Warning! This post contains graphic descriptions of the stomach flu!
A few days ago, my 4 year old walked through the front door complaining of a tummy ache. His words belied his actions as he had pranced up the stairs, and according to my wife, had just had a fabulous swimming lesson. He got two words out of his mouth before he let the barf fly. I scooped him up by the underarms and got him to the toilet just in time for round two.
While my wife bravely cleaned up the pool of vomit by the front door (just one of the many benefits of being married to a woman with no sense of smell) I rubbed my son’s back as he heaved away over the toilet. When the retching subsided, I stripped off his soiled clothes and got him into the tub.
As we all do, my son rebounded somewhat after the barfing episode, and I was crossing my fingers that this was a one-time puke. We got out of the tub, put on some jammies and crawled into the guest room bed. In no time, he was asleep, even though it was only late afternoon. A few minutes later he surprised both of us by throwing up in his sleep. Between the heaves, he was wailing from both the horrid sensation of vomiting and the fear and surprise of being awakened so violently. This pattern of barf-sleep-barf played itself out every 45 minutes or so until about two in the morning. After each round of barfing, he would snuggle up to me and seek comfort in my hair strokes and back rubs. I was all too glad to do it, and like all parents in this situation, felt awful that I couldn’t do more.
At around 3:30 after an hour and a half of barfless sleep, he woke up. “Daddy,” he croaked, “I’m so thirsty.”
I gave him an ounce of diluted apple juice to see if it would stay down. It did. Twenty minutes later I gave him another ounce. Success! After another 20 minutes, I let him finish off the glass.
As he settled back down into bed and snuggled up to me again, he looked like a broken prize fighter, splayed face down on the canvas. As if reaching for the ropes, his little hand moved upward and found my face.
“I love you so much, Daddy,” he mumbled, before his hand fell to the pillow and he was down for the count.
There was a time and a place when being where I was and doing what I was doing would have been “woman’s work”. Some families might still adhere to that old model, but I think it is a safe bet to say that they are in the minority.
The point I want to make here is, had this been a time when tending to a sick child was mom’s job, I would have missed out on that heartwarming exchange with my beloved son. A lot of families still have arrangements where, for example, bath time is dad time and story time is mom time. I would urge you not to fall into those routines. Firstly, you are potentially creating a troubling situation with your child if mom always does a certain task and then, for some reason, can’t make it. Secondly, there are magical moments to be had with your children, even amidst the seemingly most menial or even unpleasant moments.