Several years ago, my sister-in-law Lisa told me a story. Both her children had had the flu, both had vomited through all clean pajamas and all clean sheets in the house. Out of desperation and exhaustion late that night, she had sat on the kitchen floor crying and holding a child in each arm while the kids continued to vomit on the floor beside her like some kind of viral fountain. She called her other sister-in-law, Jody, who lived nearby and who had children close in age. Thankfully, Jody arrived with clean sheets, clean pajamas for each child, and then helped Lisa clean up and put the kids back in bed. Everyone survived the night.
I think of this story every time my kids get the stomach flu. Last night, after a very sad sick day where both my little children had the flu, my son threw up in the doorway of his bedroom. I called his name and reached to him so that he could walk around it and throw up in the toilet of the nearby bathroom, but he didn’t make it that far. He layered the path to the bathroom with a good dose of upchuck. Meanwhile, I threw towels on the floor and directed him, saying urgently, “In the toilet, son! In the toilet!” He leaned over the toilet, its lid closed, and heaved the remains of mac’n cheese. Semi-digested dinner rebounded everywhere. I started pulling at my hair in desperation. Somehow, before I could reach him, he opened the toilet and finished the job in there.
Just when I bent down to start scrubbing the floor, I started to cry. I was almost crazy with fatigue. I had spent the day laundering sheets and clothes after vomit and diarrhea blowouts, my ears still hurt from the infections I have been fighting for weeks, and I had knelt down in a puddle of something absolutely gross. I looked at my son, remembered Lisa’s story, and started to laugh. I got enough walkway cleared to reach my son, help him clean up, and soothe him.
My husband, who had worked about an eleven-hour day, had just come home to the chaos. He stood in our bedroom doorway, asking to help, but was unable to walk forward more than two steps for all the vomit between us. He edged his way to the kids’ bathroom, peeked, laughed, and promised he would not be eating macaroni anytime soon. He waited for me to collect all newly soiled laundry and toted the load downstairs, laughing all the while about once when his youngest hurled a bellyful of spaghetti down his back.
These are the rigors of parenthood, the It’s-So-Gross-It’s-Funny moments, the little episodes that bond me with other exhausted parents. Who knew puke could forge a bond? For Lisa whose story gave me perspective when my own have been ill, I am always thankful. (Lisa used to also tell me that I would one day be absolutely grateful to sit quietly, still, and alone with a cup of coffee. Yes, Lisa, as a sister in the tribe of Motherhood, I completely understand this now.) Even before I had children, I would hear of stories of how my now husband’s former wife had gracefully handled her children’s illnesses and injuries. I was in awe of how she managed. Nearly eleven years into childrearing, I think I am managing nicely thanks to the inspiration of parents that walked the path before me. I will survive this episode of vomiting and the others to come, but it may be quite some time before I can eat a plate of macaroni and cheese.