I was at Orlando International Airport when my cell phone rang.
It was Stewart. My husband. He’d just dropped me off at Jet Blue’s curbside check-in. In moments I’d be headed for New York. My first business trip back to the City in six months. I’d just gotten done with the requisite shedding of shoes and electronics at Security, where my favorite high-protein-low-carb-low-sugar-Greek-strained yogurt was carefully scrutinized and ultimately confiscated by the TSA. Have a nice breakfast, I thought, exasperated, as I watched my $2/cup yogurt disappear. It was just 7:30 in the morning, but I could already taste the martini I was planning to down that night at the Campbell Apartment.
But back to my cell phone … which was ringing … insistently. Jeeeee-zus … Can I not get five minutes to myself? C’mon! I already shower with my preschooler parked right outside the (glass) stall, banging away on his toy synthesizer piano. And I’d long ago given up peeing and pooping (also known in Mommy Circles as — Shhhhh! — hiding out and reading) in peace and solitude. I’d been off Mom Duty for exactly 23 minutes. I hadn’t even left Orlando. Is it time to board — and turn off my phone — yet?
Sigh. I flipped open my phone.
“Hey — ” I answered, fully engrossed in CNN, where the news was all about an Air France flight that had disappeared somewhere between Brazil and France the night before. We can photograph car license plates from space. How does a plane just drop off radar? That couldn’t be good. And how nice that I’ll be watching this airplane disaster unfold as I flew to New York.
“Uh … Hon?” Stewart’s voice pulled me back. He sounded concerned. Guess he wasn’t just calling to say I love you before I took off. “Uh … Fletcher threw up all over himself … and the car seat … and his blanket … and Cee Cee.” [Cee Cee is Fletcher’s never-go-anywhere-without-it stuffed hermit crab lovee. Hey, when your dad’s a marine biologist, you get toy sea critters, not teddy bears.]
Head spinning. Spewing green goo. Disgusting stuff, really.
“This. Is. Worse!” I could hear the slight panic in his voice. It was a little funny actually, considering that this is a guy who, when he was curator of The Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage in Las Vegas, once KY’d his entire arm, then stuck it all the way down a dolphin’s throat and into its belly to retrieve a toy car it had swallowed. But a vomiting child — his vomiting child — that was freaking him out. “What should I do?!?”
Was it wrong that I took some perverse pleasure that this was happening on Stewart’s watch? Just when I was moments from fleeing the city on a big ol’ jet airliner? For five whole days?!?
Not that I was at all happy that Fletcher was sick. What mom, apart from the crazy Munchausen types, ever is? But a teensy part of me was doing the happy dance that this time, it wasn’t on me. Literally. It’s got to be some twisted Murphy’s Law of childcare that kids will get violently (and repeatedly) sick when you’re the only one around to clean it up.
(Show of hands — or comments — Moms if you’ve mopped up and hosed down more than your fair share of kid throw-up while Dad’s doing the three-martini business dinner at Peter Lugar’s on the company expense account? Post a comment or email me!)
Of course, immediately, reflexively, I snapped back into Battle-Ready Mom Mode as I ran down the checklist of things to do to forecast whether we could expect more projectile vomiting or if this was an isolated spill.
“Clean him up. Take his temperature. Keep him quiet. Monitor his activity level,” I instructed. “Lethargic and uninterested even in WordWorld or Sesame Street? Definitely sick. Hopping off the couch to play with trucks … and puzzles …. and race cars … and dinosaurs? Demanding waffles for breakfast? He can go to school.”
Of course, current behavior was no guarantee of future performance. Fletcher’s played possum before — or maybe I should say reverse possum. Not too long ago, after another random bout of vomiting, he’d seemed fine. Fine enough, anyway, to go see Mamma Mia!, then clamor for a cupcake at our favorite bakery/gelateria. But as the day went on, he began complaining about a tummy ache and that it hurt when he peed. Which is how we ended up at Night Lite Pediatrics late on a Sunday afternoon where, because he hadn’t yet learned to pee in the potty and they needed a urine sample to check for a bladder infection, they snaked a catheter up his baby penis. Now that is a fun time. And if you haven’t experienced that yet, I recommend skipping it.
If I had more Mom Experience, I probably would have sensed that things were gonna go south earlier in the day when Fletcher climbed into my lap as I was using the bathroom. (Remember what I said about never going alone?) It’s universally understood that I have a teacup of a bladder — seriously, Fletcher can hold it longer than I can, the little camel. So all dressed in workout clothes, I was making my last pit stop before setting out on a power walk with Fletcher in the stroller to provide extra resistance. He crawled into my lap, snuggled his sweet little head into my chest … and then vomited. All over me. Repeatedly. There was no warning. No Mommy, I don’t feel well that might have prompted me to quickly hop off and yield the bowl to Fletcher. Nope. He seemed fine one minute; the next, he was spewing like the Exxon Valdez. You know you’re a mom when you’ve had warm toddler vomit gush between your breasts, spill down your legs and soak into your cross-trainers.
All this is by way of saying that I’d been fooled once into thinking that a little vomit was no big deal when it really heralded a tenacious bacterial infection that had Fletcher spewing out one end or the other for more than a week. Vomit is just that much more special when it’s accompanied by its cousin, explosive diarrhea. There’s just nothing like opening your son’s diaper to find that he’s sitting in a puddle of diarrhea that comes nearly to his waist. It got so that I had to cover his changing table with a tarp. ‘Course, that didn’t help much the day Fletcher woke from his nap, crying because he, and the bedding and his clothing and his stuffed animals were covered in — you guessed it! Shit! Hours later, after I’d stripped and bathed Fletcher, then stripped and Lysoled the crib, washed all the bedding and the soiled clothing and stuffed critters, there was another, um … blowout. And I had to do it all again.
Just so you have a little better understanding about why I was — maybe callously, then again, maybe not — dancing the joy jig at the JetBlue gate, let me explain that the Great Vomit and Shit Storm of ’08 occurred while my wonderful husband was away for six weeks on business. Six! Weeks! For six weeks, I held the fort in the Shit Swamp without complaining (though you can see I’m making up for it now!) I figured Stewart could hold his own against a little projectile vomiting for what? A few days?
But just to make sure he didn’t get too bad a drubbing — and because I figured Fletcher would probably go to school after all — I called the nursery school director and left the longest list of In Case Of Emergency numbers — Stewart’s cell, the nanny’s cell, my parents’ cells, my sister’s office and cell and a few other random folk who could be counted on in the case of an unexpected relapse — in the history of childcare. The list went on (to quote playwright/screenwriter Tom Stoppard) for the length of a Bible. Okay, maybe I wasn’t immediately available, but I was still neurotic.
Then having done all I could by remote, I got on the plane. And I turned off my phone. And basked in the sweet, sweet silent bliss of no one asking for juice. Or help with the potty. Or one more episode of Sid, The Science Kid, Pleeeeeeze , Mommy before bedtime. Or to hose down the vomit-covered car seat
Two and a half hours later, when we landed at Kennedy, I checked in with the nursery school director. “Fletcher’s fine,” she assured me. When I got into my hotel room, before my first business meeting, I checked in with the nanny. “Fletcher’s fine,” she reported, then raced off to accompany him on some adventure, involving Play Doh and dinosaurs. And later that night, I checked in with Stewart. “Fletcher’s doing just fine,” he promised.
So, ‘twas just a touch of carsickness. A combination of too much chocolate milk early in the morning and a bumpy, twisty, turny ride on a turnpike perpetually under construction. As they say, “Shit (and vomit) happens.” But this time, I’m sure as hell glad it didn’t happen to me.