Over the weekend, the baby and I came down with the stomach flu at virtually the same moment. I was sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor eating my dinner, when the baby came over to snuggle. I thought that was sweet so I put down my plate—then he nuzzled into my neck and threw up all over the front of my shirt. A few minutes later I noticed that I didn’t feel so great myself, but it was hard to tell if I was genuinely sick or just grossed out from being puked on. By midnight I was running to the toilet.
There are advantages to being sick at the same time as your baby. Misery loves company. You can snuggle together, nap fitfully together, and whine in unison. By morning we had both stopped puking, but my joints ached with a vengeance. The baby looked teary-eyed and babbled with a raspy moan. My partner felt his forehead and asked, “Shouldn’t we give him some Motrin?” I had my answer ready. “No. He’s sick, so I want him to feel sick. If he doesn’t feel sick he won’t rest.”
But by noon I took pity on him. Or, to be honest, I think I just wanted him to sleep for longer than twenty minutes. In any event, I gave him the Motrin. A half hour later he was scaling the bathroom stepstool, pulling himself into the bathroom sink, and taking apart the soap dispenser. He was crawling maniacally from one end of the house to the other, looking for stray Legos to stuff in his mouth. He was squeezing himself into the gap between the shelves and the wall to better examine the array of electrical cords there. In short, he wasn’t feeling bad at all.
Meanwhile, all I wanted was to curl up on my bed in the fetal position. I became acutely aware of how much energy it takes to leap out of the chair and extract the baby from the broom closet, or remove his hands from the toilet bowl—stuff I do every day without noticing.
Lesson #1: When the baby is sick, let him feel sick, especially if you are sick too.
Two days later, just as our world was returning to normal, I woke up and noticed that my five-year-old son’s bed had been stripped. This is never a good sign. Apparently, my son is genetically wired to throw up all over his sheets. He has never—not once in five years—woken at night and successfully vomited into a container, or even aimed away from the bed. When I know he is sick, I implement the following strategy: 1. I cover his bed in towels. 2. I lie in bed next to him all night, barely dozing so that when he starts to stir I can lift his head and aim his mouth at the bucket.
But this time I hadn’t seen it coming. At six am my partner heard him retching and discovered that he had puked in the crack between his bed and his wall. This is even worse than it sounds. My son’s bed is nested in an alcove and the fit is so tight, we had to remove the trim from the baseboards just to wedge it in there. Hence, there is no moving the bed for easy cleanup, there is only crawling underneath it with a flashlight.
Lesson #2: If there’s an upside to getting puked on by a one-year-old it’s this: you can watch your partner crawl under your older child’s bed with a flashlight, a sponge, and a bucket, and feel only a small twinge of guilt.