I’m not normally one to idealize childhood. From what I can remember, most things about childhood sucked. You have very little choice about what you do, where you are, who you see, what you wear, what you eat, when you eat it, how you eat it, etc. as a child. From as far back as I can remember to age 18, I felt like I was stuck on the waiting deck of life, twiddling my thumbs and mostly just feeling really, really bored while checking off the boxes of things the adults around wanted me to do.
Then legal independence finally came and WHAM! Life was exciting. Well, in most ways, life was exactly the same, but now my plans were my own, as were all of my choices. While some of those choices weren’t the best (such as eating jumbo-sized bags of potato chips all by myself while playing Guitar Hero at 4am in lieu of sleep/problem sets), they were my own, and that made all the difference. If I could do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Adulthood is so many billions of times better than childhood that I’ve been known to throw a screaming fit whenever someone laments having passed out of childhood. I decide somehow that I am the self-appointed representative of all unusually capable children who grew up under overly-protective/asshole-ish/neglectful/otherwise negligent parents, and I go off. Not that it’s entirely undeserved (what kind of person would seriously prefer not to be in charge of his own destiny?), but my response may be somewhat disproportionate.
Because of my past railings against childhood, I feel obligated to publicly state that I now believe there is one circumstance when being a child is far superior to being an adult: when you’re sick.
As a kid, being sick is awesome. You wake up feeling sick, and you don’t have to do a damn thing about it. If it’s morning, your mom will be in shortly to wake you up, and you can then inform her of the situation by spraying her in the face with mucus. If it’s the middle of the night, you can just cry and scream until someone comes to take care of you. If you’re at school, raise your hand, go to the nurse, and your parents will have to leave work to come tend to you. The situation really couldn’t be better for you.
Once your illness has become public knowledge, your work is done. Your parents have stocked up on every type of medicine you could possibly need and will literally spoon feed it to you. Mom will get you set up in bed or on the couch, wrapped in blankets with your favorite toys and lots of Kleenex. You get all your favorite foods, because all they want is for you to eat something.
And you get to watch TV. All. Day.
The TV-watching was hands-down the greatest part of being sick. Whenever I found myself drowning in my own fluids or bent over the toilet at night, a small spark of joy would flicker in the back of my mind. I knew that if I just survived the night, I would get to spend all day watching Star Wars. Between the nose blows and dry heaves, I would think about which one I would watch first. Should I start with my favorite (Return of the Jedi) and work backwards to A New Hope? Should I go in order and risk being too exhausted to enjoy Jedi fully? Should I just fast-forward (ah, VHS) to the parts with Yoda? For an over-achieving kid with grade-obsessed parents living in a “no TV until literally all your homework through the end of high school is done forever” household, it was a dream.
The food was of course the second greatest part. I particularly enjoyed stomach flu – that meant I got to eat all the popsicles I wanted (I could even skip the grape ones!) Another treat was getting to go to the doctor’s office, after which I would get to buy gummy Lifesavers from the pharmacy. Any and all illness was naturally treated with watered-down lemon-lime Gatorade, as well as ginger ale. Chicken soup and Saltines would be the staple of my diet, but once I had started to recover, my dad would make for me the crown jewel of sick food: cheese toast.
It’s hard to explain what made cheese toast so special, or why it’s completely impossible to imitate. I never saw exactly how my dad made it, but I know it absolutely had to be made with Cracker Barrel Vermont sharp cheddar and Oroweat multi-grain bread. It definitely can only be made in a toaster oven, possibly only in the particular toaster oven we had in our condo. Other than that, the process is a mystery to me. It’s also a mystery why this dish, far more than any other, always gives me that “everything is going to be okay” feeling that is the very definition of comfort food, but there it is.
I still automatically want these same foods when I’m sick as an adult, only now I have to get my aching self dressed, drive to the store without vomiting, buy whatever it is, drive back home, and prepare it myself. Oh, and I will also have to buy all the medicine I need because somehow, no matter how full my medicine cabinet, I never have the thing that treats the thing I have. Then I will have to read the instructions, measure the dosage, and take the medicine myself. Needless to say, I never do any of this. Best-case scenario, I’ve kept my cabinets well stocked with emergency Gatorade and canned soups and there are a couple of Advil within arm’s reach of my bed. Worst-case, well, one time my roommate came home and found me attempting to eat the orange powder from a box of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese directly out of the packet with a spoon. I’m really hoping that turns out to be the worst case.
Yours in sickness more than health,