Monday, April 6, 2009

House of Vomit

The most horrifying weekend tale of all time. Not for the squeamish or the faint-hearted. Warning! Nothing Like this in all the history of motherhood. Horrible. Terrifying. Gruesome. See the viscious vomit in action. Hear the screams and moans and retching. Experience the nausea. Feel the pain.

Banned in many homes due to the extreme terror that ensues from imagining the experience. Men all over America have run screaming from the room after being confronted with these true tales from the house of vomit….

In case you can’t tell our family just spent the weekend together bonding in a way that only the vomit virus can achieve.

Now, we are no stranger to the joys of vomiting. A lot of families have traditions and experiences that are repeated year after year and told lovingly at family gatherings. These tales often achieve mythical status in family traditions to such proportions that children of later generations repeat them reverentially wishing for the good old days. “Remember when Daddy and Uncle Jeff used to go to work with Grandy at the local Post Office in Satin which also doubled as the grocery store?” Or what about the story of “When PawPaw got home from World War II he got the only new convertible in the State of Texas because he was considered a War Hero.”

But back to our family traditions. A couple of years ago I noticed a strange coincidence that has since turned into a pretty sure thing. On almost every Holiday (this week counts as one since Easter is this week) at least one person in our family throws up. I think the curse first started Spring Break 2003. Kent and I took the kids and our Nanny, Ale, to Florida for a week of fun and relaxation. CeCe was 8, Winston was 5 and Tye was 3. We were staying in a house that had a master bedroom downstairs and the kids and Allie were upstairs with two bedrooms on either side of a bathroom. The upstairs area was actually fairly small with just a tiny landing area at the top of the stairs and a very small bathroom and the two bedrooms. We thought it was ideal. The kids would sleep upstairs all nestled together, safe and sound with Ale to watch over them and Kent and I could have some much needed alone time together downstairs.

Alas, this was not to be. The first night we discovered that this house must have been built during a time when building codes were more lax because the curving, metal staircase had treads and railings that our children could easily slip through making it impossible for us to allow them to go up and downstairs by themselves. So the first night I spent worrying that one of them might wake up and try to come down to us by themselves. The second night was when the tradition was born. We had spent a fun, if hectic, day out at the beach which had culminated with a family dinner of fried fish, hush puppies and cole slaw at this awesome restaurant right on the beach. After dinner we got the kids to bed and Kent and I were enjoying the peace and quiet of our own room downstairs away from everyone.

About 2 am I heard it. That unique cry of a child who has just thrown up all over himself in his bed. It starts out with the first moan and quickly crescendos to a shriek of “Mooooommmmmyyyyyyyy…I throwed up!!” So much for a good night’s sleep alone with each other. Coming up the stairs I was met by CeCe who had just gotten up from her bed to rush to the bathroom, looked straight at me as I hit the top of that tiny landing and hurled all over the floor and me, then as I am trying to grab her to get to the bathroom, she throws up again all OVER the toilet. After about an hour of cleaning. Cleaning her off, cleaning me off, cleaning the rug on the floor in the hallway and scrubbing down the toilet and the bathroom floor, I got ready to put her back in her bed when I discovered that she had also thrown up IN her bed. So I had to clean all that up too. By this time it is around 3:00 am or so and I decide to take her down to our bedroom to sleep with us. We had been downstairs just about an hour when I heard the same cry coming from upstairs and Winston had begun throwing up. As I started through the same routine of cleaning him off, our Nanny races by me to the bathroom where she too starts to vomit.

And guess what? Sure enough, as I check in on the baby sweetly sleeping through all of this, I see that he has also hurled in his own bed only being the considerate child he is, he has gone back to sleep IN the middle of all his throw up. Resigned, I start over again cleaning him up and throwing all his bedding and Winston’s bedding into the wash. Because I am so tired and I figure that everyone will probably start heaving again I decide to just wrap them all up in layers of towels and as they throw up into the top layer of towel, I just strip that off and put it in the washer and let them go onto the next layer of towel. And the cycle of vomit repeats itself…

Now by this time you may ask yourself where is my husband? What is he doing? Did he too get sick? Was he tirelessly working by my side as together we confronted the horror of cleaning up all this vomit? Well, not exactly.

