The Working Waterfront

The care that backs up caretaking

Illness shines a light on island support

By Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2023-06-07
Last Modified 2023-06-07

My husband Bill went off-island to visit family during Vinalhaven’s two-week March break, so naturally Penrose and I both got sick.

Pen came down with it first, an upper-respiratory crud that had made the rounds through the high school before filtering down to the younger kids. She spent a delightful Saturday playing with basically every toddler on the island, then enjoyed a birthday dinner with my boss. When we got home from Calderwood, she complained of a chill and ran upstairs to take her temperature—101.

My very full Sunday now became a very empty Sunday. Or, not empty, just full in a new way. Instead of rehearsals and meetings and Dungeons and Dragons, it filled up with tea and soup and episodes of Jem and the Holograms (and D&D via Zoom).

Caretaking looks a particular way when it’s your kid who’s sick, but like most things on North Haven, it often requires a little boost from the community. When I let the school administrative assistant know that Pen and I would be out, for instance, she asked if we needed anything from the mainland—and we did, as we had run out of children’s Tylenol.

My very full Sunday now became a very empty Sunday. Or, not empty, just full in a new way.

She not only picked up a bottle but dropped it off on our porch on an uptown run. And that kindness was in addition to coordinating subs for me for what turned out to be four days home, watching movies and cartoons, reading aloud (we finished The Last Mapmaker—read it!)

Pen’s cold evolved into bronchitis over those four days, which the clinic caught and treated promptly. We were back out in the world that Friday, both of us happy to have reentered society. My parents came to visit between boats on Saturday, bringing us a load of groceries as the store hadn’t quite reopened—they’re still taking care of me, even at the ripe old age of 41. After they headed down to catch last boat, I took a minute to acknowledge how I was feeling—pretty poorly, as it turned out.

I powered through a dinner at Calderwood with a friend of Penrose’s, but by the time we got home I had to admit—now I was sick. My memory of Sunday is of one long sneeze, punctuated by some nose blowing. I dragged myself to work on Monday but left at noon on Tuesday to fall asleep on the couch so soundly that I didn’t hear Penrose come in off the bus, go upstairs, feed her lizard, and practice violin and piano.

Caretaking can look like that too—not having to cajole Pen through her after-school routine helped me get some meaningful rest.

Because Pen has so many people in her family and the community modeling ways to take care of each other, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that that evening, when I was too sick to cook and even to feel motivated to eat, she put together a snack plate of apples, peanut butter, cheese, potato chips, and mini-Oreos for us to eat together. It was too cute not to eat, and she even cleaned up afterwards.

We’re both more or less on the mend, and Bill’s back from his trip. As much as I hope sunshine and warm weather are on the way to put an end to the cold-weather virus cycle, the care we give each other on North Haven is a little sunshine in its own way.

Courtney Naliboff teaches music, theater, and writing at North Haven Community School and lives and writes on North Haven. She may be reached at