Of panic, parenting and puke

It’s 2 a.m., do you know where your children are?

I do. My youngest is sleeping fitfully next to me, slightly feverish and flushed, little hands folded beneath still toddler-chubby cheeks, and the hair on her forehead still damp from the cool washcloth that I just took to the bathroom and exchanged for one that smells a bit less like vomit.

Ah, the joys of parenthood.

When you’re thinking about becoming a parent, talking excitedly about it with your spouse, dreaming of the possibilities – 2 a.m. feedings with snuggly newborns that still smell fresh from their evening baths are generally the trials that come to mind. The late nights spent with toddlers, school-aged children and even adult children when they are ill never seem to plague our thoughts. Perhaps it’s for the best that we picture the rosy-cheeked infant, crying for a feeding, instead of the panic, self-doubt and indecision that goes along with caring for a sick child.

The Princess, or as we’ve also come to call her “The Vomit Comet,” was a beautiful baby. The kind of pretty little thing whose infant and toddler pictures could rival Liz Taylor’s. But, I swear the child can hork with the best of them. She was a baby prone to spitting up. My former coworkers from my advertising creative days can tell you of many times I came to work with unnoticed spit-up on my suits and dresses. By the age of two, she had so much practice puking she could accurately hit a trash can or the loo from yard’s distance, while running and yelling “MOM!” Now, the Princess is six-years-old. We’ve been at it since about 11 p.m. Her face, even in repose, is weary. I can see a faint redness ringing her eyes, shadowed by those eyelashes that go on forever. Her legs, positioned as if to be instantly ready for the next round, have kicked off the covers. She is hot but would likely only throw up any medicine I give her, so I stick to the old methods such as damp washcloths tonight. Every movement catches my eye and every whimper earns a cool hand on her forehead.

Just to check. Again.

It’s a simple thing, tonight. It’s not always so simple. Some nights, you hear THAT cough, and it won’t stop. You medicate, you crush ice for crunching, you make cups of hot broth for sipping – all to no avail. You wonder and doubt and think and debate and then you finally cart yourself and your child to the Emergency Room, where, after waiting for two hours the cough has subsided and the little darling has fallen into an exhausted sleep. Heavy in your tired arms, but finally resting. “Just Croup, Mom,” says the doctor. “Don’t worry, it’s not Whooping Cough or worse. Go home.” So you go, you tuck your child in the “big bed” between your spouse and you – just so you can keep an eye on them – and snuggle up close to doze, badly, until dawn.

Dawn. That is the time I dream of, strive to reach, on nights like this. I’m sure there is a scientific reason for it, but every mom knows the fact: Fevers peak at night, children become more ill and every ear infection is at its worst during the darkest of hours. I dread the night when a child is ill. I look forward to dawn so we can both, finally, get some sleep as the rest of the household begins its day.

My eldest has reached the age that I’m not as needed when she’s ill. Teens seem to have less issues with the vomit thing, but when she has a sore throat or cold, she really just wants quiet, her own bed, some popcorn and the password so she can rent movies to watch. I hesitate to hover, though I’m sure she would say that I still do. I can’t help it. I know someday, I may wish I could pick up one of my daughters, tuck her into the big bed and snuggle her into good health again. I’ve realized recently that this job is never finished. This mom, this caregiver gig that I so casually fell into with no real caution, without an appropriate maturity level and definitely without a clue, I will live it until I die. Just like the mother of a high school friend of mine who has cancer. I love his entire family and I can’t help but pray for his mother as fervently as I am praying for his healing. I imagine she is in a panic beyond anything of which I could ever dream. I’m certain it is difficult to stand back and allow his wife to tend to him – that is her baby, after all. I also imagine she wishes she could simply scoop him up, make the pain and the sickness brought on by chemo go away for just a few minutes, tuck him into her big bed and make everything better. Just for those few minutes. I bet she’d exchange her own life for those few minutes of peace for her child.

I know I would.

It’s one of those things they don’t really warn you about when you’re about to become a parent. Oh, sure, people talk about spit-up, they talk about late nights, how kids are germ factories and so on. I even had one brilliant bit of advice from one of my sisters, Michelle, who said when your little one is going to throw up and you’re somewhere that can’t be easily cleaned, turn them and let them puke all over your shirt. Smart one she is, that tidbit of advice has saved my sofa several times over, while the chunk-and-slime residue on the shirt went neatly down the drain of the washer. But, even that handy piece of advice didn’t give me a clue. There are few things in life that make my blood run cold. A sick child is one of them. Am I handling this right? Did I give her the right medicine or did I give her enough? When do I call the doctor? Should we go to the ER? Good God, what if it is something like meningitis? All those thoughts – and worse – plague a parent when their child is ill.

The Princess has turned over onto her back now. Sleeping deeply, breathing more normally. Her face is no longer bright red. The virus must be near its end. Tonight at least, I made the right choices as a parent. Tomorrow, I will keep her out of school, just in case. She’ll spend the day wrapped up in extra blankets in the big bed, watching Stawberry Shortcake or Sofia the First to her heart’s content. I’ll get a few things done, maybe work a bit more on that big project I’m writing, maybe do some laundry to eradicate all the vomit-scented items. But, for the most part, I plan to snuggle up with the Princess.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll even sneak in a nap. Just in case, when the sun goes down again, we need to fight this bug yet again. But, for the moment, I’m turning the television off, logging off my computer, and settling down under the sheets that smell vaguely of last night’s dinner and puke. I’m sure I’ll spend the next hour or two staring at her. I’ll check her forehead a dozen more times. And, I’ll leave the light on, too.

