I am exhausted, wasted from two days of stomach cramps and continuous vomiting. At 12:45 am on Monday night, Mary made a gagging sound from her crib and I leapt out of bed just in time to hold her in my arms while she heaved and coughed, her scrawny body convulsing with the effort. Two minutes later, I handed her off to Troy and ran to the bathroom myself, beginning the nastiness of emptying my own gut with a ferocious fury. For the next six hours Mary and I took turns throwing up, never sleeping and never apart. She refused to be more than three inches away from me so we clung together, two matted, stinky, miserable souls finding solace in the warmth of each other.
The entire evening was a little too reminiscent of labor. I was totally focused on the pain right in front of me, the one currently ripping apart my insides and shredding them to pieces, never knowing how I was going to find the strength for the next wave, or how long the entire process would last. But at least I understood that it would have an ending. I tried to keep calm and quiet for my daughter, who had no context for evaluating her sickness. I was her only gauge for assessing the desperateness of the situation. Her watery eyes stared at me constantly, even while I held her over the bucket and wiped her mouth with a rag. The softness in my voice and assuredness of my smile brought security to a very confusing scenario. Normally an event I would like to suffer through untouched and without the additional responsibility of worrying about another person’s well being, in those long hours I found within myself a fire usually smothered by the logistics of raising children.
The next day, my own mother came by at my request. I was still raw and achy, and Mary not yet interested in being anywhere but on my hip. Priscilla and Elijah were at school but Benjamin, my firecracker, was home as always and I needed a little back up to help rein him in. Mom walked through the front door coughing and sneezing. She was obviously not feeling well but I didn’t have it in me to step up and say, “don’t worry about it, we’ll be fine.” The truth is, I still look into my mother’s eyes to assess the desperateness of a situation. I wanted her to see Mary’s flushed cheeks, droopy frown and runny nose. I studied her expression for any signs of concern and took courage in her matter of fact portrayal of the scene unfolding in front of her. “Yep,” mom said, “she doesn’t feel good, poor baby!” and she rubbed Mary gently on the forehead adjusting the tone of her voice for my benefit, assuring me with her calmness that this is normal because being the mother of four myself, I would certainly never need to ask.
Benjamin started in on Wednesday afternoon, throwing up while walking across the living room to find me. I washed the floors, the slipcover on my couch and laid him down with specific instructions on the importance of using buckets. Late last night Priscilla upped the drama with her heartfelt and tearful soliloquy on the horrors of waking up suddenly to her own vomiting rampage, which repeated itself at least twelve times before morning. At 10:30 am, I got a somewhat expected call from the school nurse. Elijah was feeling nauseous and needed a ride home. Back at the house he too surrendered to his own version of the Sabourin stomach ailment, and now I can finally stop anticipating, with nervousness, the next yelp, hiccup or splatter.
There is something assuring about the definitive work of tending to sick children. It is exhausting, lonely, and nerve wracking but so beautifully simple in its necessity. There is much about good parenting that is open to interpretation, the best way to discipline or to educate, for example. But the physical act of nursing, dressing, cleaning, holding, and comforting a feverish son or daughter anchors a mother to her role as provider. It is the most basic of acts, a most effective means of stretching character, and the most memorable of gifts a mom can offer.