So, seriously, as a mother, you would think that not all the lessons I learn would come from poop or puke.
Apparently, that is not the case.
We’ve been down with the flu this week. That wonderful, cozy day of snuggling was actually the calm before the sore-throat, runny-nose, projectile-vomiting feverish storm of a week that we’re just now wrapping up. At the moment, the Ogre is sleeping gratefully after a few nights of being up with a vomiting toddler and a vomiting wife, and the kids are playing peacefully with nary a hint of the trauma their stomachs have been through showing on their shiny little faces.
This is the first time I’ve had a toddler with the stomach flu. Sienna had it as a baby but skipped completely over it in her toddler years, probably because she spent most of her toddler years hanging around college students who were busy throwing up from other reasons. But little Charlotte has never had a great constitution, and every sickness we get tends to hit both her and me full-force. This time was no exception.
The thing is, toddlerhood is possibly the worst time of all for a child to throw up. It’s one thing when they’re a baby; they throw up, cry, you clean them up and they fall asleep on your chest. It’s gross but not all that traumatic. When they’re older, they understand the process. They know that their stomach hurts and they have to lean over the toilet when they’re going to puke, and they also know (even if only subconsciously) that eventually the puking will stop, and their body has to do this to get them feeling better.
But with toddlers it’s another story altogether. The poor little ones can’t understand what’s happening. They don’t know when they’re about to throw up, so they just throw up wherever they happen to be standing (or laying) at the time. Poor Charlotte panicked every time she threw up, pawing at her mouth in distress and then screaming at the sight of the vomit all over her hands. The screaming made it worse, of course, and every bout of vomiting was followed by a succession of dry heaves finally subsiding into a sobbing, hiccuping and traumatized exhaustion. No amount of soothing, holding, bathing and singing calmed her enough to just endure what her little body was doing to her. No assurances and explanations were enough to convince her that it would end, that it was necessary. Instead of just getting through it, poor Charlotte fought the flu every painful and disgusting step of the way, resulting in a longer-lasting and more unpleasant illness than any of the rest of us had to deal with.
It was the same for me with labor pains. With my first two pregnancies I had epidurals, but not before I had gotten a good taste of the pain of labor. But I fought it; mentally, I tried to retreat from the pain, to run away, to shut it out until it was mercifully taken away by the epidural. With Liam, I knew ahead of time that there was no taking the pain away. I had to get through it, and it wasn’t going to stop or get better anytime soon, so I just dealt with it. I wouldn’t say I embraced it, but I didn’t try to run away either. I just accepted that this would have to happen and that eventually it would end and I would have a lovely little son in my arms. And it was so much easier than those little snippets of labor I had with my other two.
I think much of life is like this. I spend so much time fighting against the things God has given me, the things that simply are. The night we all got sick, before the throwing up started, I was on the couch crying to the Ogre about my struggles to lose this baby weight. With my other two kids it came off much easier; with Liam, it seems that the weight is here to stay. After two months of exercise, avoiding sugar and watching caloric intake I’ve lost only five pounds. I’m still not in my pre-pregnancy jeans, which were already a size larger than I should be wearing. I sobbed to my patient husband that it just isn’t fair, that normal people don’t have such a hard time losing weight, that I hate my body. His answer was the same as always; let go. Do the best you can and let go of expectations. Beating yourself up and hating your body don’t help; it is what it is, and you have to learn to live with it.
Leaving aside the wonderful irony that after complaining about my weight God sent me a stomach flu, I think I should work harder to apply that advice to all aspects of my life. It’s hard to watch my friends and family moving into houses, making money, having back yards and dogs and gleaming, enviable kitchens. It’s hard to take Sienna to school every day and know that we can’t afford to continue, that her class will go on to kindergarten next year without her, that these friends and teachers we’ve come to know and love will no longer be such a large part of her life. It’s hard to think about Christmas and know that most of our kids’ presents will come from grandparents and aunts and uncles; that at best we can give them a few small things. It’s painful to explain to Sienna that she can’t have a birthday party like her friends because we simply can’t afford it; we’ll make the best of what we have, but there won’t be lots of friends gathered around a bounce house, or running wild at Chuck E. Cheese. But it is what it is. Life has seasons; this season of ours is particularly difficult. We have lots of work to do and few comforts to help us through it, but we have to accept it. After all, what good does fighting it do, in the end? What do I accomplish by screaming my frustration to the heavens? How could my dissolving into a crying, whimpering, angry mess possibly help? At best it will accomplish nothing; at worse it will prolong this difficult time, making it harder for me, harder for my husband, harder for my children. As usual, my husband’s advice is the best advice there is; let go. This time is what it is.
And after all, at the end of the day I get to kiss three beautiful little faces and one big hairy one. Some people go their whole lives without knowing that kind of love, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the gleaming kitchens in the world.