Saturday night at about midnight, Ella came down the stairs and said she had to use the bathroom. Weird, I thought, because she will usually just go by herself and go back to bed. But I thought nothing of it. I took her back to bed and we curled up under the covers for a minute, talking about what we would do the next day. "I need a sip of water, Mom," she told me. I went to the bathroom and filled her little pink cup, brought it back to her room, and was instantly greeted by the sounds of an almost-five-year-old throwing up in her bed. And everywhere else within a five foot radius of her bed. About 10% of my brain was horrified, sad for myself for a fleeting moment for what this meant for me: a loooong night of hair holding, scrubbing floors and beds, changing sheets, and definitely not sleeping. But the other 90% of my brain kicked into Calm Kick-Ass Overdrive, sweeping around the house gathering supplies for the long night ahead, planning ahead for things that she might need in the midst of this stomach bug, all while comforting a crying, frightened girl. "Go time," my brain told me. "I got this. I GOT. THIS."
As terrible as it is to have an illness sweep through your family, leaving stained sheets and carpets and crying kids in its wake, I find that it's in these moments that I shine as a parent. I instinctively know what needs to be done: Gather all of the towels in the house, make sure we have plenty of washcloths and changes of clothes for the sick kid and myself, prop up pillows in my bed, and hunker down for a long night of caretaking.
There is something about taking care of your sick child that just defines the word "mothering". During the course of a normal day, of course I parent my kids: I enforce rules such as "No Hitting" and "No Throwing Crayons In The Toilet Or Air Vent". I make lunches and apply band aids to scrapes. But when my kids are truly ill, I can see clearly my mission: Make it better, because they REALLY need me right now. With a stomach virus, especially, for they are not only sick and feeling like complete shit, but they are scared, terrified, of what is happening. So hair is held back, cold washcloths are placed on hot foreheads, backs are rubbed, and the tiny words of Helping are uttered in the wee morning hours: It's okay, it will be okay, I'm right here, I'm here. I'm here I'm here I'm here.
As the night wears on and things seem to be looking up and I am laying crooked in my bed with a child passed out on my chest, breathing their flu directly into my nose, I make bets with myself about when this will all hit me. "Will I start throwing up tomorrow, or will I have a few days of thinking that maybe I am lucky enough to have not caught it and then BAM?". For I will almost certainly catch whatever it is that they have. But then I think to myself that it's okay. It's okay if I am ten times as sick as they were, because for one night, I made it all better for them.