I have danced with the demon of depression. But on my very worst days, I never wanted to check out as much as I did while in the grips of gastro. That shit will FUCK YOU UP.
But there is something worse. And that is watching your children succumb to that same horror.
It began several months back, on a Thursday night, approximately 24 hours after LD had been at daycare aka Plague Central. He’d been pretty normal leading up to bed time. So whingey and naughty and generally, annoying. Nothing out of the ordinary. Both kids were down for the evening. Zee started to cry a little bit. This wasn’t unusual as he sometimes needs to be resettled. But when LD began to cry simultaneously, B and I exchanged a look of, “You’re kidding, right?” I went to deal with Zee but I had a really strong sense that I should check on LD first. But at night, Zee is mine and LD is B’s so that’s what we did. As soon as I heard B say, “Oh darlin’”, just the tone of his voice told me that LD’s room was now a scene out of The Exorcist.
I was busy resettling Zee but I could hear the bath being run and knew that things weren’t pretty. LD was pretty upset, too. I wracked my brains for possible allergy triggers. Had he eaten something with egg in it? Egg is a big no-no and makes him spew. And at this point, an allergic spew was the best case scenario. If it wasn’t allergy, it was the dreaded gastro. Oh please God, no. As the night wore on and LD continued to vomit, it became increasingly clear there was a plague upon our house.
One very unsettled night and 27 loads of washing and drying later, LD seemed to be coming good. But not before he broke our hearts with his cries of, “I don’t want it. I don’t want the spew!” or made us laugh with the running commentary mid-spew “Oh, that was a big one” and tested our resolve as he begged for food we just knew he couldn’t keep down.
Watching my almost 3-year-old go through this was hard. Watching Zee go through it some 24 hours later was hell. I held him as his little body convulsed with the force of vomiting. I soothed him as the vomiting subsided and his tears began. My poor little baby boy, not yet 8 months old.
I kept Zee in with me that night. He needed the comfort of having me near and really, I needed that, too. But at some stage during the night when he vomited, pretty much directly in my face, I knew the vigilant hand washing would be all for naught.
And yep, practically 24 hours after Zee had started chucking, so did I. It was only then, in the throes of throwing up, that it truly dawned on me just how awful this must have been for my little fellas. And just how awesome they were, considering. Me, I was a mess, lying on the bathroom floor like a junkie, panicking and sweating and every now and then getting up to try and ‘help’ B put the boys to bed and succeeding only in terrifying my eldest as I dropped to my knees crying, “I can’t do it, B, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it.” Oh, the drama. “Mumma, you alright? Mumma, you sick?” the bewildered little fella asked, trying to stick his head under my arms so he could see my face which was ultimately pressed into the floor.
I retreated to my bedroom again where playing on TV, in some weird life imitating art kind of scenario, was the scene from Wedding Crashers where the character ‘Sack’ (Sack? Really?) is riding the porcelain bowl, spewing ferociously.
The moment passed. And in the morning, I was somewhat human again. And I realized that as much as I’d hated seeing my children sick, as much as I would gladly have taken their place, at least I could hold them and comfort them. When it was me who was sick, I was completely helpless. And not being able to be there for my children made me feel out of control. In the morning, I held both of them so tight. In that short period of time when I had quarantined myself, I MISSED them. I missed the every day bullshit that I just couldn’t participate in. I didn’t like being vulnerable Angie – because people depend on me to be Mumma. And that’s a powerful, all-consuming role.
And it occurred to me that for now, simply holding my child is the greatest comfort they could know. That in my arms, they feel safe. And it’s so easy for me to do that. In fact, there’s nothing I’d rather do than cradle my children when they are unwell. Tomorrow will be business as usual with LD, arguing the reasons why Mumma won’t lie down with him until he falls asleep every night but when he is unwell, I’m going to hold on. I know all too well that the time will come when my arms will not be enough. Not even close. Sooner than I’d like, the world will unfold for them and in it, they will learn that B and I are not infallible. But today, they buy what we sell and it’s a blessing. A simple but profound blessing.
In some stroke of amazing luck, B, our cast-iron guts hero, failed to succumb to the gastro-phic hell and eventually, we were well again. All of us. It was back to humdrum. Boring as batshit humdrum. Hallelujah!
So what has motherhood taught me today? Gastro, while a harsh master, appears to also be a fair master, doling out its punishment one at a time. Small mercies.