You know that moment after a very long day when your head hits the pillow and you take a deep breath knowing it’s just you and some restful Zzzz’s for the next 6-8 hours? I love that moment. I love it so much. It’s usually about 11pm. I like to be able to get up before everyone else in the house to have my coffee and write, so if I can get to sleep by 11, I’m golden.
Last night it was a little earlier on account of my ongoing recovery from Stomach Flu 2013. I closed by eyes at about 10:15pm. And at about 10:30pm, I heard the sound every mother dreads in the moments after she finally begins her cleansing breaths.
I ignored it for a few minutes, thinking my son had lost his pacifier and was frustrated as he searched for it, half asleep, the way I do when my phone alarm goes off in the morning and I can’t remember where I hid it from myself the night before to ensure I actually got up. Then, it turned into moans. My husband picked up the video monitor and flashed the screen on just bright enough to ruin my peace. “What’s wrong with him?” I asked without fully opening my mouth.
“I’m not sure.” We listened for another minute as the whimpers turned to silence and we both, without acknowledging it, agreed he went back to sleep and the coast was clear. Until…
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked again.
“I think he’s in pain,” my husband, The Diagnoser, answered.
“Why would you say that? How do you know he’s in pain?!”
I closed my eyes and gave way to sleep until…it was clear this wasn’t going to end well.
“I’ll go up there,” I moaned.
“I can go,” my husband offered.
“No, no. It’s fine.” Besides, I had Mom Guilt to work off.
As soon as I made it up the stairs, I picked my baby up from his bed to feel his red hot cheeks and sweaty back. Oh boy. We’ve got a fever. Stomach Flu 2013 isn’t finished with us yet.
“Are you ok, baby?” I asked. “What hurts?”
“Noooo, moommy. I’m too hoooooot.”
I rushed him downstairs and immediately got some ibuprofen to bring the fever down and some cold water. He drank a little bit and snuggled with me (which he never does) just long enough to say, “Mommy? I want to go back upstairs.” Hmph. Two-year-olds make things much easier than one-year-olds do. He just says stuff he wants now.
I carried him back upstairs and sat in the glider with him. I held him like a baby because when I hold him upright like a two-year-old, he’s longer than I am. I asked him if he wanted some more water and he immediately began freaking out. “Nooo!” He clawed at my chest to get up and no sooner could I lift him up to put his head on my shoulder I heard the sound. The gurgle sound. My son has never made it before, but I’ve heard it enough times to know what it meant. I panicked. I froze. How do I get to the bathroom before I…I have to make a decision right now, otherwise…IS THERE A GARBAGE CAN IN THIS ROOM?
Too late. Bam. Puke down my back.
I immediately started running to the bathroom because, clearly a two-year-old who has never thrown up before will totally understand why I’m placing him in front of an open toilet. Certainly he didn’t think I wanted him to practice potty-training at a time like this, or that it was customary to drown children in the commode if they allow their dinners to revisit. So he stood there, crying, unsteady, while I peeled off my puke-soaked clothing down to my underwear. We both stood there in the bathroom looking at each other for a minute, both asking, “What do we do?!”
Right. I’m the mom. I have to figure this out.
I picked him up and laid him down on the twin-sized bed next to his crib. I immediately re-thought that choice and put a huge towel underneath him because please no more puke on anything. I then stood there, in the room, trying to determine which pile of vomit to clean up first while in my underwear because this is my life right now.
I rushed back to my boy. “Yes, baby?”
“My food is on the floor.”
“Yes, baby. It is. It’s okay.”
“I want a teeeeeny tiiiiiinny snack. Like pretzels.”
The perfectionist mom part of me knew that we don’t eat past 7pm, and we certainly don’t eat pretzels unless it’s snack time. But the real mom part of me just wanted to deliver some joy to my little little.
So. I changed his clothes, haphazardly cleaned up the puke, and delivered to my two-year-old a small bowl of pretzels and a cup of water in bed at midnight. I laid next to him, watching him crunch.
“Mommy, you want a bite of pretzels?”
“No, thanks, sweetie. You smell like puke.”
“Ok, mommy. That’s ok.”
I laid there with him for about 25 minutes. He snacked on pretzels and told me stories and sipped on water. No books, no TV, no cars and trucks. And even though I was exhausted and worried and, well, half naked, I don’t remember the last time I had that much fun at midnight. With puke.
I got sick over the weekend. Stomach flu sick. The kind of sick that erases an entire day from your memory. Whining, moaning, writhing in full-body pain sick.
But I started noticing this morning that on top of the sick, I felt guilty. Guilty that I didn’t get to do the weekend laundry while I vomited and repeatedly asked myself how much could be left. Guilty that I didn’t transplant the seedlings to the garden after the rain ended in between headaches. Guilty that my husband had to cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner on top of caring for our sweet little boy. Guilty that I didn’t get to finish hanging the drapes. I didn’t feed the dogs. I didn’t freshen the carpets. I didn’t details the bathroom sinks. (Just kidding, I never do that.) I didn’t do anything worth anything but be sick.
A little more lucid today, I recalled my husband (who gave me this damn flu in the first place) being sick on Friday. I wasn’t angry at him for being sick. I didn’t blame him for not putting Abe to bed as he normally does or for not clearing the dishes after I cooked. It never once crossed my mind to think he was just a big, lazy bum when he didn’t get out of bed and required me to deliver him plain rice and wet rags for his forehead. And I don’t think that he laid in bed feeling like a jerk for not taking out the trash in between waves of nausea. So what’s wrong with me?
