There is only so much that one woman can take, and I may be approaching my limit. I am not known for having an especially weak stomach, and, even though I am not racing off to med school to attend the first autopsy I can get in to see, I am pretty capable when it comes down to the real nitty gritty. What I'm saying is that I don't lose my lunch because someone else has lost theirs. But, boy, is my stomach ever being tested this month, because our house has turned into a vomitorium of Roman proportions since the last few days of January.
I'm sure it's my fault. I remember commenting to Rob about how healthy the kids have been this winter, when he gave me a stricken look. I had done it. I had officially invited Plague, Pestilence, and Pox to be our guests for the season. I tried to take it back, by knocking wood and pointing some prayers toward the saintly saint responsible for vomiting children.
It began with Older Girl, and the sound of midnight retching. After so much drilling, she had finally made it to the bathroom for once. (Where do we throw up? The bathroom. And where do we not throw up? Our beds, Mom and Dad's bed, or any carpeted area.) At the first heave, Rob and I both leaped from our bed like it was a pit of vipers, because that is a sound you do. not. ignore. Ever. We split off in the hallway, like a well-trained vomit SWAT team, with Rob going to secure her bedroom, while I took in the carnage in the bathroom. And it was bad. But not as bad as the sagging shoulders and bruised-looking eyes of my girl. Having not learned to hold it back, her hair was plastered around her mouth. Poor thing, but oh my stars and garters, The Stench! I don't know what she ate, but I'm not sure it was meant to be ingested, because that scent lodged itself in my nostrils and would not leave. I was ready to start huffing Febreze.
She went on to many more bouts with the bowl through the night and morning, until she was wrung out and dry.
She spent most of the day in her bed, and then I heard The Boy saying that his stomach felt weird, and it's like someone punched me squarely on the panic button that lives in my Gut. Every alarm bell went off in my head, while my body paused at the crossroads of the old "fight or flight" decision. Every quavering Nose Hair, still traumatized by the acrid memory of the previous night, screamed: Flight! The answer is flight, you idiot! But my Brain, that responsible, world-weary organ, overrode the Nostrils' SOS to the Arms and Legs. It did an end run around the panicky Gut and went straight to the real boss in these matters, the Heart. It whispered, Stay and fight. Do it for the kids. (The Brain didn't get its job by luck of the draw; it knows that the Heart will force the Body do anything for the kids.)
The Boy never did throw-up, but Older Girl made up for his share, missing two days of school last week and then again today. And of course Baby Girl did her part to make sure that every time I felt like I had washed that slight vomity smell out of my hair, another part of me was covered in baby spit-up, which is less malodorous, but more technicolored, making it much harder to launder.
And the joy of being able to vent to Rob is lost because of his profession. When he comes home and asks how the day went, saying that I've been repeatedly doused in another's vomit brings a sympathetic head nod and shoulder squeeze. He's earnest in his sympathy, but that's only because I know he's seen much worse. He's been covered in vomit, blood, urine, amniotic fluid. He's coaxed a baby from the loins of a screaming woman crawling away from him on a hospital bed. He's lanced things, nasty things. He is the epitome of unfazed. Sympathetic, loving, supportive, but unfazed.
So why is it the kids always come to me with heaving stomachs? Why do they stand over my side of the bed saying, I have a lump in my throat and I think I might have to throw-up, while I scramble and
It can't be for the sympathetic, motherly touch. I am firmly in the Home-Sick-From-School=Quarantine-in-Bed camp. No TV, no movies, no trays of bland food lovingly brought upstairs, no lavender-scented Mother Dear waiting with cool washcloths and ice cream. Our house is like the gulag for sick people. Surely they would fare better with their father who has Seen It All. But no, to my side of the bed they trot.
Even with all of this, I do feel deeply for them when they are sick. Late at night, I will lay with Rob in the darkness and ask him in hushed tones if he thinks they're all right. Should they go in to see their doctor? Should I piggyback the acetaminophen and the ibuprofen? Should we keep her home for one more day, just to be sure?
But that doesn't stop me from wanting, under the cover of that same hushed darkness, to switch sides of the bed with Rob so that the kids will bring their ragged voices and hard swallows to him first. Like I said, there's only so much a woman can take.