only our fate for the next eight days.
It is one of the jobs of small children, I've decided, this periodic downtime, this building up of immune systems. And for all the ways it sets a week back, delaying errands, quashing deadlines, demoting to-do lists to the bottom of the list, there are parts of these sick days I genuinely treasure. They have a bit of the cocooon about them, quiet, hushed, emphatically slow. The rush is off, the hustle elsewhere, the household temporarily exempt of expectations.
I like this pace. My girl, not so much. She is, of my three, the one raring to go. The one who, every morning, never fails to ask, "Where are we going today?"
"To the couch" is not her idea of an answer.
So we worked it last week, this angle and that, trying to find calm, quiet, tiny excitements. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I do not contain anywhere near Whitman's multitudes, but I do believe such activities exist. I just need a little help. Cue you, smart cookies. You are all such a clever, crafty, wise bunch, I've no doubt you've got sleeves just stuffed with ideas.
As for us, we drew pictures and made fingerprint doodles, and sent up our umpteenth silent thanks to Ed Emberley. We traced circles and cut them and arranged them in collages. We made paper chains, which was rhythmic (snip, snip), simple (loop, loop), and productive. Essential, that, since productive equals project, and project, for Zoë, anyway, equals happy.
We inhaled more steam than is probably legal, and drank more water than an elephant. We spent hours buried deep in the gussied-up couch, which we re-brand "the nest" when it's serving as sick bed. We read 493 books. I may have inflated that number slightly. Then again, I may well have underestimated it. We watched our first- and second-ever Sesame Streets. We kept good company with Amos McGee.
We concocted itty-bitty outdoor adventures: Let's go for a walk! Around the backyard!! Pajamas and shoes were de rigeur for days.
We collected green tomatoes, in advance of a frost. We noticed the sun setting earlier each day. We spent one entire morning cutting flowers, stripping stems, carefully arranging blooms by color, kind and whimsy. I am certain the combination of fresh air and satisfaction contributed to a serious improvement the next day. Even if it did leave our table looking rather funeral parlor-esque.
We got dressed.
By day five, this was terribly exciting. And while we were at it, taking a page from Amanda's book, we dressed up our water bottle in Henry's old flannel. There were no upset tummies, this particular time around, but who here else has forgotten the universal comforts of a water bottle?
And we ate, of course, all the usual (at least in our home) suspects: chicken broth with tiny stars, bits of chicken and soft carrots. Warm rice pudding, a.k.a. calm in a bowl. De-constructed onigiri (because I am rice ball-challenged). Lemon ginger tea, by the steaming hot pot. Chocolate chip cookies. You know, traditional healing foods.
And new to us last week, a soothing balm for sore small throats.
Book number 311 in our last week's reading line-up was a sweet volume called The Pooh Get-Well Book. It was published about six months before I was, in March of 1973, and is a lovely example of a spin-off before spin-offs were what they are today.
It's a gentle thing, a collection of quiet pleasures for sick kiddos, full of pen-and-ink Pooh's and choice A.A. Milne snippets. I am probably hopelessly biased in my opinion of it, as it launches with Milne's mischievious Sneezles poem. I was raised on my mom's beautiful 1947 copy of The King's Breakfast, which began with the same silly, wonderfully sly verse. My own children know I can't check for warm foreheads without muttering "...they gave him what goes with a cold in the nose and some more for a cold in the head..."
Disclaimers aside, we so enjoyed it. There are quiet things to make and do while getting well (Pleazles), and little bits of poetry and word play (Teazles), and a particular passage between Eeyore and Piglet that had us in hysterics (page 27) every time we read it. Just try pronouncing "grrrr-oppp-ptschschschz" to a three-year-old without tears. (See what I mean? Good stuff, indeed.) And then there's chapter three, Strengthening Things to Drink and Eat, which is where we discovered some sweet relief.
After coughing all week, Zoë's throat was ragged, but she's no fan of throat drops, and I'm no fan of cough syrup. So when we tripped over page 23's Honey-Thyme Cough Syrup, we paused, sized up, and got to work. (Project! Score!!). This elixir—we came to calling it an elixir, because words with x's and z's are just better—is nothing more than honey, mixed with equal quantities of boiling water, and steeped with thyme. The original calls for dried, but our fall garden's overflowing with fresh, so we went outside and gathered. (Outing! Double score!!)
Our elixir took all of five minutes to assemble, fifteen to sit on hands, and ten seconds more to doctor. The water cut the honey's cloying thickness, making it sippable like light cream. The thyme lent a gentle perfume, fragrant without being forcefully Herbal. And the squeeze of fresh lemon, which we added at the end, offset the sweetness with a gentle, bright zip.
We went through one entire batch, and half another, sipping a tablespoon every hour or three. It was sweet treat and succor and sustenance, all rolled into one. It propped us up when we were down, which I think is the very definition of strengthening. And in case you need the same in coming months (and of course I very much hope you don't), I thought I would make note of it here.
Honey-Lemon-Thyme Cough Elixir
adapted from The Pooh Get-Well Book, by Virginia H. Ellison
I am no expert on natural remedies, and no stranger to modern medicine. Still, it was more than a little satisfying to read yesterday that honey outperformed DM cough syrup in every trial. Apparently, dark chocolate did, also (don't stop reading at the honey bit). Just so you know. Cookies, I tell you. According to Virginia Ellison, the book's author, thyme is the basic ingredient in many commercial cough syrups. I've no idea if this is true, but I can confirm that thyme and honey are excellent bedfellows on the tastebuds.
Please note that honey should never be given to babies under the age of 1.
1/4 cup dried or fresh thyme (washed and leaves stripped from stems, if fresh)
1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup honey
1-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Place thyme in a small pitcher, and add boiling water, then honey. Stir well to combine, then let steep, 10-15 minutes. Strain into a screw-top jar, and add lemon juice to taste, adding more or less to suit your sweet/tart preferences. We used half a large lemon, about two tablespoons.
Sip one or two tablespoonsful, several times a day, or as needed. Fancy cups optional, but highly recommended in some circles.
Store any remainder in the refrigerator.