Two nights ago we had the kind of parenting nightmare that they won't utter even a single word about, or allude to with some sort of facial expression (fright would do in this case) in even the closest support groups for parents of more than one child. It makes me think about how I grew up, a family of seven children, born to a tired mama who had to face a lot of parenting events alone. And there were times, I'm sure of it, when we were all sick at the same time, or when my parents just had one of those nights where they just couldn't dance well with each other, or maybe even not at all.
The evening started out as usual: dinner, then getting the kids ready for bed. Teeth brushed. Pajamas on. Story time in the girls' room where we read one, two or maybe even three books if each child insisted on picking out his/her fav. I don't even remember how many books we ended up actually reading that night; those minor details have been blurred somewhere in the exhaustion of the sleeplessness that ensued later on. After stories were read and lights were out, there were the usual "go to sleep or else.." warnings from us, the giggles and squirming and calling across the hall to each other that siblings sometimes do (at least in our house), and then finally, a little quiet and mommy and daddy headed off to bed.
First thing - A fussy baby. Unable to really settle in for the night, our six month old had been awake and aware from around the time we decided to go to sleep. Then a while later came Angelina's cries. "I peed in my bed." Angelina, who is five, is well past potty-trained but has an occasional accident if she is too tired or too slow to get to the bathroom at night, especially when she has already been asleep. And of course, this woke up Bella, our two year old, who is currently and temporarily sharing Angel's bed. A trip to the bathroom. Change of p.j.'s. Strip the bed, which thankfully had a water-proof cover on it. Remake bed with new sheets. Tuck girls in. Kisses. Good night.
Return to bedroom where a fussy tired baby awaits what seems to be the only thing that will get her to sleep: mommy's breast.
A little while later and from the girls' room: Coughing.
More coughing. Then gagging.
Then.... "I puked!"
We both get up to investigate and calm Angelina down. She hadn't been feeling very well at dinner but sometimes she just doesn't want to eat so we didn't really think she could be sick. But there it was - evidence - all. over. her. bed. She was indeed sick.
Already exhausted, we stripped the bed again. This of course wakes Bella up for the second time as we pull everything off the bed and tend to Angelina's sickness. All the while, Joe and I are not in-tune with each other. It was more like a pitiful attempt at hiding the large elephant in the corner - neither of us know how to dance....at least not with each other. And we stepped on each others toes and mumbled expletives (him) and hurt feelings (me) and annoyance (both of us) under our breaths. I was a little late jumping up in the first place, leaving him to deal with the initial shock of throw up on the bed and a crying child on his own at that late hour. Strike one for me. Brownie point for him. But still no congruency to our parenting dance.
Kisses for Angelina. Grumbles to each other. Back to bed, Bella in tow to keep away from Angelina. We figured we'd be in for the long-haul at this point because no kid ever throws up just once. At least not in our house.
Sometime later, in stumbles Aidan in a half-naked stupor. "I peed in my bed." Aidan will be four in May. He just finished potty training (they say boys are always harder than girls) but still forgets sometimes that he doesn't wear a diaper to bed. I blame it on the general lazy nature of males.
I remember Joe telling me that I was getting up with them in the morning as he made his way out of the room. I got up again and went to the bathroom with Aidan to wipe him down while Joe started pulling the sheets off his bed. One load of laundry had already been started and another pile was quickly growing in the hall. A bed was made out of extra pillows and some blankets, a little bird's nest on our floor, as we did not have more sheets for Aidan's bed. We tucked him in and snuggled down in our own bed. That dance had gone a little smoother, our steps keeping time with the beat of shifting kids, stripping yet another bed and starting more laundry. Less grumbling, more compassion as we felt a kinship in our plight as parents on this particularly exhausting night.
After things were slightly settled - Phia in her crib, Bella in our bed, Aidan on our floor, no sign from Angelina that there would be another round of puking, we settled back in. Exhausted. It was well past 3 AM at this point and we had a small glimmer of hope that we might get a few hours' sleep.
Bella started whining.
Then she started gagging.
Then she threw up. All over our bed and floor.
At this point, we just took it in stride as we stripped her down, stuck her in the tub, cleaned up puke, changed our bedsheets and started another laundry load. Somewhere in Joe's trips downstairs to the washer and my trying to tend to Bella, nursing Phia who had awakened once more, and shushing Aidan back to sleep, we started to dance together even more smoothly. Our rhythm took on a more subdued path as we laughed and cried in our delirium and mopped up puke and changed diapers and clothes and sheets.
Our attempts at a smooth dance had been thwarted earlier in the evening by our secret selfish desires to each be the one who got to skip this parenting event. I wanted to sit it out more than anything. I had not caught up on my lost sleep from the previous weekend or the few nights before when Aidan and Joe were the ones who were sick. I had a baby attached to me, unable to really get comfortable for most of the time that all this was taking place. But I knew in my heart that I could not just lie there while the kids were puking and peeing and crying and Joe was crumbling from lack of sleep and efforts to remedy the situation on his own. But in the beginning, despite my attempts to be part of the tango, we still couldn't quite smooth ourselves into the rhythm of the each other's parenting dance.
But somehow, after the second time Bella threw up and our small hope of getting any sleep had been flushed down the toilet with it, we finally felt a connection, commiserating over our experience of the night and loving each other all the more for it. Maybe it wasn't really one of those "parenting nightmares" no one will talk about. I find myself thinking back on it with humor, and a huge willingness to talk about it! It was to say the least a little frightening, at first. A ginormous hassle. Time lost.
Or maybe time spent....not in such a way that is lost completely but perhaps shifted around and stripped down in the wee hours of the night as Joe and I finally learned to dance.