Henry threw up in his bed last night.
Over the monitor, I heard him talk to his T-rex. Then there was the unmistakable sound of yacking. I trudged down the hall, and found his blanket warm and slimy. Gross, but not surprising. My kids, and most of their friends, have been passing around a bug this week. Henry was simply the last to fall.
In the beginning, we navigated the crud pretty well. My husband was away, so I became Nurse Mommy. I found a working thermometer in Lizzie’s marker bin, and a jug of Gatorade in the garage. Armed with a sleeve of Saltines and a blue bucket, I set up a sickbay in the living room. I fluffed pillows, rubbed tummies, and sponged fevered brows. I spoon fed the sickos ice chips laced with Ginger Ale.
When Katie, my champion vomiter, completely missed the basin by her side, I forgave. “Poor love,” I clucked, and sopped up the sludge with a cloth.
We cuddled and drowsed, and only half-watched Harry Potter in front of the fire. I held their smelly bodies and remembered the tiny heft of them as infants, how each one could fit in the crook of my arm.
“I love you, Mom,” said Lizzie. “You take good care of us.”
“I love you, too,” I replied. I did take good care of them.
They call it a “24-hour bug” because that is how long the children suffer the worst of it. Except my kids stagger their starts. A single virus takes a week to tear through our family. Which is unfortunate, since, as it turns out, I only possess 24 hours of hospital-grade patience.
On day two, I started to dislike my invalids. I began to doubt symptoms. “Ninety-nine degrees is hardly a fever. Drink some ice water. You are going to school.” I took issue with their nausea. “And you? You threw up an hour ago. Stop it. There is nothing left to toss.”
My transformation from Florence Nightingale to Nurse Ratched wasn’t entirely my fault. If the children would have stayed cuddly and bilious, I could have endured a week of quarantine. Instead, things got ugly.
Gratitude gave way to entitlement. They demanded more movies, and a better soft drink selection. I made smoothies that no one drank, and applesauce that ended up in the dog. I cooked homemade soup, and they plead for Top Ramen.
When the pink eye arrived, I lost my cool. It struck Katie first. Her stomach was on the mend, but school refused to take her back looking like an addict. So she stayed home for the fifth day in a row. I plunked everyone in the bath to disinfect, and Lizzie promptly had a gusher of a nosebleed. While I staunched it, little Henry, fascinated by pink bathwater, began slurping. “Stop drinking your sister’s blood!” I yelled.
On any given day, I navigate plenty of crazy. Their lips hurt, so they can’t eat broccoli. Someone’s “teeth feel funny” when she tries to sleep. Last year, Katie missed the school bus because of itchy pants. I bandage phantom “owies” and kiss invisible wounds. And it is okay. I want my kids to turn to me for comfort, to believe Mommy takes good care of us.
But I also want them to suck it up. To rally. I know of no miracle formula for building resilience in a child, but I think it probably starts with dragging your arse off the couch when you don’t feel 100%. Just ask any boss. Ask any parent.
Most days, I can be the mom who nurses sick tummies. But after too many crud buckets, the other mom emerges. The kids call her mean. But she knows something they don’t—suffering is not the end of the world. Indeed, the ability to overcome discomfort is part of growing up, as is the capacity to nourish a healthy body in the first place. It takes that other mom—the one peddling kale chips and a brisk walk to school—to teach this. Sometimes the mom who makes them feel worse is the mom who helps them get better.