Just in case. Just in case.

Force fields, chaos and family

In BountifulChaos-land there are many mysteries. Time manages to pass too quickly. Weeks zip by and suddenly it’s the weekend again. Children grow into young women, dogs suddenly have gray around their noses. Mom magically has a tummy and realizes she will never be called young, or cute, ever again. The Man of the House somehow watches more football than he plays in the backyard.

The days of homework, housework, holidays, everydays, school and rehearsals, church and work, hours volunteered, school lunches packed daily and dinners as a family – all vibrate together in a pulsating hum of living, of chaos.
It’s the same hum, I think, as the one generated by the invisible force field surrounding all the toilets –or loos for my Brit friends – in my home.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

Some of you may recognize the hum – it surrounds areas of your otherwise pleasant and cozy home that are only accessible to Moms. Like the aforementioned toilets. And toilet paper roll holders. And all towel racks and hooks. And laundry.

In my home, a very special force field has developed around all three toilets. When we bought our 100-year-old home, I thought I was oh-so-fortunate to have found a remodeled and upgraded gem with three bathrooms for our growing family. At the time, I rejoiced. Now, I realize that three toilets and two children equals constant maintenance – not the scrubbing and swabbing kind, oh no – I’m talking about breaking through the force field for the big stuff. Unflushed number twos. Exactly why pee is easier to flush, I’m uncertain. This force field, I’ve discovered, is particularly stubborn and prone to leaving skid marks on the porcelain. I have yet to take this force field down, but its ravages are easily remedied with big, stinky, blue tablets – they stain your fingers, stain the inside of your toilet tank and blessedly, cover all manner of ills.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

Then, there’s the big one – the replacing of the toilet paper rolls. I’ve explained it, demonstrated the process, left sticky notes with instructions and extra rolls nearby. There have even been family meetings called in the name of the loo roll. I currently have an animated PowerPoint Presentation in progress in fact, but I despair that anyone in my humble abode will ever replace an empty roll with a crisp, cotton-smelling new one. Ever.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

While I have capitulated to the TP, I may never stop trying to eliminate the force field around all things laundry-like. Clean laundry, smelling strongly of Purex and bleach, can languish at the foot of a child’s bed for days on end. I’ve made my midnight “mommy rounds” and discovered one of my little darlings curled up into a tight ball on their pillow – carefully avoiding the clean laundry, stacked and sorted for them and lovingly placed at the foot of the bed. I believe my youngest, the Princess, holds the record for this laundry avoidance tactic at two weeks. Of course, she is also the shortest member of the family, so her prowess at laundry co-sleeping might have more to do with size than skill.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

My eldest, Doodlebug, is the queen of mating clean laundry with a dirty carpet. Purex-scented crystals and their saturating fury be damned. Her filing system is all her own, no one else can decipher which of the pieces strewn across the Berber expanse is clean or dirty. And, while the youngest has great aim at hitting the old laundry basket – thinking dirty undies in particular are nasty – the eldest suspiciously wears the same school logo tee over and over. Ad nauseam. I’m not sure I’ve washed it yet this school year, to be honest. I’m actually waiting for the shirt to walk out of her school on its own one day, leaving Doodlebug behind. I am not entirely positive she knows where the laundry basket is, either. Perhaps a second PowerPoint Presentation is in order?

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

There is another force field at play in our cozy American foursquare. It is a movable feast of cotton, gallons of bleach and the constant, nose-burning smell of mildew. I can see some of you nodding as you read this, yes, the force field is in existence for me, too – I call it the wet towel conundrum. I have yet to understand this one fully, as the towels are apparently unprotected by the field when hung on towel racks and dry. Then, and only then, may children actually touch a towel. At some point, however, I believe the towel reaches a certain saturation level that triggers the force field and causes any child using it to abruptly stop and drop it to a heap on the floor. Preferably in a bedroom with a carpeted floor instead of a tiled bathroom, just so the mildew has a chance at greater purchase. Left unattended, these same towels somehow multiply, creating slightly smelly loads requiring copious amounts of eye-burning bleach. Back to the towel bar they go, minus the force field, just to start the cycle all over again.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

There are many more force fields in the house, some that even target the darling Man of the House. For example, Q-Tips never manage to travel from his ears to the trash can, only to the bathroom counter. The dogs are under the governance of yet another field outdoors, as they steer clear of their designated potty area and head instead, of course, to the river rock decoratively surrounding our newly-restored deck. That’s one heck of a force field. So far, though, there is no field too strong to defeat mom. Armed with a powerful attitude and the ability to both berate and bribe small people in a single sentence, this mom is ready to tackle any force field, big or small. So, it’s with a light heart I leave you, dear readers. Tonight, I must finish tackling the laundry. And at least two force fields await me and my “mountain fresh” laundry as we fight the good fight. Wish us luck.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.