Mom Guilt. Wife Guilt. This has got to stop.
It was all I could do to eat a few potato chips out of a bag standing in front of the pantry this afternoon as my first meal of the day while my husband worked and my child was in school. It was on my third or fourth crunchy bite, wearing a t-shirt and old shorts to complete this truly magnificent sight, that I thought, maybe I should just ask for help? I’m crazy, I know.
I asked my mom to buy me some rice and applesauce and, guess what? She did. I texted my husband to see if he minded picking up our son from school and, guess what? He didn’t. He then even offered to go grocery shopping and to cook dinner. Because I asked for help. No one seemed angry or thought less of me because I asked for help. They actually just wanted to…wait for it…help.
Of course, the Mom Guilt/Wife Guilt makes me think there is a finite amount of this help and I should probably hold back drinking it all up in one sitting. Could I run out?! How much help might I need next weekend in order to complete the tasks of being a mother and wife without completely losing my mind and contracting the next local malady, hopefully less toxic than stomach flu? I should make a list of the number of times I’ve asked to ensure there’s some left next week. Ration it out. Like food. During war.
It’s sad that most women I know are with me on this crazy-train. Like we don’t trust that the people around us are perfectly willing, and more importantly able, to help us when we need it. When did we get so arrogant as to think no one could possibly pitch in and do part of our jobs for us? And you don’t even have to be a wife or mother to experience this kind of guilt. Women everywhere do. So let’s stop it. Let’s trust everyone else around us is fully capable of helping and EVEN saying, “No,” when they can’t. Let’s trust that people will ask US for help when they need it, and we’ll rise to the occasion. And for God’s sake…will someone please vacuum my carpets? Because I’m exhausted.
I sat and I listened to a love story over lunch in a hospital cafeteria yesterday.
Carmen Blandin Tarleton is one of my clients. She recently underwent the most complex face transplant in history, and today I attended her press conference. Her face, ready to make its world-debut, caught us all off guard when she walked into the room. It was beautiful.
You could even see the beginnings of a smile at the corners of her mouth when the rest of the room roared with laughter as her cell phone interrupted her own press conference. She shook with nerves and with fear that she might forget to thank someone while she read from her iPad. A giant tear dropped from her new eyelid after she genuinely embraced the daughter (Marinda) of her face donor. Marinda is a young woman of about 30 who passed out sunflowers to the press and reveled in her mother’s beauty, inside and out, while ensuring none of us would go a day longer without knowing the loss she felt losing the woman she held up in a picture, chuckling about her hippy persona. As Marinda finished describing her mother’s wrinkled life, she sighed while joyfully recalling that she could forever kiss her mother’s freckles and feel her soft skin against her cheek because of Carmen. And Carmen agreed that Marinda was welcome to kisses and cheek-grazing embraces forever.
I watched Carmen sit next to her beau, Sheldon, as we ate lunch together after the press conference. The tables lined a corridor and the lunches came in cardboard boxes. She had a flat bread pizza, he a burger. She punched him playfully in the arm when he made a pun or a joke too silly for lunchtime. His eyes lit up when she snarked or smirked (which was evident only if you truly know Carmen, but but it soon will be evident to everyone), they welled with tears when he described the first time he saw her new face.
She met Sheldon in December when she started taking piano lessons from him, and they both knew very quickly the connection went beyond music. They talked for hours on the telephone, like teenagers, and finally one day Carmen asked, “When are you going to take me out to eat?!” The woman knows what she wants. Eventually, she told Sheldon what she wanted was a commitment, but not with an ultimatum or a threat. She simply told him that’s what she wanted and that if he didn’t want that, they could just be friends and move on. The days of playing dating games were over, for both of them, and anything but being honest with nothing to lose seemed a total waste of time at this point in life.
He fell in love with her spirit, then her energy, and her cooking (which she delivered to him weekly in small, plastic containers at her piano lessons). He fell in love with her when she showed him a picture of what she used to look like, before the attack. He saw her eyes, her skin, the shape of her chin. He could visualize the person with whom he was enjoying sharing his time, and he could love her. And he did love her. But he wasn’t going to tell her that.
It was shortly after the transplant that Sheldon, filled with great love and admiration for both who she is and what she’d survived, decided he needed to tell Carmen he loved her. Not in person, though. It would be over the phone on his way to poker night. He called Carmen in the hospital, as though he had just finished some kind of race (Carmen recalled it as such) while he panted and heaved his message. He told her, “I am on my way to poker but I just wanted to tell you I love you and I know we’re not tossing the ‘L’ word around yet, but I needed to tell you. Ok?”
It happened so quickly that all Carmen had time to say was, “Ok!”
And that was that. Ok.
Carmen has been on every major news outlet available to the general public today. She’s been called by primetime news shows, daytime talk shows, and the most circulated newspapers in the country. Her story, the one that we helped to write, is affecting every person who reads it. And yesterday at lunch, she told me she’s ready to write the next book, and she thinks the next one will be even better. It can include her face transplant, meeting Marinda, and now, a love story. A love story that concluded our lunch together as they held hands, giggled at Sheldon’s non-stop picture taking, wandering off to find the car to drive back home. I felt honored to have been included in even a moment of that love. And proud to be a part of a team that supports it.
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