If it is said, "Be careful what you wish for," then it follows that we should be doubly careful what we pray for. Dave left for a four-day stint in Vernal, Utah, on Wednesday morning. By that night I was ready for him to come home. Finn woke up from his nap uncharacteristically out-of-sorts, and I hadn't properly exercised the border collie out of Asher, so he was rambunctious and antagonizing. Finn basically wanted to be held all evening, and Asher basically wanted to spend the evening in time out. Here I am, trying to get a workout in with Finn climbing on me during a wall sit.
If I had known the true extent of Finn's discontent I would have been more sympathetic. Dave FaceTimed us that night. He had to put off his call at first because Asher was in time out, and the call pretty much consisted of Finn mauling me and Asher jumping off of furniture and throwing things. It was a very, very rough evening.
When I finally got the boys in bed, I made a batch of cookies and shamelessly tucked in. I sent a text to my dear friend Miranda, whose children are close to the ages of mine and whose husband is out of town most weeks for work. Here was her response:
"Some days suck, and some days suck so much worse. I am beginning to understand what the grace of God is. It is strength beyond my own, and blessings above my worthiness. I hang upon Him every day, and even when I forget to pray or read my scriptures or even say kind things, He is there...Being a temporary single parent was definitely not on our five-year plan, but it doesn't come without blessings of its own."
Feeling more than a little chagrined about my own coping strategy, I looked up at the scripture I had written on our chalkboard this week:
I was determined to do better. To rely on Heavenly Father more in the moment-to-moment stresses of mothering. I said a prayer, thanking Him for the marvelous friends that I have, who make me better and provide truly admirable examples of how to be a great mom. Friends who point out where I need to improve, just by the way they conduct themselves. I asked God to help me be more patient, to be a better mom, and to give me strength. To help me rely on Him.
As I said, be careful what you pray for. That night, as I crawled into bed at far too late an hour, Finn woke up. I'd gone in and nursed him back to sleep once already, and I reasoned that he was fine. It was a long, fussy bout of crying that never escalated. He eventually fell back asleep, and it wasn't until I went in to wake him the next morning that I pieced together the distress of the evening before. The crying in the night.
His head was caked in dried barf. His mattress was strewn with half-digested strawberries and other things I didn't guess at. I felt terrible.
So began a long day of barfing and clinginess. Twice I nursed him, only to have him immediately spew it all back out. The TV took over parenting Asher for the day while I tried to keep Finn happy and hydrated. I wrestled with the guilt that all parents of multiple children have at times. And prayed that Finn would recover and the rest of us would be well.
Friday was a heaven-sent reprieve. Finn was better, and so we went to the park for a play date with Asher's friends, soaking in the 70-degrees of sunshine.
It was the sort of almost-spring day that makes you never want to come in, for fear that winter will come howling back and drop a foot of snow. I even took down my Christmas lights (finally!), while the boys coordinated in concurrently taking very long naps.
It was a truly marvelous day, complete with dinner provided by Pizza Hut (my weakness when gluten-free Dave is not around)...until Asher erupted all over the middle of the kitchen floor. And again, from the bathtub. And again, and again, and again. He found the process so disturbing that he resolved that he simply would.not.barf. I kept my eyes glued on him to see when he was about to vomit, and then tried in vain to shove a bowl under him or whisk him off to the toilet. This set him in a panic, where he would leverage all the strength of his little body into pushing me and my receptacle away, whilst convulsing against the demon within him. Up it would come, and he would gulp it back down. Eventually some measure of it would escape, and he would find relief for a few moments.
Somehow in the midst of this I tucked Finn into bed, grateful that at least they had not been sick at the same time. Asher was in bed soon after, but with little hope of him sleeping. I set up camp for a long night. Every 15 or 20 minutes, I would rush into his room at the sound of a cough, and we would repeat the ritual. I rubbed his back, stroked his hair, and begged him to just let it happen. Stubborn boy that he is, he fought a good barf for hours and thus never got the relief that it brings. Each time I tucked him back in, his exhausted eyes would droop and he would mutter faintly, "Goodnight! See you next later," hand fluttering above his blanket.
At 12:45 he finally had a solid upchuck, and so I changed his sheets and we both slept for a couple hours. And then a couple more hours. At 5:30 Finn finally woke up to nurse, and as soon as I opened his bedroom door, I could smell that something was very wrong. He had thrown up all over his sheets again. I changed him, hopeful that I could still nurse him back to sleep. Even before I finished, he threw it all back up. Into the tub we both went, and I sent an urgent text to Dave, pleading for him to come home. He had extended his work trip for a day to go hiking in a remote area near Vernal, which was fine by me the previous day when both kids were healthy. Even one sick kid I could handle. But two was a nightmare.
Dave, however, had turned off his phone to conserve the battery. By the time he saw my message and was ready to go, it was 11:00. And he was a seven-hour drive away. I would have to make it alone, one more day. I prepped the living room for a barf-fest, and prayed that I wouldn't get sick too. Or that I could hold off until Dave was home. That's when the realization hit me. I had prayed that I would rely more on Heavenly Father to help me as a mother. And He had given me a trial that demanded I rely on Him, and him alone. To this point I had handled the whole situation bravely, with humor even. I felt that I was being helped. And I laughed at the immediacy, and the manner in which He had answered that prayer.
Asher continued to fight the losing battle, until even I felt sick just watching him. And hearing him. I have never been one to get sick vicariously, but even the most iron-stomached among us would feel queazy at hearing someone repeatedly swallow his own vomit. As the day wore on, my stomach felt more and more unsettled. Was it merely a visceral reaction to Asher? Anxiety about caring for two barfing beings on my own? Or the much-dreaded alternative?
By early afternoon I was sure. My stomach churned and emitted pangs of foreshadowing torment. I too was possessed by the demon. It swirled around my innards until I released it from one end or the other, always a violent process. It is an alarming dilemma, deciding which end needs the toilet more urgently. My words to Asher mocked me, "You can't stop it from happening. You just have to let it out." As much as I could, I laid on the couch, inane cartoons cycling endlessly. At one point I spewed into the barf bowl on the couch while Finn tugged at my leg and Asher shrieked at me to change his show. As much as possible, I avoided moving. Asher dozed on the couch, and I managed to nurse Finn to sleep at nap time without throwing up on him. I tried to keep drinking because Finn wouldn't take anything besides breast milk.
Eventually, Dave did come home. Asher was watching who knows what, and I was huddled next to my barf bowl on the bedroom floor. "What do you need me to do?"
"Just take care of the kids."
And so I slept. Drifting off to the sounds of two boys happy to play with their dad, feeling the surge of energy that comes when one is on the mend. I woke feeling that the tide had turned, put Finn to bed. And we all slept.
Today I woke feeling confident that we would all finally be well. Until I retrieved Asher from his bedroom, and found that he had thrown up again. Stripped the bed. (Have I ever done so much laundry in a 24-hour period?) Repeated the process of trying to keep something in him. Watched him immediately barf up the most benign things. Fretted over his shriveled lips and ghostly complexion. Resigned myself to a new way of life.
After three days, Finn finally found his appetite. Eventually Asher came around too (7-Up does the trick, I tell you). It was a day of bumming around the house, trying to retrieve some modicum of order, pushing the fluids, lots and lots of laundry. Guts rumbling sourly, but not violently. I think tomorrow will put us back on our feet. But poor Dave. The destroying angel makes another pass.