Somewhere around the time that the second child began blowing chunks, he declared in a sincere voice that he was just going to sleep in the other room by himself “…Because someone around here needed to get some sleep.” After I had finished cussing him out in my head (the children were still up so I could not really say what I needed to right at that moment) I asked him -- just as sincerely as he had mentioned his plan to me-- if he HAD LOST HIS MIND? Did he really think that he should go to bed and leave me to clean up what had now become copious of piles of vomit? Well apparently, Yes, he did. He sincerely believed that it would be best for him to go ahead and get some rest so that in the morning if I was really tired he could take over and let me rest! After all, there was no reason in his logical mind that both of us should have to stay up and be tired. After all, one of us should get some sleep! And apparently, that one of us was HIM!

Of course, as these things usually do, by morning everyone had stopped vomiting and the kids were soon feeling much better and ready to go to the beach. As Daddy gathered them all up and, oh so graciously, offered to go ahead and take ALL the children with him to the beach, he did mention a few times that he would be by HIMSELF and asked what time did I think I would join them. And when I did come, would I go ahead and bring an ice chest with some more drinks and a few more chairs as he had too much to carry by himself. I sweetly assured him I would be there shortly, just as soon as I finished washing every single towel and sheet and comforter that house had stocked.

Needless to say I have one very vivid memory of that trip. In fact it is seared into my brain.

It is not what you might think; a memory of vomit. Oh no! It is the memory of me standing on the beach later that afternoon with cell phone in hand dialing every single mother that I had programmed into my cell phone and asking them one simple question -- “What would you do if all three of your children were vomiting and your husband announced that he had better go on to bed to get some sleep because someone ought to be refreshed in the morning so they could help take care of everyone?” You see, I had promised Kent that if I could find one person, just one person, who would agree that his logic was sound, that I would never as long as we lived, mention this story again…

From Florida, the Curse continued. Memories of a Christmas where Kent gave me a gorgeous white sweater which I immediately put on only to have one of my children walk into the kitchen, reach his little hands up to me and begin vomiting. Instead of reacting with the natural mother instinct of grabbing them up and helping them make it to the restroom, I quickly backpedaled away and shrieked, “My sweater. Don’t throw up on my sweater.” I will never forget the slightly horrified look on the face of my sweet, angelic cousin Charlotte as she witnessed this episode.

Another time as we were driving to Lake LBJ for a Fourth of July Family Reunion, we arrived at the cabin full of multiple families, lots of kids and few bathrooms, when Kent started vomiting only to have it spread to two of our other children during the trip. Once, after a New Year’s Holiday tradition of going to the Hill Country to celebrate with some other families, I remember thinking, we had made it. It was January First and we were driving home and no one had gotten sick that entire weekend. The Curse was broken! Sadly, about 15 minutes from our house I heard this little voice from the back of the car saying “I don’t feel so good, I need to movit.” We pulled over and sure enough, Tye threw up on the side of the road.

We actually call vomit “Movit” because when Tye was little he often got words mixed up and somehow when he heard the word Vomit it became “Movit” and so that is what we call it.

In fact, our Holiday vomiting tradition has become so well known among my friends that, they will often call at random times during a holiday and ask “Has anyone thrown up yet?” And among my germ phobic, more than slightly neurotic family, there is a never ending quest to keep my family from getting sick. I get all kinds of advice ranging from simple reminders to wash our hands frequently and to not allow my kids to drink or eat after each other (duh!) to suggestions that we get rid of our cats because cats can carry disease (huh?). Or helpful queries like “Who do you think they caught the virus from?” (Gee, I don’t know. I say we blame Tye’s friend Ivan. Do you want me to call his mother and yell at her?). Or comments like “Your kids sure are sick a lot, do you think you have a good doctor?” (Well, no actually we picked a bad doctor, but he is real cheap). My poor family. They just don’t seem to believe in the Curse.

