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I swear to God, don't fuck with me in Target
My continuing adventures with childhood respiratory illnesses
“It is what it is,” our pediatrician said. “It doesn’t matter when you start school. Age 2 or age 5. They’ll be sick 75% of the time for the next two years.”
I’ve seen so many respiratory illnesses this winter that I forgot Covid existed. RSV. The flu. Croup! (That last one sounds made up, but I assure you it’s real.) And to top it off, there’s a children’s medication shortage.
Whenever the boy gets sick, a monotonous at-home routine takes over. This particular time was rough because my wife was also sick and asleep in the bedroom.
My two-year-old looked fine. His fever was gone, but he was still coughing and going stir-crazy. I wanted to take him out, treat him to a new toy at Target. But dread overwhelmed my body. If I took him to Target, I would be taking on a bigger mission:
I needed to make sure he didn’t cough in public.
Every perceived glare from strangers would be too much for me to take.
I needed this to be a brief, targeted mission. In and out so quickly the boy wouldn’t even have time to cough.
The irony of this wasn’t lost on me. Before he entered daycare, I was that person glaring. How could someone bring their coughing kid to the playground? What an asshole!
But after months of illnesses, I was resigned. “They’re just building up their immune systems. It is what it is,” my brain shouted.
I arrived at Target and quickly broke through the first line of defense - activists looking for signatures outside. They usually don't bother me with a kid in the cart. Plus, I never look up, never make eye contact.
This ain’t my first rodeo, after all!
I get through the next wave of greeters and bee-line for the toy section. I take a moment to praise my kid for being so good, despite the fact we’ve only been inside the store for thirty seconds.
I wheel past other kids, hear coughs, and freeze up.
Then, I realize I'm just in the midst of another hero! Another parent just trying to get through the day with their constantly sick kid in the year of our Lord 2023. A person who probably had work to do. Someone who’s paying X amount for daycare a month.
I swoop into the aisle and find the toy—the last one. And my kid is happy. So happy. Mission accomplished!
I leave the toy aisle, and my butthole tightens.
Please don't cough, I think. Please don't cough. Please. He looks up at me, smiling about the new toy, smiling so hard.
Please don't cough.
I move past a wave of people and almost faint. Almost fall over, dead.
The toddler coughs, and a man looks at me, unnerved.
I want to bury myself. Then, something strange happens.
My anxiety turns into anger.
Fuck this! I’ll pretend the boy is a cough gun! Blam! Blam! Blam! I would fire. How dare you judge me? You don't know what I've been through! Also, it’s not Covid, you sunuvabitch! I did two at-home tests already!
And yeah! We call it a tickle test around here, you fucks!
I race to the self check out. I’m so rattled that I scan the toy’s barcode too fast. Something doesn't register.
An employee gets involved.
Please don't cough.
“It’s not Covid! I swear to Christ!” I want to shout! But I don't. I suffer in silence while the man helps me check out as if I'm an elderly person.
I finally get back to my car, but the boy doesn't want to get into his car seat. My wife texts me and wants to know if I’m okay.
I start laughing long and hard like I’m the joker.
The boy doesn’t want help getting into the car seat and cries when I give him a boost. His crying only makes his coughing more intense.
People pass by while he cries, coughing, hysterical. I want to give up, but I don't. I’m made of steel!
I get home, and for five whole minutes, my boy is delighted by the new toy. Spellbound. He eventually trips on it and begins screaming and carrying on until I eventually put on an episode of Bluey.
In a few hours, I will be asleep.
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