Tuesday afternoon I got a call from the school nurse that my older daughter was in her office complaining of a stomach ache. It was right before my younger child was about to be dropped at home by the school bus, so I couldn’t leave home and come to the school. Had to tell the older child to sit tight and take her regular bus home. She was a good sport. In the English spirit she kept a stiff upper lip and made it home mostly in one piece.
I gave her a mild dinner and by the end of the night she was doing fine and happily went off to school the next morning. The Force is strong with that child.
Yesterday morning I was scrambling to get ready for a breakfast to benefit breast cancer in Clapham (southwest London) where it is très français, hosted by my beautiful and effervescent new French friend and fellow survivor. The phone rang. It was the school nurse again.
This time it was the younger child, who had thrown up on the school steps after the bus ride to school. She tends to get motion sickness from time to time (like the day after we arrived in London last summer when I had the swell idea to take the kids on the double-decker Original London bus tour, during which Charlotte threw up right on me at point-blank range and when asked why she didn’t warn me, responded: “the throw-up was the warning”). Anyhow, I didn’t think much of it, particularly since Charlotte told the nurse she felt fine après puke and wanted to stay at school.
She made it through school all right but of course she was not fine. Duh. She had the same 24-hour tummy virus her sister had had the day before. At Charlotte’s swimming lesson, she started complaining of tummy pain and then had to be carried half way home (thank God my law school roommates are in town visiting and had come to the lesson, since I could not have carried Charlotte and my purse and the backpack with swimming gear all at once).
Once we were home, my friend bathed the child to help spare my ailing hands (dry and hyper-pigmented with two very slow-healing boo-boos — a mess). These people flew all the way to London for a few days without their four kids and they voluntarily came to a children’s swimming lesson and then had to carry and bathe a 45-pound kid (that’s three stones and a pebble). Or maybe they just really wanted to see me bald in person.
After the bath, Charlotte put herself to bed at 6:00 pm — when I went to check on her and offer her some plain pasta for dinner, she was already fast asleep. I thought maybe I hadn’t heard the last of her but I went downstairs to hang out with my friends and get Isabel some dinner. Charlotte didn’t make a peep during the entire visit. “Think she’ll go twelve hours?” My friend asked. “Maybe,” I said.
The minute they left the house, of course, my husband, who had come home early to hang out, heard crying and raced upstairs. Sure enough, Charlotte had woken up and vomited all over her bed. I mean all over. It was on her pyjamas, pillow case and pillow, stuffed animals, duvet cover, bottom sheet, side of the bed and rug. And it was some nasty smelling vomit, too. Really acidic. The worst, I do believe, I have ever smelled. Thank goodness parents are immune to their own kids’ vomit.
We started the tedious process of removing all offending items from the room and balling them up in preparation for washing. Bill carried the bulging wad of ickiness downstairs while I somewhat creatively remade the bed, throwing in a waterproof zip-up pillow case, which was leftover from being a maternity patient, on the fresh pillow for good measure.
When this was finished and Charlotte was safely tucked away it occurred to me that I didn’t mind at all. I didn’t mind cleaning up the throw-up. When you are a parent you don’t really mind these things. You clean up seemingly infinite poop and pee and puke. I might have whistled as I worked had it not been getting late.
I’ll tell you why.
Because I was well enough to help her myself. I wasn’t lying in bed downstairs while all of this went down. I was right there on the front lines, wiping her face, picking up chunks and opening the window to air the room.
Please understand: I know that I need help. I needed help yesterday at swimming when I couldn’t carry Charlotte and was trying to save my hands by not doing a bath. I need help all the time and have learned to ask for it when needed and accept it when offered. And I am not a person used to getting a great deal of help — or at least I wasn’t until now. You become accustomed to it because you have no choice.
There was just something about taking care of my child, changing her bed and making her clean and comfortable and safe that made me think: Boy am I fortunate to have been able to clean up that puke. I reflected on all the times we did it in the middle of the night when she was a little baby and a toddler. Padding into her room together to assess the damage and then stripping the crib and starting midnight laundry.
Those aren’t bad memories. They are priceless. They are killer.
And they made me think of all the moms and dads who are ill who are not able to care for their own children. And how hard that is.
I am sending them all my love right now. Won’t you join me?