Rivalry (part 2)
Rivalry Part 2- The Plague
On day one of such an illness outbreak, I revel in my role as Chosen One. The DAD doesn’t let his envy show, but he is forgotten and left alone, and he is scared too because he knows that there is only a thin barrier that stands between himself and this current affliction.
He knows that he is not made of the tough stuff of the MOM; therefore, he frets about the danger in which he may find himself. He whines and protests, “I can’t get this; I’ve got to work, you know!” And, “Listen, you need to cover your mouth when you cough. You’re spreading germs all over the house!” And then the classic one, “WIFE! Why is the ill child sleeping on my pillow?”
He knows that sickness looms. And he knows that his chances of escaping it are small. He is frightened. Somewhere deep, deep down under his ego, a little voice whispers, “MOM!” He still wants her, and he can’t hide it. “I’m goin’ to take Dad his hammer. He left it in my truck.” I hear his words, but we both know what he is really saying. “I’m scared that I’m going to get sick, so I’m going to go see my MOM. She will protect me.”
And then he leaves, and I think, “Good! I have honed my skills over the years, taking care of sick kids all alone because the DAD is too much of a weeny about bodily fluids. I got this! And because I am the one who is taking care of them, they will love me best and see that the DAD has abandoned me! They may even feel sorry for me.”
It is time to gather the things I’ll need, tea, honey, chicken soup, tissue, this remedy, that remedy, and the humidifier for the pitiful little nose. I am so proud of my capabilities. After all, this ain’t my first rodeo!
I AM THE MOM!
And the rest of the story goes like this:
Day one- Spread a lovely clean cotton sheet over the DAD’s recliner (he will hate that). Place the child into the cotton nest and lay a warm blanket over his bare legs. Ask the child, through a sweet smile, “Where does it hurt? And also, what can I do?”
Then I proceed to fulfill every need of the child. The iPad, the cold glass of water, the bowl of ice cream for the sore throat, the socks for the cold feet, the t-shirt that is the softest because the other one was too scratchy, the thermometer, the medicine, the trash can for the used tissues, the cold, wet rag rung out better this time, the dog on the chair for comfort, the dog off of the chair for comfort, the bowl of chicken noodle soup, the clean up of the spilled bowl of chicken soup, the 2nd bowl of soup to replace the spilled one, the remote control, the light on, the light off, the other light on, the other light off, all the lights off, all the lights on, the nightlight from the bedroom, all of the lights back off, nope, just the nightlight and the bathroom light on and everything else off. Ok, great, let’s go to sleep. Kiss, kiss, see you in the morning. I’ll bet you’ll feel all better, right as rain!
But in my bedroom, upon my bed, lies a button, a trigger. It is called “Pillow.” It is disguised as unassuming, white, fluffy, and downright comforting. It is designed to make a tired MOM long to lay her head upon it, but don’t be fooled! If you place your head upon it, they will come!
They will either come or just scream for you to come to them. Just don’t do it! Go and layout on the driveway; for the love of all that is good and peaceful, you will get more sleep out there where they will never think to look!
But that is just plain silly, right? It is just a superstition brought on from years of having tiny babies waking me up every single time I tried to lay my head down. It’s just a little PTSD talking.
So, I try to believe myself. I lay down on the pillow. I wait………..nothing happens. I pull the covers up to my chin. I wait……….nothing happens. I take a deep breath and allow my neck and shoulders, hips, legs, and aching, throbbing feet to relax. I wait……….nothing happens. How ridiculous am I! I allow the peace of relaxation to spirit me away into a dream mingled with the soft scent of the laundry detergent wafting up from my clean comforter.
But there, in my dream, is my sick child. He is choking on phlegm in his sleep. He cannot call out to me. He is mouthing these words, and I can read his lips, “MOM help me, I love you!”
I spring up from my bed and run to his room, fully expecting to find him struggling to breathe, but he is fast asleep. He is sleeping so soundly that I almost return to my bed. But I am the MOM, and no matter how foolish it is, MOMs don’t return to their beds.
Instead, I push all of his stuffed animals out of his undersized bean bag, and I settle in for the night. And throughout the night, I listen to him breathing. It is comforting and causes my eyelids to grow heavy. And then a little snore escapes him and finds me in the darkness. It jolts me fully awake from my almost sleep.