So this weekend, we had yet another family bonding experience. This time Winston did the honors of kicking off yet another incident in the House of Vomit. Thursday night he woke me up complaining that his stomach hurt real bad. Half asleep, I rolled over and told him to get in bed with us and try to sleep. Mistake number One. About an hour or so later after off and on waking me up and moaning about his stomach hurting, he jumps out of bed and races toward the bathroom. Just about there he lets loose on the floor creating a line of vomit from the dressing room area all the way to the toilet. From 3:00 am – 6:00 am he “commenced to throwing up regular like clockwork” as my grandmother would say, every 30 minutes. He continued to be sick for most of the next day with little sympathy from either his sister or his brother. Later, Friday I get a call from his sister, CeCe, asking me to pick her up from school – she does not feel well. After she gets home she seems to feel a bit better, leaving me wondering if this was just a con job or if she was actually sick. At about midnight on Friday, she wakes me up saying she thinks she is nervous about riding a new horse on Saturday and that her stomach hurts. Half asleep, I rolled over and told her to get in bed with us and try to sleep. Mistake number Two. Shortly thereafter, she wakes me up by rushing into the bathroom and throwing up. This seems to be a one time deal and we both agree that it is probably nerves and she goes back to sleep. The next morning she says she is feeling ok, and eats some breakfast and keeps it down. I continue to question her about how she feels and she very condescendingly assures me that SHE does NOT have Winston’s virus! She is 14 after all and would never succumb to the common virus. She was just overly nervous about riding a new horse. So we decide to send her on out to the barn, which is 45 minutes out of Austin, to ride. Mistake number Three.
Just as I was getting into the shower to dress for a Tea I had to attend I got a phone call from her, punctuated between retching sounds and toilets flushing, asking me to come and get her that she was sick. By the time she got home she was feverish and shaking and was in bed all of Saturday. By this time Winston has recovered, is fever free for 24-hours and assures us he feels good enough to go to his friend, Blakely’s birthday party. We talk with Blakely’s parents and they say they are comfortable with his coming, so we send him. Mistake number Four. At around 10:00 pm Kent and I get a call to come and pick him up -- his stomach is hurting. We get him home and while he does not vomit again, it is clear he is not feeling well.

Later Saturday night, after Kent and I have been asleep for an hour or so, Tye very quietly and calmly comes into our bedroom to announce that he too, has Movit….in HIS BED! And climbs into bed with us. Mistake number Five. Tye then proceeds to immediately vomit in MY bed. Luckily, I had gotten a few towels around him and he threw up into those and not on our bed linens, so all I had to do was put those in the bathroom and wrap him up in more towels in case he got sick again. Just as I was preparing to very loudly and very martyr like suffer through yet a THIRD night of cleaning up after yet another vomiting child, I heard something that literally stopped me in my tracks. It was an unearthly sound. Terrifying in its strangeness. One never before heard in the walls of our household.

Now here is where the tale takes a strange, strange twist. I have been married to Kent for 20 years and we have had children for 13 of those years. In all those years I can not remember a single time that he has been the one to get up in the night to clean up the vomit. In fact, most of the time he has slept right through it. Before I could wake up enough to get up and go into Tye’s room to clean everything up, Kent gets up and says “Honey, let me clean that up for you. You were up the past two nights.” I froze. This was NOT my husband. Aliens must have come down in the night and switched out his body. Slowly, carefully, I rose up to investigate. It looked like Kent. Maybe I was hallucinating from lack of sleep the two previous nights. So I asked him if I had heard correctly. But he assured me that he could do this and then he proceeded to clean up the entire bed. He stripped it, washed out the sheets in the sink first and then proceeded to put them in the washing machine. He even washed the mattress pad and the comforter separately.

And I did not get up even once to supervise or to help. I just went back to sleep and let him do it. Mistake number Six. And perhaps the biggest one of all.

For the next 20 years or so whenever someone vomits and I have to get up and clean it up, Kent is going to remind me that he “does too get up to help when the kids vomit”

Now what am I going to complain about?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Life Changing Decision

A Life Changing Decision

I made a life changing decision recently. And, since such decisions do not usually come lightly nor are they without big consequences, I felt the need to let those closest to me know about this huge change in my life.

No more theme parks for me. Kaput. Finito. Nada Mas. I am through. I did my last one.

