Why I’m Secretly Happy When My Daughter Gets Sick

Is it so wrong to want to cuddle your kids?

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Children get between 5 and 365 colds a year, or so I’ve read. Considering my daughter is already emerging from her third cold this year, it seems accurate. After a week of feeling all sorts of blah, she’s finally gunk-free, cough-less, and once again sleeping through the night. The sounds of hacking have been replaced by the pitter-patter of little feet running down the hall. She’s back to her normal 2-year-old self.

But you know what? I miss my sick baby.

No, I don’t miss seeing my daughter in obvious pain and discomfort. I don’t miss losing sleep worrying about her health. And I certainly don’t miss sticking a thermometer in her butt. I do miss the baby cuddles, though. Our toddler is a cross between a mountain goat and a caffeine-raged teenager. On most days, if I’m lucky, I can hold her just long enough to plant a rushed kiss on her cheek when I come home. But when she’s sick, she’s glued to my stomach like the holiday fat I put on every year. I love it.

My wife and I show our affection through touch ⏤ hugs, hand-holding, back rubs, kisses on the forehead ⏤ so it’s been an adjustment trying to wrangle our toddler’s embrace, if only to satiate our parental instincts. But this week, as lethargy set in, she found the sweet salve of her dad’s torso. My body became the pillow to rest her aching head. My embrace became the blanket to cover her chilled body. Dad, the jungle-gym, became dad the teddy bear. It was a rare occasion where I could visibly be a caretaker.

Dads who crave affection realize we get the short end of the stick for the first year or two of our children’s lives. Many moms know the joy of breast-feeding their child. They get to hold the baby close, they get to nurse them, connect with them physically and emotionally, and they get their nipples chewed to a pulp. (Okay, so maybe the stick isn’t that short.) Guys like me, on the other hand, can only hope that our child is a cuddly one. But if the kid is anything like my daughter, an obligatory “you’re someone who’s always around” hug or accidental kick to the groin while climbing over me to get to mom is about the extent of their endearment. For once, this past week, my baby needed me in a more tangible way — paying bills and washing dishes aren’t the most gratifying forms of provision.

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But it was short-lived. My daughter is back to sprinting around the yard looking for piles of dog poop. She’s returned to hiding under the kitchen table and building towers and cooking up “stew-sauce” (I’ll explain the redundancy to her when she gets older) in the kitchen. Or she’s off to daycare to play with her friends. In each case, she barely has time for me now that’s she in full health. And I already miss our quality time together.

Taking a day off work, I laid in bed with her while she napped for five hours. It was amazing. She’d occasionally pop up, garble ‘daddy’ in her cheerful, albeit muted, voice, then plop back down. And even though I spent much of the time frantically googling symptoms, I found a wonderful joy in those moments spent with my daughter. When my wife came home, I begrudgingly passed her off and headed to the gym. When I returned, she wobbled up to me and buried herself back into my chest. She had vomited three times on my wife while I worked out. Nothing came out of her for the rest of the night.

Yes, I miss my sick baby. I don’t know if my wife feels the same.

Jon Bennett is the father of a 2-year old and a teacher of teenagers. When he’s not serving as his daughter’s horse, ladder, or swing-set, he’s writing or spending time with his wife, who is pretty important to him as well. His debut novel, Reading Blue Devils, was released in February.