I have no choice now. I go and get my iPad, blanket, and phone. I then binge-watch a series with only three stars. I feel dirty and ashamed as the sun rises and peeks in through the window.
And now day 2 is upon us:
The afflicted youngling rises too. He says he is hungry. This is a good sign! Maybe it was just a 12-hour thing. Perhaps we are out of the woods, off the hook, home free!
So I feed the child the bagel with cream cheese that he requested. It is a beautiful thing. He eats it as though he hasn’t eaten in a week and then begins coughing.
I know what the coughing means. It clearly implies that the universe cares not, that I am exhausted. And it cares not that I am slightly depressed from the awful TV series I am still reliving in my mind.
With one fluid heave, the child launches the slimy and obliterated remains of his bagel and cream cheese onto the hardwood floor. It hits with force and rebounds, splattering all within a 6-foot radius.
I stand staring in disbelief, although I can see it sliding down my legs and into the perforated holes of my Crocks. This is too much! Where is the DAD? Oh, that’s right, the DAD called late last night to say that he was just going to go ahead and stay the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house so that he didn’t catch this sickness, since he has to work, you know?
Okay, not my first rodeo, not my first vomit bomb. I still got this.
I am cleaning the house when the other child rises and come forth from his cubicle. He whines, “EEEEEWWWWW” and “GROSS” until I tell him that he needs to come and help me. He is wearing a defiant look, as usual, because he is a teenager, and it is required. But, upon further investigation, I notice a pallor on his skin, and a small glimmer of humility shoots across his face as he says, “MOM, I don’t feel so good.”
He is left to wobble and fret until the vomit has been eradicated and the air freshener has cleared the air. Then, I build another cotton nest for him in the second recliner. He complains that he will be sitting next to baby pukey bird’s nest. He is afraid that he might catch what the baby pukey bird has.
I ignore him. “Sit!” I am aware that I am no longer smiling as I was when Baby bird number 1 landed in the sick nest. But, I am running on no sleep, so I forgive myself.
Baby bird number 2 sits as he is told. Either his MOM’s face, devoid of a smile, intimidates him, or he is just too sick to argue. I ask the questions. “Where is it hurting?” and “What can I get for you?” But I don’t mean it as I had with baby bird number 1. What I want to say is, “How can you do this to me? Can’t you see that I am barely holding my head above water? How can you get sick right now of all times?”
But he doesn’t care. I am the MOM, and MOMs do the thing when their babies get sick. He knows that he has me over a barrel! So, he makes his list of demands:
Blanket, soda, no, you are not having soda, okay then, water, popsicle, no, you need to eat something first, but my throat hurts, well then, I’ll make you some chicken soup, well, is it the kind with noodles in it? No, I didn’t have any of those noodles, it’s just broth, but you can dip some crackers in it. Can’t you just boil some different kinds of noodles to put them in it? What are you talking about? You know, like bow tie noodles or elbow macaroni or something? No, I’m not boiling pasta, hold on. Here baby bird number 1, you need to blow your nose. I can’t believe that you won’t even boil your sick child some noodles, I’m not boiling noodles, but I am going to wring your neck in about 2 seconds if you don’t tell me what you want! Fine, just give me pizza. What? No! We don’t even have any pizza. Yes, we do, DAD put the rest of it in the freezer. Can you just thaw it out for me and put it in the air fryer so it won’t be soggy?
I step away from the child. I have illegal thoughts about the child. I compose myself and try again.
“Listen carefully to me. You have the following choices and none other, do you understand me?” The child interrupts, “Chill! Your vein is popping out. Your gonna have a coronary!” And I, being exempt from any rules of conduct by the fact that the child is being disprespectful and I am exhausted, answer, “I am not so sure that you are sincerely concerned about me having a coronary since you are the one that is giving me one. If I drop dead right now, it will be your fault! Now listen to me! You may have chicken soup with bread or crackers, or you can have a bagel and cream cheese like your brother had.” Interrupting me again, he says, “You mean the bagel and cream cheese that made him blow chunks? I don’t think so! Just give me plain empty noodless soup without noodles. I’ll just have that since there is no MOM around to make her sick son some noodles when that is all he is asking for!”
