It’s a weekday morning and your mom or dad just nudged you awake from a glorious dream about that new Back to the Future movie you saw in theaters over the weekend. You feel a little nauseated, and at first you think it’s due to the jarring realization that you aren’t on a grand adventure into the past with Marty McFly and Doc Brown. Your eyes flutter open and you see a concerned parental face hovering over you.
“Honey?” they ask, leaning over to kiss your forehead, lingering for a second too long. You know this forehead kiss. It’s the one they use to take your temperature with their lips, as if a doctor had imbued them with some incredibly mundane super power. They pull away and the concern etched on their face turns to something sad and apologetic. “You're not feeling well today?”
Now that they mention it, you realize the nausea hasn’t subsided. You lean over the side of the bed and promptly vomit on the carpet. Your parent almost laughs, but they control themselves and say, “Yup. You’re staying home from school today.” They eye the puddle of puke a moment before running off, probably to get cleaning supplies.
Somewhere underneath the terrible feeling of sickness, there’s a tiny nugget of happiness because, joy of joys, you don’t have to go to school!
After some bland oatmeal to settle your stomach, you start to feel a little better and are allowed to lounge on the couch in the living room. You turn on the television, hoping to get some quality cartoon time in, but instead you’re hit face first with old sitcom reruns, soap operas, talk shows, game shows, and decidedly adult commercials about taxes and health insurance.
This daytime television programming was mostly foreign to us as kids. Sure, there were summers, vacations, snow days, and sick days when we’d get a glimpse into that strange world of daytime television, but usually we were in school. To see those TV shows and commercials felt weird. So weird that to this day, when certain kinds of commercials come on TV—“Hi, I’m Joe Namath. If you’re on Medicare, this is important information...”—I still experience a sweaty kind of nostalgia that resonates through my body. I feel like I’m again a ten-year-old kid sick at home when I should be in school.
This type of nostalgia is different than the kind I usually write about. It’s not exactly something I attempt to recreate the way I do with nostalgia for movies, video games, music, or toys of my youth. Rather, it’s a feeling that descends upon me without warning, leaving me foggy-brained as I think about those lethargic mornings that lasted far longer than they should. All my sick days blend together into a giant bowl of Campbell’s chicken soup with crumbled saltine crackers on the side. I’d watch Wheel of Fortune while my dad poked fun, saying only old people liked game shows. But what else was there? I wasn’t about to watch The Young and the Restless with my precious time off, even if I did feel feverish and dizzy.
There was something special about that small peek inside the daily lives of adults. Seeing what your mom and dad were up to when you were supposed to be in school. Seeing the different way the light came in the windows. Getting bored with yet another health insurance commercial, another episode of Jeopardy, another weather report. Nothing I did could shake that otherworldly aspect of being home sick. Being home when you weren’t supposed to be.
And now, as an adult myself, I can barely remember what it felt to have large portions of the world closed off, but these remnants do remain. I suppose it was part of the magic of childhood. When we were young, we dreamed of the day we were old enough to do anything we wanted. Old enough to stay up late, go out alone, drive a car, not have to go to school, eat as much dessert as we wanted, watch as many movies as we could, buy whatever video games and toys we desired. Yet, it turns out those very constraints were what made childhood so mysterious and alluring. We were forced to anticipate things. There was rarely any kind of instant gratification. There was no Internet to dole out endless movie streaming options, or digital game libraries, or music play lists.
As I often do, I try to project my mind back into that ten-year-old me. In this particular case, little Tony is wrapped in a gremlins blanket, munching on bland crackers, watching boring daytime TV, and feeling kind of sick. And yet, somehow, he also felt good, getting that brief glimpse of the adult world of daytime television. Knowing the next day, he’d be back in school, anticipating the weekend. And maybe that was okay. Maybe that was part of the magic.