It started on a Friday night with a violent episode of vomiting. The three-year-old, our theory went, brought home the latest stomach bug from preschool. I stayed up changing sheets, holding her hair and comforting her until 2AM, my husband took second shift. By Saturday, she made a miraculous recovery and we felt thankful it had been so easy. As parents to four children, ranging in age from nine to one, we’d seen and lived through much worse.
As Saturday evening approached, she was feverish and grumpy. We prepared for another night of little sleep while I made sure to have plenty of spare sheets, tissue, rags, and the dreaded, but necessary throw up bucket. The night proved to be long and daunting with my husband and myself working in tandem to fight the nameless virus taking control of our lives.
Sunday morning she seemed better, again. Within hours, the oldest two, ages nine and eight, weren’t feeling well. Soon, they were sick and the three-year-old had another high fever. Whatever this bug was, it was violent and strong. I attempted to clean up after each child threw up, to stay on top of things, but then the one-year-old got sick and things really spiraled out of control.
He’d never been violently ill before and was scared. As I cleaned a mess from one room, he would get sick in another. Suddenly, I wasn’t’ feeling well. I’ve always said, the whole house could get sick, but if a mother does, things get ugly. I yelled for my husband, he yelled at me. He didn’t see what the problem was why I couldn’t handle things and needed to bother him. He was tired. I was tired. The yelling escalated. I was done, finished; when all of this was over I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I was crying, the kids were crying. My husband was still yelling. The youngest threw up. Code red!
That evening my husband fell asleep with the youngest, while I slept on the couch. I was thankful to be alone for even a few hours. Finally, the house was quiet. We were all so exhausted and sick, we could do no more.
The following day, the eight-year-old, the most sensitive of our children, asked if we were getting divorced. I thought back to the awful things my kids had witnessed, the ugliness between the two people who love them most, and felt awful and guilty. How could I have let things get so out of control?
I reassured her we were not getting divorce. I reminded her that sometimes people who love each other fight, especially when they are sick and tired. Sometimes people said things they didn’t mean and couldn’t take back. I hoped I was teaching her something.
I told her I loved her father and he loved me. I told her how much we loved her and all of our children. I explained what family meant and how much better they were together, as a whole. I let her know that in sickness and health we remained what we’d always been, a team even if that was difficult.
She stopped me, “So we work better together?”
I smiled, grateful that she understood, grateful I hadn’t permanently damaged this girl I loved so much. “Always,” I answered, “but sometimes we forget.”
She hugged me and whispered into my ear, “Don’t worry, next time I’ll remind you.”