So I reasonably respond, “Okay, nothing then. What else can I not get for you?”
Then he pulls out the face. It is handsome and sweet LOOKING. It is not actually sweet. It just has that appearance. And he says, “I’m just messing with you. Soup will be fine, thanks, MOM.” And he turns away and jumps back into the screen of his iPad, where he does battle and also lives.
I feel as though I have also done battle. Did I win? I can’t remember. All I know is that I must go to the refrigerator, pull out the big pot of soup (without noodles) and make baby bird number 2 a bowl. I do this, and I also bring it to him, make an area clear on the end stand for his bowl, napkin, spoon, a glass of water, and crackers, and he doesn’t acknowledge it. Yep. He won.
I am too tired to care. Baby bird 1 is in his cozy nest, not currently requiring any assistance, and baby bird 2, the big one, is slurping and battling. I will just slide onto the chaise lounge at the end of the sectional. It can be my command center. From there, I can watch the sicklings and also rest my weary bones.
“MOM!” The call comes from another part of the house, not currently being monitored. It is, in fact, the voice of a forgotten child whose needs were not part of the formula because that child (the middle one) was not sick. “MOM!” I rush toward the sound regardless of its status in my plan. It is, after all, using the magic word to summon me.
I reach the room of it. It is lying in its bed, though morning is quickly passing us. It is sick. I can see it in its glassy, watering eyes. I have the sudden urge to grab my bag and make a run for it! But alas, this baby bird is the nice one. He is forever doing things for others and is generally lovely! No, I have no choice. I must care for it.
I arrange a third nest at the end of the couch. As I do, I do the laundry math. That's three sheets and three blankets. And one of the blankets is that oversized thick comforter I use on the guest bed. That thing will have to be washed by itself. I may be able to fit all three sheets and maybe one blanket, but there is no way that I will fit all three sheets and the other two throw blankets. Oh, and all of the pillowcases will have to be washed too. I give it up. It just suffices to say that I dread it. Laundry is the consolation prize given to MOMs for suffering for a week or more taking care of sick children. Oh, that reminds me, the towel that I used to clean up the puke, it is that really thick one, practically the size of a throw blanket…….ugh!
The nest is complete. The baby bird has landed within it. The baby bird has his soup and crackers. The baby bird was not asked the questions. His older brother ruined that for him!
Baby bird 1 begins to cough again, followed by baby bird 2’s baritone cough and then joined by baby bird 3. The coughing is ugly and jagged, lurching out violently and bringing the baby birds to the brink of gagging. Again, I think of driving to the beach. No one would even know that I had abandoned the kids until the DAD came home. But that could be days. He will wait for the coast to be clear. But, alas, baby birds 2 and 3 both have cell phones and would almost certainly alert the authorities.
Oh well. I sit down slowly. Sudden movements draw their attention. I open my iPad and scroll aimlessly as though I’m strolling down a street, looking into shop windows. It is pleasant. I see a thing that interests me, and it allows me to block out the coughing and sputtering children. I am, just for a few moments, relaxed.
A cough jolts me awake. How long had I been asleep? It could not have been, but a moment since baby bird 2 is still sipping his soup, and he is known for inhaling his food like a Pteranodon.
Before I can get my eyes completely open and my thoughts captured, the birds are all tweeting at once. There is a thing on the blaring television that excites them all in unison. The crescendo of voices sends adrenaline coursing through my body.
It is very apparent that I will not be able to get any rest, and what about tonight? It’s coming! I realize that I am terrified. What if they keep me up again tonight? I can’t go through another night without sleep!
But I do. I do go through another night. I meet all the demands for the feeding and caring for the birds throughout the day. And now that all three are sick, I also must meet the needs of the dogs! “Feed us, play with us, take us out to poop, take us out to pee, roll the ball!”
I can’t help myself. I begin imagining tiny little pug-sized throw rugs instead of dogs. I am at the very end of the rope in which I tied a knot many days ago, but it has not halted my sliding into the abyss. I am, in fact, dangling from said knot by my fingertips.
And then a thought occurs to me. I am victorious over the DAD! The children know who was hiding at his mother’s house while they were sick and who was in the trenches. I win! I will be held to the highest level of appreciation and gratitude.
The thought energizes me. I take in a deep breath and forge forward into the fray.