When my oldest child was not quite two-years-old, I remember holding her by the kitchen sink. We briefly made eye contact before she whimpered and then shot vomit right into my face. My glasses had completely fogged over, so I couldn’t see anything. There wasn’t much I could do except stand there and drip. I pursed my lips together as tightly as I could to prevent seepage and willed my husband to come home unusually early.
He did not.
The only one who showed up was the cat. She circled the mess on the floor, careful not to step in any of it. She sniffed it then, getting distracted by an invisible fairy, danced her way out of the room on her twinkle toes, twirling, and clawing at the air.
That was about seven years ago.
I’ve had two more kids and a lot of practice since that fateful morning when I wore the steaming remnants of sour milk and masticated Cheerio chunks. I’ve learned important things about how to handle the aftermath of a stomach virus.
Maybe it’s a surgeon’s job to skillfully repair an aorta valve, but it’s a mom’s job to know which disinfectant and carpet-cleaning combo can kill the enzymes responsible for the foul stench of re-gifted milk. Most importantly, I’ve familiarized myself with the whimper—the warning sound that precedes the tidal wave of bile — the biological version of someone shouting, “Fire!” in a crowded room. The biggest problem with stomach viruses is you can’t do anything about them. The only way to really combat a stomach bug is with agility and a mop.
Last winter we had six rounds of stomach viruses. On the final leg of the last virus of the cold season, that same child came home from school early. She had thrown up more times than I can count and by the end of the day the worst seemed over. I gave her less than a quarter of a glass of water to test things out—see if she could keep it down, and she did.
Until after dinner.
As I was washing dishes, I heard the whimper.
It’s important to understand that no one is faster than a gag reflex. No one can outrun the throw-up train speeding back up your throat. There was no way I was going to make it around the corner of the counter before she spewed it all out of her mouth like an esophageal fire hose. Even if I had used the counter as a pommel horse and flipped my way into the room — which would never happen because I can’t even somersault anymore — there was nothing I could do.
Later that night after she was fast asleep, I trudged to my bedroom and flopped onto the bed to watch an hour of mindless TV in a space that hadn’t been violated with regurgitated anything.
It was quiet and calm.
Sometime in the middle of the night, she crawled into our bed and curled up between my husband and me, the way most dogs or cats do when they just want love, companionship, and a warm cuddle. I couldn’t blame her. It had been a tough day. My heart swelled at the thought that her deep sleep came from knowing she had all the love she needed, whenever she needed it most.
She would sleep well wrapped in our warmth and in our love.
I drifted in and out against her warm snuggles and the rhythm of her soft breathing.
I was somewhere on the edge of sleep when the sound of the whimper reeled me back to consciousness.
My eyes flew open just in time to feel the warm fluid hit the side of my head like the surf hits the wall of rocks at the base of a cliff. I pursed my lips together as tightly as I could to prevent seepage.
There wasn’t much I could do except lay there and drip.