As soon as I walked in the door, I could tell something had run afoul. The spray cleaner sat on the living room floor; small articles of clothes were strewn about. The usual din inside our tiny house seemed to be on mute.
“Hello?” I called dropping my things into the careless pile next to the door.
“Hi Dad.” The older one said from his room. “The baby’s sick. You should have seen his poop!”
My wife leaned out from the kitchen doorframe with a sideways glance that at an instant narrated the last two hours of her life to me. The younger one toddled out carrying a wet strand of spaghetti over to me.
“You’re not feeling well, bub?” I asked him picking him up.
“Noodle.” he said as he whipped me across the face with it for closer examination.
“We need more diapers,” she said invisible in the kitchen,” I just went through like 6.”
After the daily attempt of a sane meal, I packed up the boys in the van and headed down the road to the grocery store. In the hopes of them falling asleep in the car on the way home, I became desperate to kill time. We wondered the isles picking up this and that, while collecting supplies for a sick child, and the family of a sick child.
Diapers. Wine. Juice. Chips.
Hoping my stalling tactic would work, I gingerly led the boys back outside a full 45 min after we left. When we got home however, I walked in led by the older one, and carrying two bags of groceries on one hip, and the younger one with a filled diaper on the other.
When a child gets sick, every parent has an internal computer clock that starts to tick. Bits of information are fed into it; when was the last time the child ate? Or slept? Where did they pick it up? Is this the thing their friend just got over, and how long did they say that lasted?
Of course its insane to think there is any sort of equation that could peg any realistic guess of how long your about to deal with any number of gross scenarios, but for a parent, it provides some sort of glimmer of light to aim for.
“Ok,” they say to themselves, “they should be back to normal by tomorrow afternoon, which will leave just enough time to go to the store and make dinner.”
It took two more hours to get one, and then the other to fall asleep. By that point, I had readily convinced myself that we might have dodged a bullet because the younger one slept motionless for a few hours. Maybe it was just something they ate.
Giddy with the thought of getting 4 straight hours of sleep, I pulled back the crisp, freshly cleaned sheets, and climbed in and felt my body slam into a deep sleep.
2 hours later.
The only way I can describe the sound that woke me up a couple hours later would be to imagine a few water balloons being dropped from a second story onto several angry ducks.
I took a breath and made a wish with all my might. “Just let this be a horrid dream.”
His groaning cemented my fate for the rest of the evening, and as it turns out sometimes, the entirety of the next day.
I tried desperately to both: change the diaper quickly and efficiently, and not throw up in the process. To be fair, the child did not want to be awake either. He made this fact known fully to me in the living room.
“Don’t Do That!” He yelled profusely, not understanding there was a multitude of different things I would have rather been doing at 1 AM.
I finally wrestled him into a clean diaper, left the pants off, and brought him to our bed.
As a rule, I do not like our kids in our bed. They are too old, too squirmy, and need to be better sleepers on their own. However, when I see one of mine physically struggling to sleep, their stomach in knots, or the bodies hot with fever, the parenting part of my brain won’t let me sleep any other way. If I can’t hear them sleep, I don’t sleep. It’s that simple.
A few hours later I awoke with my arm in a wet spot on the bed. I wish I could say it was a spilled drink.
Hell, I wish it were pee.
But at that time of the night, I resolved to change him, wash up, and dab the area with towels. After I sealed it off with fresh towels on top, we tried to sleep more.
A few diapers later, I knew I had better clear my schedule for the day.
A few weeks ago, my wife had to stay home with the younger one as he had a fever. She described in enviable detail, a day of warm napping in the bed with him. Him clinging to her for comfort, and eventually playing in the afternoon.
Apparently the mood is different with the stomach bug. (Not that I could really blame him)
As a young child, I don’t remember getting sick that often. This was primarily due to my father’s approach to any illness or infection. Having five children under the same roof meant a high risk for disaster if one of us infect the rest of the group. If we we’re to cough, or at the first sign of genuine discomfort from illness, we would quarantine us from the rest of the household. This was done not through physical removal, but through drugging.
Example: you cough and cough in the night. You hear my father make his way out of bed and down to the bathroom medicine cabinet. Bottles would clink. Drawers would open and close. His heavy footsteps would make their way back to the bedrooms, and your door would open enough to let a beam of light from the hall fall across your face. His dark frame would be over you and one of his enormous hands would prop up your head, while the other would slide a spoon, the size of your forearm into your mouth. The contents of this concoction still remain a mystery to this day, but it tasted somewhere between raisins and Wild Turkey. And when you awoke, you would be cured…
And three days would have passed. It was a terrifyingly effective method.
5 Diapers into my sick day and I was wondering if I should call the doctor.
3 diapers later, I was wondering if I should cal a plumber.
He didn’t want to be naked.
He didn’t want a diaper.
He didn’t want a towel.
For 45 min he walked aimlessly through the house yelling “No” at the top of his lungs as if to try to pin the blame on someone or thing.
I did my best to hold it together. I followed him around, between switching old and new loads of laundry in the basement. I started to disinfect everything around us, only to inevitably be pulled away by another skin irritating episode.
There were small successes. The consumption of a banana. Not changing or wiping anything up for a 45-minuet span. All of these little things give such false hope, because in the end, you just ride it out till it’s done. That’s a few hours, or days away for all you know.
By the time we went for reinforcements, he had pushed the physical limitations of diapers, not napped, eaten, or been cheered up by any of my attempts. I was so ready to see her. And immediately she began to comfort him in a way only a mother can. And that was a real relief to me.
With luck he’ll get some amount of sleep tonight. With luck, it’ll pass in the next 8 hours and he can have an entire day being spoiled by his Grandma.
And with luck, I will get to go into work grateful whole heartedly to be there, thankful I got to provide a day of some care to my boy, and optimistic about changing a normal looking diaper once more.
Until his older brother gets it