As I was standing in line (waiting to get a $4.00 coke and a $10.00 hamburger that would sport a small piece of brownish wilted lettuce with a mealy tomato atop a cardboard piece of meat between two stale pieces of bread) and felt the sweat trickling down my back and pooling around the waistband of my pants and underneath my bra, it came to me. This thought. The one that changed my life.

“I am miserable and I don’t have to be here. I can just say ‘No” to my children next time they ask to go.” Seems strange doesn’t’ it? One thought can alter your whole life. But once I uttered those words to myself I suddenly felt free.

Most life altering decisions come after some sort of epiphany or religious experience and this one was no different; only instead of seeing God, I think I caught a glimpse of Hell and determined that it was not a place I wanted to be.

The temperature gauge read 102 degrees, but I am sure it was broken because it felt more like 190 degrees. The germ factor was probably off the charts what with the teaming mass of humanity that surrounded me on all sides. Not to mention the assault that was being performed on all five of my senses.

“My eyes! Oh my eyes!” Everywhere I turned I saw yet another “DON’T” straight from the pages of Glamour Magazine. I sometimes wonder if these people even own a mirror. Or if they do, if it is like that mirror in the Harry Potter book that shows what you wish to be instead of what actually is… Because as far as the eye could see there were people sporting the latest trendy styles that really don’t even look good on Runway Models, much less, your average American Body. Bathing suits that barely covered sagging and quivering places that desperately needed to remain covered. T-shirts announcing all kinds of sexual innuendos that are frightening enough on their own, but when combined with some of the people wearing them become downright nightmarish. I mean who wants to let their child go on a play date with a family whose father is wearing a T shirt that says “Hey little girl, I got some candy. Want to come and play with me?” and a mother whose tank top sports the words “S L _ T” on the top line and the words “All I Need is U” on the bottom line while showcasing her skull tattoo above her left breast? A tattoo, I might add, that once was a nicely shaped skull and cross bones but now time and gravity have slightly altered its shape so that it looks like an elongated oval shape with eyes with two sticks of wood crossing underneath.

And I certainly was not faring any better! Knowing better than to don my bathing suit while walking through the park - no matter how hot it was - I was stuck in my once crisply ironed walking shorts and white cotton shirt. Shirt and shorts now showing sweat soaked stains across my back and under my arms along with a brown stain of coke splashed down the front of my shirt with a large piece of pinkish chewing gum stuck to the left rear of my shorts. Not to mention the fact that my vanity (and my non-Harry Potter mirror) which kept me from wearing my bathing suit also kept me from being able to cool off and enjoy the rides. I got to sit at the table in the sweltering heat watching all of our belongings while my three children and my husband cooled off in the pools.

Of course none of this is made any easier by the fact that my, still unfairly handsome, husband and beautiful children all look fabulous despite the heat. At 50, Kent looks better than ever and still turns heads as he dashingly walks through the park and our kids all look like gorgeous sun kissed surfers strutting their stuff though the park.

The next assault on my senses was from the smells and the sounds. Being outside for an extended time on any hot day in Texas is a challenge, but add in the elements of an August day topping the charts at over 100 degrees crammed together with thousands of families at Sea World and you have your own special kind of day. The mass of sweating bodies, combined with babies and children in desperate need of a diaper change mixed in with the smell of chlorinated water full of “God Only Knows What”, as my mother would say, and you have a smell that is, well -- indescribable.

On top of that, the constant whistles of the life guards, various announcements made over the loudspeakers, mind numbing rock music and snatches of conversation you are forced to listen to as you stand in line or stumble through the crush of bodies all racing to the same destination only to stand in line again.
“Red! Red! @#$!. I done told you I was sick of that.”Shut up boy. I am going to give you something to cry about.” “Attention Guests. All babies of diaper age MUST wear a swim diaper while in the water. Sir, please remove your child from the water and put them in a swim diaper.”

“Momma, Whhhhyyyy can’t I git anuther ice cream. It’s not Faiirrrrrr . I hate you. Please carry me. I am sooooo hot.” - Oh wait, that was my children!

