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?

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