, June 2000

    In the Trenches With Bruce Kluger
    Sick Day

    By Bruce Kluger

    I had a wonderful experience
    this afternoon. Too bad my
    kid had to be sick for me to
    enjoy it.

    I was tapping away at the
    computer when my phone
    rang. On the other end of
    the line was Lewis, Bridgette’s
    nursery school teacher. His
    voice was level, calm,

    “Bridgette doesn’t feel too well,” he began. “She was complaining that her head and
    throat hurt, so we took her temperature. She’s got about 100, or 101.”

    “Well, wait till it reaches 105 or 6,” I dead-panned, “and don’t bother me again until
    that happens.”

    I like Lewis, probably because he’s so completely unflappable.

    “I’ll be right down,” I said after a pause, then hung up and kicked into actionshoes
    on and out the door within two minutes, into a taxi within another two.

    On the way to Bridgette’s school (12 blocks away), I felt a strange energy propelling
    me forward, a peculiar kind of self-importance. I wanted to tell the cabbie, for
    instance, that I was on my way to pick my daughter up at schoolthat she was
    suddenly taken ill and I’d been pulled away from my very important, very sensitive
    writing assignment here at home, and was now swooping out of the sky like Captain
    Daddio to rescue my fevered little miss.

    Indeed, I genuinely had to restrain myself from saying to the hack, “Hey, you got
    kids?--just so I could not-so-gracefully segue into my Superdad spiel.

    When I reached the brownstone where Bridgette cuts and pastes and learns five
    days a week, I bounded up the steps two at a time. Once inside her classroom, I
    drew my daughter into my arms and asked her with hushed urgency how she was
    feeling. Her little brow furrowed as she managed to muster up a soft, husky “I’m

    Lips to forehead (indeed, she was pretty darn hot), then hand in hand, we left
    school for home.

    Once again, as I carried her lunchbox for her, and opened doors, and buckled her
    into the back seat of a taxi, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself why I felt so
    energized by this simple exercise of fatherhood. Surely this was no different from
    the countless other ways in which I regularly look after Bridgette, be it dropping her
    off at dance class or picking her up from a play date or reading her a story at
    bedtime. Or was it?

    The first thing I did when we got home was to plop Bridgey onto the kitchen counter
    and get a few teaspoons of Motrin into her. Then I got to work changing her into her
    p.j.'s (her current favorite: an oversized, hot pink Powerpuff Girls t-shirt) and
    whipping together a sickbed tray for her, complete with hot tea and a Peppermint
    Patty. These were the touchstones of my childhood sick days (okay, so maybe not
    the Powerpuff Girls shirt), and I felt a need to pass the ritual along to the next

    As the tea boiled, and Bridgette and I discussed which video she wanted to watch
    (from Mommy’s and Daddy’s bed, of course), I could see that she really was sick.
    Her energy was low, yet her manner was almost giddy-- both telltale signs of that
    strange quasi-delirium that often precedes a full-blown fever. I can’t tell you how
    many times I kissed her forehead to reconfirm her sickness, then told her I love her.
    If she hadn’t been somewhat out of it, she probably would have found my over-the-
    top concern, well, over the top.

    Before long, Bridgette was tucked into bed, her teacup-and-tray arrangement on
    the nightstand, and a Pokemon tape booting up from across the room. “Call me if
    you need me,” I said, gently closing the door and returning to the living room.

    Once back in front of my word processor, I tried to understand the impact this mid-
    day diversion had on me, and yet again, why it had felt so important to me to feel so
    needed. And the closest I could come was this:

    Ninety percent of the time, our children express needs that, in the end, can be
    satisfied by just about anyone. If the food is warm and the volume is up and the
    color matches their favorite sneakers, they’re usually pretty happy campers. After
    all, it is not the job of youngsters to burden themselves with understanding the
    arcana of the delivery systemtheir work is basically to command and consume
    and, on better days, manage a please and thank you in the process.

    But every now and then, the mom-and-dad hotline rings with an order that no one
    else but the real McCoy can fill. And, as parents, we need to be prepared for these
    moments around the clock. When I got that call from Bridgette’s teacher, I felt like a
    relief pitcher who, after patiently waiting it out in the bullpen, was now being called
    upon to do precisely what it is he’s hired to do, namely, jumping into the game and
    delivering the goodsdependably, enthusiastically and expeditiously. It never
    crossed my mind to finish whatever it was I was engaged in when my orders came
    down from the top. This is not selfless martyrdom I’m describing here, it’s simply the
    nuts and bolts of the job description.

    Yet the beat goes on, and unlike her little sister Audrey (who at 15 months is
    neediness personifiedtoddling and babbling, with wailing demands and a hair-
    trigger temper that could scare the diaper off your average two-year-old), Bridgette
    is beginning to learn to answer to her own inner needs of late. Even though she is
    only five, each day I watch her develop a greater sense of selffighting her own
    battles in school, successfully keeping secrets with her girlfriends (and Mommy),
    absorbing the sounds and colors of her portable little universe without depending
    on running narration from me.

    Consequently, when Lewis told me that a nasty little platoon of microbes had
    momentarily brought a halt to Bridgette’s march toward independence, I was more
    than eager to fly into action. Indeed, I was even grateful for it. Hence, my
    unrestrained white knight routine.

    As I write this, Bridgette lies asleep in my bedroom, the fever having finally gotten
    the best of her, despite attempts by Pikachu and company to keep her eyes open.
    Pretty soon she’ll be up, though, and needing me again. My guess is that another
    video will be in order (The Music Man, I bet you) and possibly a box of Chiclets.
    The request for gum, should it come, will be a sure indication that she is feeling
    better. In which case, it will be back to the bullpen for me, where I’ll eagerly await
    the next call.
Daddy’s little patient: Bridgette with ice pack and Betty Boop.