When the two eldest kids were small, and we only had two kids, I remember complaining vociferously whenever our routine was thrown out of whack–by illness, unexpected travel, or unusual weekend obligations. Somewhere between then and now, I gradually came to realize that there was no “normal.” Or, more precisely, that the unexpected was normal. Something always arises. Often these are good surprises and changes, and arrive on a small scale, and it is easy to roll with the waves. Surfing on the unexpected. Have an extra friend over to play. Get invited for a cup of tea at someone’s house. Go to a concert at the kids’ school.
But then there is illness. It comes in waves, too. And there’s no disruption quite like it. I find it tolerable, even calm and pleasant, when it is brief and clearly not harmful to the child and he or she sleeps a great deal more and the day goes on mostly as expected, but indoors. A day or two of this kind of quarantine is okay. I have some hermit-like tendencies that don’t mind the excuse to huddle away from the light, on occasion.
But beyond a day or two, and enforced quarantine begins to feel like imprisonment. We’ve been at this latest flu for nine full days. Of course, we managed to sneak away on a road trip (only one child throwing up en-route) for three days during the early course of this bout, but just when it looked like we’d be in the clear, the little one on the mend and everyone else pink with health, oh no, we woke on that first night home to a dreaded sound in the night: a child throwing up. It may not be the worst sound a parent gets to hear, but it’s right up there for producing those electrical night-time shocks of pure horror. Actually, I exaggerate. If it’s just once or twice in the night, I find myself capable of dealing with it with calm. But the child went on and on, every fifteen to twenty minutes, her body rejecting every sip of water. We ran out of sheets and moved on to towels. I did three loads of laundry before 8 o’clock in the morning. And, then, of course, it spread like wildfire. I even had the pleasure of experiencing it myself, though poor precious Fooey was the worst off. I have never seen a stomach bug like this before, and hope never ever to see it again. It’s a miracle that this morning she arose with a spark in her eye again, having spent four days of her life being unable to eat or drink without her body severely punishing her for trying. It is heart-rending to see your four-year-old clearly despairing, even depressed. She was too sick and miserable to watch TV. That’s saying something.
But we all have experienced that sense of despair and misery this week, and it’s not just due to the illness. It’s due to the distance between us and our normal, our routines, our safety-net of activities and human contact and outdoors and alone time that we’ve so carefully constructed for ourselves. It’s taken practice to build a flexible and adaptive framework of routine that allows both me and Kevin time to go out and exercise and work and be creative. So I’m going to take a minute here to remember good health and look forward to it again. And I’m going to take an additional minute to remember that throughout the world there exist so many other disruptions to routine, much more profound than the stomach flu, from natural disasters to war, to the private violences and silences that go on in lives around us that we may not even know about or guess at.
So there’s disruption and there’s disruption.
This reflection almost makes me grateful for the stomach flu. But that’s likely because we’re coming out of it. I can sense a return to “normal” on the horizon. And I’m grateful we have such a happy routine to return to.
Today: AppleApple went to school. She never looked very sick, but was content playing at home with those well enough to play, so I didn’t fight it. She was excited to be back at school today. CJ also went to preschool, screaming bloody murder in a fit of tantruming rage because (this is just a guess) I didn’t let him put his own shirt on this morning. We were in a hurry. Have you seen a two-year-old trying to dress himself? Oh, and I’ve created a potty training monster. Now he refuses to wear diapers, but gets a kick out of peeing on the floor. The semi-compromise we’ve currently arrived at is pants: he wears pants, gets them slightly wet, decides he doesn’t like the feeling, and agrees to sit on the potty. We go through a lot of pants, but he has a lot, being the recipient of three sets of hand-me-downs, plus a few new ones of his own. I’m thinking of writing a ParentDish column on how one feels like an expert only when one’s child is not at the stage one is having expert-like feelings about. In the midst of it, one feels like a complete incompetent utterly stumped by the whimsies of human behavior.