Thursday, 10 June 2021 14:04

I scream and Ice Cream

By Katherine Morna Towne for Saratoga TODAY | Families Today
I scream and Ice Cream

My mom has told me on more than one occasion that there’s an old saying: “Children need to know when Mother has a headache.” I’ve thought of this many times since becoming a mom, and what exactly it means. I used to think it meant that it’s not a bad thing for kids to know that sometimes Moms don’t feel well and need to lay down, or need to serve cereal for dinner, or can’t host a playdate, and I still do think that’s a large part of it — this idea that Moms aren’t amazing as kids are inclined to believe (not always, anyway), and they need grace and mercy and patience as well. But something happened recently that showed me another side to this saying, and I’m still thinking about it a couple of weeks later.

I’d been having progressive, chronic pain that started on the top of head and by the time I first went to the doctor, I was having fairly constant headaches and had started having pain on the skin of my forehead on one side; after a weekend of trying the doctor’s initial suggestion, it was worse, and it had spread down my face and I had stabbing pains deep in the top of my head, my temple, my ear, and my throat on one side. The doctor’s best guess was shingles, and after a week of antiviral medication as well as medication for nerve pain, I’m nearly one hundred percent better, so I think she was right (and I’m so grateful!). 

The thing is, I’d been dealing with this creeping, worsening pain for a couple of weeks before my shingles diagnosis — pain that was there when I went to bed, was aggravated by placing my head on the pillow, and was there when I woke up — and then it took a couple of days after starting taking the meds before I really started feeling better, so this one day, right before I started feeling better, I lost it on the kids. Every single thing they were doing made me feel like I was losing my mind — the arguing! The laughter! The sound of the foosball men being twirled on their poles and kicking the ball into the goal! The sound of the dishes clanging against each other as one of the boys put them away! The NOISE! The bad noises, the good noises, so many noises! Every bit of sound they made was so loud and pinged around inside my sore head until I started yelling at them for every little infraction I could think of and I ended with, “And none of you even care that I’m not feeling well!”

“Really?” answered one of them (the bravest one, apparently). “I didn’t know you weren’t feeling well!” It was a little voice of reason that broke through the haze of pain and I thought to myself, very clearly and calmly, “Well of course. How would they know?” I had never told them. I hadn’t even thought to tell them. I’d just kept plugging away at our everyday life and all the things that needed to be done, so all they saw was “business as usual.” I felt quite patient all of a sudden, and soothed, even. I called them all in and told them that it was unfair of me to expect them to be quieter and better behaved because I wasn’t feeling well, when I hadn’t even told them I wasn’t feeling well. They all felt quite badly for me — they hugged me and made sounds of sympathy (which, funny enough, didn’t make my head hurt worse) and made little efforts here and there to be helpful for the rest of that day and several days after.

“Children need to know when Mother has a headache” means not only my initial understanding about children having lower expectations of Mom when she’s not feeling well, but also allowing the children to tap into their reserves of compassion and giving them opportunities to step up and help out more. (Some of this is also, certainly, the difference between having all small children versus having big kids.) I keep thinking about how all my irritation seemed soothed once I realized they didn’t know what I was dealing with, and how sweet they were about it once they found out. 

I’d actually been working on sharing more with the kids recently, but from the opposite perspective — I’d been making a point to share with all of them the various successes they each had (a good test grade, a great catch during the baseball game, a good job helping to clean the house) and those of me and my husband (a good day at work for him, and the amazing honor I had recently of being selected one of Saratoga TODAY’s Saratoga County Women of Influence), so that we can all celebrate together. It’s been so fun to see how happy we all are for each other, and thinking of little ways to mark our achievements (getting ice cream from King’s Dairy is our current favorite).

I think often of how the family is the first school, and how “as the family goes, so goes the world.” All of the good parts and hard parts of being in a family help prepare all of its members for life and relationships outside the family. I know for sure that being privy on a very intimate level to the inner workings and vulnerabilities of each of the members of my household has helped me to be more understanding, patient, and compassionate with those outside my family, and in these recent instances of sharing sickness and success with my kids, I can see that they also are learning that people are often dealing with things you can’t see, that sometimes more is required of us than at other times, and also that no success is too small to celebrate with ice cream. Those are pretty good life lessons!

Kate and her husband have seven sons ages 16, 14, 12, 11, 9, 7, and 2. Follow her at www.facebook.com/kmtowne23, or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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