My phone rang a few days ago and the scratchy, weak voice on the other end of the line told the story. My youngest son was sick. He felt terrible: tired, weak, achy. I thought for a minute, then I knew—it was the flu.

“How long have you felt bad? Have you taken any medicine? Do you have fever? DO YOU EVEN HAVE A THERMOMETER?” My voice, and my anxiety, rose as I spoke. I couldn’t remember if I’d bought him a thermometer two and a half years ago when we moved him into the freshman dorm.

Why didn’t I buy him a thermometer—WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER AM I?
“Yes, I have a thermometer,” the voice said. “I’ll take my temperature now.”
“Okay. Good. Go. Take your temp. Call me back in three minutes.”
Two minutes later the phone rang. “It says 97.”
“What? How can it be 97 degrees? That’s too low. Maybe you didn’t wait long enough.”
“Oh,” the voice said. “I think I put the wrong end in my mouth.”

I took a breath and chuckled a little. Men. “Okay. Try again. Right end, three minutes—CALL ME BACK.” I put the phone down and attempted to gather some composure. What should I do if he does have flu? Should I make the four-hour drive across the state line to take care of him? Would I stay in his apartment? What about his roommate? Should I rent a hotel room? WHERE IS THAT PARENTING MANUAL WHEN I NEED IT?
My phone rang again. “102.5.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “Yep, it’s probably flu.” Of course, it was Sunday and the University Health Center was closed because students don’t get sick on Sunday, so I had to figure out what to tell him to do and where to tell him to go. I took another breath or two and tried not to think about the graphic I’d seen on social media the day before. The word at the top read, “Influenza,” followed by an arrow pointing to the word, ”Pneumonia,” followed by an arrow pointing to the word, “Sepsis,” which, finally, was followed by an arrow pointing to the word, “Death.” Good grief. This was proof that I should spend less time on Twitter. But although that graphic illustrated an unlikely outcome, I knew this was serious and he needed my help.

Unfortunately, this was not my first time having a son away at college with the flu. Four years earlier, my middle son had gotten sick: different college, different state, same diagnosis, but still four hours away. That was my first out-of-state influenza rodeo, so I immediately rented a hotel room and took care of him until he was better. Around the third day, when I saw him taking pictures of the breakfast-in-bed I’d ordered and Snapchatting them to his friends, I knew he was well. It was time for me to go. But ironically, it snowed that night in the Deep South and everything, including the roads, had shut down. I had to wait another day for them to clear before trying to get home. However, when I’d headed home, I was only able to make it halfway. The interstate—still covered with ice and jackknifed eighteen-wheelers—had shut down. So I had to get another hotel room in a different city, and wait yet another day before completing the drive home. I finally made it back the next day on roads that were covered with snow and ice, slipping and sliding in my tiny car. We southerners called the storm “Snowpocalypse.” My husband called it the most expensive bout of flu ever. And yes, when we got the credit card bill, it seemed to be.

So this time, with this son, I would be smarter. I decided to wait a day before making a move. And I was glad I did. Although the physician thought my son probably had flu despite his negative test result, he didn’t. He already felt much better by the second day and was ready to go back to class.
So good for my son for getting himself to the doctor, and pushing fluids, and taking all the meds. And good for me for acting rational this time. But most of all, good for young men (and women) that become adults and take care of themselves. I’ve learned an important lesson over the years: be willing, be ready, but be rational. And I’ve also learned that we moms won’t get it right every time, of that we can be sure.



Katy D. Shelton is a freelance writer and editor for and She has been published in Lake Magazine, The Alex City Outlook,, and She has three adult sons and lives with her husband John on Lake Martin in Alexander City, AL. Read more by Katy on and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.


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