09/27/2013 08:11 EDT | Updated 11/27/2013 05:12 EST

Parents Can Make "Sick Days" into Special Days

It's already begun! School has started, so kids are getting sick. We might as well face the inevitable: at some point or other, a virus will strike at the least convenient moment. The question is, how will we handle it? With grunts of frustration? Will we plop the kid in front of the television and go about our day, or will we truly make the best of it?

I had my day all planned. Yesterday I had pushed through errands and housework so that today, I could work without interruption on some chapters of my new book. My head was swimming happily in plot and character as I put on a pot of coffee and went down the hall to wake the kids.

And then it happened: "Mom, I don't feel well!" Caitlin, my 11-year old, felt warm to the touch.

Why today? I called the school, left my husband to watch over her, and completed the morning routine and carpool for our son, Andrew. Perhaps Caitlin would be back in bed asleep when I returned.

Alas! It was not to be. Caitlin was on the couch with her favorite pillow, a lap blanket pulled up to her chin. "Mommy, I'm lonely!" Looking at her sad little face peeking out from the blanket, I remembered the same look when she was sick as a toddler. Now she is almost as tall as I am, and about to outgrow the need for "Mommy." Soon enough, she will be a teenager, and then who knows how we'll get along.

I spoke in my baby-voice. "Does Caitlin need a little Mommy-time today?" Caitlin smiled and nodded. "OK, then, what shall we do?"

We pulled out movies we hadn't watched in years. Caitlin chose an old favourite, I brought a tray with apple juice and graham crackers, and we settled in for a long cuddle. After the movie and some chicken noodle soup, we went through the same process with old books. Closing her eyes and resting her head on the pillow in my lap, she let me read to her as I'd done for so many years.

By the time I tucked her in at bedtime, my heart was warm and full, and I had no regrets that I'd had to postpone writing for the day. I am so grateful that Caitlin still wants me around, and I will gladly be there for as long as it lasts.

Even when kids hit their double-digits, you can make memories on those unexpected days they stay home with you. Depending on how ill they feel, and how old they are, here are some suggestions for opportunities to bond with your little ones on the days you are 'stuck' at home:

Make it your sick day, too. Don't try to do laundry, clean the kitchen, or work from home unless it's absolutely necessary. Today your little one will get your full attention, and you'll both get some rest.

Take a day off of your diet. If Junior wants apple juice and graham crackers, you go for it! It's no fun to eat alone, and a little comfort food every once in a while is good for almost everyone.

Let them be tiny again. Bring out books and movies that they are now "too old for." Tuck them in with a blanket and indulge them in cuddles and room-service. When my teen is under the weather, I watch him play video games and bring him snacks on a tray. The effect is the same; he feels age-appropriately babied.

Stroll down memory lane. This is a great time to go through old photo albums. They may want to see their own baby pictures, or maybe laugh at the haircut you had in high school. Either choice will provide fodder for family story-telling.

Choose an easy craft. Play some music softly to set the mood for an artistic distraction. String beads, make popsicle stick boxes, open some watercolors or crayons (nothing that requires too much concentration). A jigsaw puzzle works nicely, too. Sit beside them and participate in the activity.

Nap together. Sure, you could use her nap time to get some things done around the house, but how often do you treat yourself to a nap? She'll sleep more soundly knowing you're beside her. She might enjoy a foot rub or bedtime story first.

Before you know it, they'll be grown and gone. Make every day count -- even the ones with sniffles and coughs. They are just as important.

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