The house was dark and quiet as I started to get ready for bed down in the basement bathroom. I was just about to brush my teeth when I heard the sound of movement upstairs. Ours is an old house and I can tell be the sound of the creaking wood floors who is moving and where they were going.
A child. Headed to the bathroom. I’d been out for the night and didn’t see either of the kids before bed, so I went upstairs to give a quick hug to whichever one was moving. My son stood in the bathroom, looking pale and shaky, the smell of vomit heavy in the air.
My hope that he had made it to the bathroom before we barfed was in vain. His bed (a cursed loft bed, ideal for being a total nightmare in circumstances like this) was a biohazard crime scene. This not being my first time at the all night barf rodeo, I quickly woke up my husband and we went into sick kid triage mode. Get the big bowl, point sickling in the direction of the bathroom to wait for the cleaning crew to finish stage one clean up: strip the bed, assess the assorted stuffed animals and pillows and decide which get the washing machine and which get the trash bag, grab baking soda and paper towels for the mattress.
The work stops as the patient begins to dry heave. Negotiations commence to determine who is saying home from work tomorrow. Rinse the bowl again. Lay a towel splash zone around the makeshift bed for patient zero. We’ve done this before. We’ll do it again.
It isn’t until Miles is settled down that the strand of anxiety I have about child illness starts to unravel. Vomiting illness are the biggest trigger. It only takes a few minutes before I start to imagine that Ev will be sick too and then me and then my husband (even though he has an immune system of steel usually). What if its Norovirus and we sink into an endless cycle of GI distress? What if the grown ups become too sick to take care of the kids? What if I can’t go to work for a day, a week, a month? Oh God. Does my stomach feel weird now? Maybe? Did he share my drink today? Or was that yesterday? If it was yesterday, was he already sick but we just didn’t know it.
It is super fun that I often feel anxiety as a stomach ache with bonus rumble tummy.
My anxiety over kids getting sick started when I was in grad school and only had class a few times a month (they would go all day) and missing even one or two classes would result in having to drop the class and start over next semester. As each class session drew closer, I’d become hyper sensitive to every cough or sniffle from the kids. A kid who didn’t finish their snack or said they had a tummy ache would make me feel sweaty and want to run for the nearest motel.
I made it through grad school and I have enough sick time at work that I could handle missing some days so there’s no reason for me to feel the swell of panic when I think about a kid with a stomach bug. I’m a reasonable person. I know that kids are gonna get sick. This is not a big deal.
It is super fun that anxiety doesn’t listen to reason.
I’m keeping him company now, taking the first shift so my husband can sleep a bit. I’m doing the thing mothers have done since time began — keeping the night watch over a sick one. If centuries of mothers have done it without a Xanax, I suppose I can too.
It’s gonna be a long night.