Last Saturday, my oldest son came down with a stomach virus that only lasted a couple hours. On Tuesday, the middle one had it; he bounced back quickly too. On Thursday, the youngest was a bit off–not much appetite, a few bad diapers–that whole thing.
Friday morning, the boys were acting normal — pounding on each other, asking for snacks immediately after leaving the breakfast table, arguing over who got to be Leonardo and who had to be Donatello…
I hurried them over to story time at our local library so they’d
leave me alone for a few minutes experience the joy of a fun and educational morning.
The place was packed. There must have been thirty people crammed onto the alphabet rug. The boys danced along to “Hot Potato” and listened intently to the tale of Robbie the Robot as I whisper-chatted with a friend in the back row.
The boys asked to eat lunch at Subway, and I agreed because
then I wouldn’t have to make lunch they cooperated so beautifully at story time. Miles didn’t eat his food, but I figured it was just because he’s not much of a sandwich guy.
Ohh, no. His issue was not with ham and cheese on wheat.
Toward the end of our meal, he threw up on the booth, floor, our jackets, and inside the shoe Gray had kicked off under the table.
Guys, it was the Friday lunch rush. There were people sitting in booths, lined up at the counter, pulling into the parking lot. And there I was, frozen on a bench of horrifying funk, clutching a sad, filthy toddler while Gray cry-yelled at Miles for barfing in his shoe.
What was I going to DO?
How was I going to get these kids out of there and get HOME?
How did Miles fit all of THAT in THERE?
Then — THEN, I realized that even though I was alone, I wasn’t alone-alone, because do you know who I spotted one booth over?
KATHY was one booth over.
I swear to you, if you have to be dripping with barf at Subway during the lunch rush, wondering how you’re going to get your kids home, and you can choose anyone to be in the next booth, every last one of you is gonna choose Kathy.
First of all, she has seven kids. Seven! Can you imagine the cubic volume of messes she has managed over the years?
Aaand, she’s a pastor’s wife. AND the most patient, graceful, unshakeable person you’ll ever meet. And definitely not afraid of a little upchuck. Or a lot, in this case.
From thin air, she produced a four-inch stack of napkins and fired them at me before she and her teenage son shuffled my (shoeless) older two out to the van. I buckled in the sick one, and Kathy waited by my car while I ran back in and asked the girl behind the counter for an industrial roll of paper towel and trash bags for our soiled clothes.
The clerk told me she would clean it up, and I said no way– I wasn’t making her do THAT.
And do you know what she said, bless her sweet, young heart?
I’m an early childhood education student and I really don’t mind.
Wait, KATHY is here, AND an early childhood student who doesn’t mind cleaning up my kid’s vomit is working behind the counter?
Sweet Jesus in heaven, this is one twisted but still kind of beautiful love song you’re singin’ me.
I crawled under the booth and wiped up the major yuck, then the clerk came behind me with a mop and sanitizer as I breezed out the door yelling “Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you!”
I would have hugged her if I didn’t have chunks on the front of my shirt. And behind my left ear.
I got the boys home and into the tub, sprayed myself with disinfectant, put Miles down for a nap, turned on Netflix for the other two, tore apart the already-frozen pukey carseat without uttering a single curse word, held my breath as I shook the bag o’ rancid gunge into the washer, got the boys a snack (Already? Whaaaa?), swallowed a bunch of probiotics, ran out to the garage to clean the van seat, and restarted the washer for the second cleaning before Miles stirred once.
I spent the afternoon and the next couple days hunkered down, snuggling with the boys, watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on repeat. Chad was out of town; I felt cooped up and lonely. It’s hard when your kids are sick, and harder when no other adults are around because they don’t dare set foot in your house without a proper HAZMAT suit. There’s no one to roll your eyes with, or to chuckle at you as you pantomime gagging yourself with the nozzle of the toilet bowl cleaner. And it’s pretty easy to feel sorry for yourself when your own stomach is in knots and you haven’t showered or slept well in days.
In the middle of the pity, I made some quasi-genuine attempts to improve my spirits. I tried being thankful that I didn’t have a ton of extra stuff going on this week so I could take care of my sick babies, and that I wasn’t commode-cuddling myself when the boys needed me.
I was glad Miles got sick on a tile floor at Subway and not down some other kid’s back at story time. Or frankly, at home on the carpet. That I was just a few minutes from home when the dam burst.
That, by no mistake, Kathy chose Subway on Friday, and Saint Jude’s twice-removed niece was working behind the counter.
Most of all, though, I gave thanks that even when I felt alone, I wasn’t.
Chad arrived home from his retreat late Sunday night. On Monday morning, he stayed home and spent time with kids so I could write a bit and fold eleventy-hundred loads of laundry. The sun was bright outside my bedroom window, the snow melting from my neighbor’s roof, dripping steadily to the ground.
I was a pot of coffee in, showered, slippered feet on Earth again. The boys were feeling better, and I finally had my bearings after a dizzying week.
So, last night, when Chad and I crawled into bed and switched off the lamp, we were not expecting to hear the second-worst sound of all sounds: vomiting child.
After bathing Reed, changing sheets, and tucking him back into bed, a screech came from Miles’s bedroom, followed by the first-worst sound of all sounds: another vomiting child.
We took turns on kid duty and clean-up duty alll night long and into the morning — toting laundry baskets to the basement, steadying buckets, rubbing backs, reassuring.
The sun is not shining this morning. In fact, we’re under a winter weather advisory. After a measly hour of sleep, I drove through snow to the gym and taught yoga class to the one person who showed up today.
Back at home, I return to an odor that could not be masked by all the old lady perfume in the YMCA locker room. There’s a soaking pail of nasty jammies in my shower. My three-year-old is asleep on the couch, slender arm cradling a barf bucket.
I hand Chad an Americano from the drive-through coffee shop, and he inhales deeply, closes his eyes with the first sip.
I’ve got a sore neck, a wretched headache and a twitchy eye, but still, I ache with tenderness for these boys, for the ways they need my love and care.
It’s a grim scene here this morning, but we’ll be okay in a day or two –I’m sure of it. I sit on the couch beside Reed, reach out to his ashy cheek. He does not stir beneath my touch.
I drink my coffee with my hand resting on his knee, offer a quiet prayer of healing before heading to the kitchen to peel an orange and crack some eggs, dropping them one by one into the sizzling iron pan.