November 19, 2012 by whirlyjoy
This is what we call the “sick bowl” in our house, sitting on Aida’s plush froggy blanket that my good friend Wini made for her birthday last year. Those of you who’ve been following along for a few weeks will now be saying to yourselves, “Uh-oh, why is the sick bowl out again at Whirlyjoy’s house?” The stomach flu has indeed hit again – this will be Aida’s year to catch up on her immunities, I guess, and be free and clear again through high school or so.
The silver lining to this situation is that Aida is getting the multiple learning opportunities she needs to someday understand what purpose the sick bowl serves, and why I keep shoving it under her chin. Although never, sadly, at quite the crucial moments.
Since it’s Thanksgiving week, let me express here my fervent thanks for the high-efficiency washer and dryer that lend a little fairy tale atmosphere to even these dark days of winter flus.
The first place I lived as a single parent was a roomy apartment with beautiful hardwood floors in a once-luxurious mid-century building known grandly as the Queen Vista. The units on the opposite side of the building (and my assigned parking space, if you craned your head a little) had Puget Sound views. The washing machines were in the basement, all the way at the other end of the building, so when the girls were sick and I’d been cooped up all day, I could get my exercise by tunneling load after load of laundry back and forth between temporary bathtub storage and the – hopefully available, and thankfully industrial sized – washers and dryers.
This was obviously strength-building, as well as a good cardiovascular workout because I always waited until the girls were asleep, and even so I hated the thought of leaving them alone in the locked apartment. Picturing the electrical fires popping poltergeist-style out of every outlet or the TV exploding while I was gone (both of which Big Jane has always insisted are entirely probable occurrences if you don’t remain vigilant) lent wings to my feet. And of course I couldn’t possibly risk the elevator.
Aida is a valiant and pathetic creature when sick, generally retreating to her bed where she lies staring up at the ceiling with haunted eyes, not really understanding why her body is rebelling in this very unpleasant way and no doubt bracing herself for the next hideous surprise. I mean, seriously, if food can come back out that way, I picture running through her mind, is anything really out of bounds?
I admire how she draws on all her hard-won communication tools to try to make sense of what’s happening, or at least gain some much-needed reassurances. Yesterday, for example, she was signing a request for “water” just minutes after vomiting up the tiny glass I’d conceded to give her already. Telling her “no” was heartbreaking – and her reply even more so. I watched her think over the situation, then turn her eyes with their dark circles to me and sign with a sad expression, “tomorrow, water?”
It brought me right back to the winter Aida was hospitalized with a similar virus. She was just five and had sunk from her usual electron-like state of non-stop activity to a pale, almost inert little body with big dark eyes seeming to take up her whole face. The hospital hooked her up to an IV drip for fluids, and I barely left her side there for six days and nights, helped enormously by Nana and Opa who brought me changes of clothes and moral support.
Opa also heroically stepped in to be with Aida during the spinal tap the doctors ordered. This was about four days in and I had hit emotional and physical bottom, so it was he who accompanied them all to the procedure room – looking every bit as white as his granddaughter. Nana and I stayed behind; she wrung her hands even more anxiously than usual while we waited, and I have no idea what I did. Only that when the results came back negative I agreed to finally go “relax” by taking a shower – and then sat on the floor of the stall with the hot water running over me, sobbing, until my skin wrinkled up.
Mimi spent that week staying with Eenie and her family. It was wonderful to have their help and know Mimi was with people who loved her if she couldn’t be with me. Plus, Mimi’s education was propelled dramatically forward that week because four-year-old Nephew was in what we call his naked phase at the time.
They brought her to the hospital cafeteria to visit me at lunchtime on one of the days. Mimi has always been unusually perceptive, and she must have been the teensiest bit worried about how frazzled I looked, because once we were seated with our french fries and chicken tenders she announced to me: “Mommy, I’m going to sing you a song!”
With that, she climbed to stand up tall on her chair, spread her arms out wide in that posture of born performers everywhere, and sang out two full verses of “You Are My Sunshine” to me in her high, sweet warble.
Naturally, this ensured that everyone in the entire cafeteria had their eyes riveted on us by the time the final notes quavered out. And this is the moment Mimi chose to try out some of her new-found Nephew knowledge on me. Still standing on the chair, she looked down at me with a big, happy smile and said, very clearly and in a voice that carried to every corner of the room: “Mommy, do you have a penis?”
Hospital cafeterias need more of this kind of entertainment.
I was too tired to respond with any agility at all, and was still struggling to find my tongue when Mimi came to my rescue, delighted that she could teach me something: “Of course you don’t, because you’re a girl!”
Aida had learned only two signs by then, “help” and “more”, and had never used them outside of structured lessons in her developmental preschool. Two days after the spinal tap, she finally took a turn for the better and was able to keep down fruit juice and some crackers, and shortly thereafter, I saw her sit up and wiggle to the edge of the bed to try to climb down. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even make a move to help her – I did not in fact think it was a great idea for her to get up quite yet, and I think some exhausted corner of me just wanted to see if she could manage it – and where she thought she was headed.
She slipped down to the floor in her fuzzy Tasmanian Devil hospital socks and started shuffling towards the door – only held up for a minute when she realized her IV was tethered to a stand and she would have to drag it along with her. This is one of those moments that stretches out in memory, so I feel like I’m watching a slow-motion replay when I think back on it: one slow step after another, Aida crossed her hospital room to the door, and tried unsuccessfully to push it open before turning around to look plaintively at her grandparents and me. She’d never yet used either of her two words in any unscripted situation at that time… so she must have thought carefully about which one would be of most use to her right now… before lifting up her little hands to sign “help”.