Because I know that some of you have very weak stomachs I won’t go into detail about the one relief I had regarding my reluctance to put on my bathing suit. Yes, it was mostly due to vanity, but then there is also the fear factor. Let’s say that at any given time there are five thousand people of all kinds swimming in oh, let’s say five thousand gallons of water, doing whatever it is that those five thousand people might do in the water, well – you do the math. I still don’t think they make enough chlorine to kill what might be expelled into that water! All I can say is that I am thankful that the only part of my body that touched the water that day was my feet when I reluctantly had to sludge through the mess of water streaming out of the bathroom showers.

Then of course there is the small matter of the money. Yes, money. As my husband, Kent, says. “It’s always about the money!” The cost of four adult tickets – yes FOUR adult tickets was more than my weekly grocery bill. Because you see, these theme parks have it down. Anyone over the age of TEN is considered to be an adult. I love that.

Since my twelve year old and my fourteen year old are both considered adults by the theme parks, I would love to ask the management if they would like to allow my children to sit on their governing board as voting members or better yet, perhaps hire one of them to run personnel where they could hire and fire employees using their very adult minds and decision making capabilities. “Hire him – he’s a HOTTIE!” Or “Who cares if it would cost the company money? We should let everyone in for free. That would be Cool!”

Then of course once you get inside there is the small matter of the cost of all the extras. Remember the $4.00 coke I mentioned earlier? How about the fact that the ONLY way to exit the theme park is through the Gift Shop! So, after spending the princely sum of approximately $350.00 for 6 hours in Hell. No, wait, I meant 6 hours in {you can just insert the name of any theme park you choose here} we get to experience that wonderful thing I call the Exit March… or the ubiquitous ride home.

After seven or eight hours of standing on our feet, walking through the heat, waiting in long lines that end up taking twice as long as you expected only to find that when you get to the front there are three cash registers but only one attendant. Or finding that the shops are completely out of cold water or that just as you get to the front of the line for the ride you waited 30 minutes for, an announcer comes on saying that it is broken and they don’t know when it will be fixed (all true examples!). Well, after all of that, you then have the longest walk of all - the Exit March.

That walk back through the park and through the sweltering black top of the parking lot to your car which registers a whopping 108 degrees on the inside. I’ve seen photos of refugees walking through the deserts that have the same haunted look in their eyes and that same desperate shuffle of putting one foot in front of the other as they try to trudge their way to a better place, all the while blocking out the pain and misery of their journey.

The whining and crying usually begins about one minute into our Exit March and builds in strength until the crescendo that usually hits just about the time we are getting ready to enter an enclosed car. The pain of their feet, the blisters, the headaches, the unquenching thirst that has just hit, the need to go to the bathroom, the fighting over who has to sit in the middle. And that is just Kent and me.

The kids are usually too comatose to have even started their whining yet. This is the part where everyone ends up fighting over important things such as who should have to walk to the car rather than be carried or whose fault is it that we left our ice chest at the picnic table and whether or not it is really worth it to walk all the way back inside to retrieve it. (ANSWER: not just no, but HELL no!).

Or most importantly, who is the most miserable and therefore deserving of demanding their way no matter what anyone else in the car wants! "I can't listen to the radio it makes my head hurt." "If you don't turn the radio on, I am going to vomit." Or my personal favorite, "Mom, you have to sit in the back seat, I caaannn't sit in the back, I hate it."

So yes, regardless of the pain and depravation it may cause my children. Regardless of the shame they must endure from having a mother who is so freakish that she has now banned theme parks from her repertoire of motherly duties. I have made my decision and I am sticking to it. I will not turn my back on my conviction. I will stand by my newfound belief. One must be strong. I will never, never, never set foot in another theme park, ever again.

As I announced this everyone in the car as we were driving home, there was dead silence. Then I heard a small voice from the back saying, “But Mom, we had sooo much fun. This was the best day ever!” Then another chimed in saying “What about Disney, you know how much we all love Disney and it’s our family tradition. We always like to go.” With a last and even sadder voice saying “You’re kidding right? You wouldn’t do that to us, would you? We wouldn’t’ have fun if you didn’t come with us.”

Nope. I am not falling for it. No more theme parks…Other than maybe Walt Disney World… but only in the off-season...and only if I am staying on the property…