Do I seem out of breath to you? That’s because I just survived an entire week in which I was 1) babysitter-free and 2) husband-free (he was traveling for business). The latter, I knew was coming. The former was thrust upon me rather unexpectedly, and since that part of the story is still unfolding, I’ll leave it for next time.
Anyway. The point is that I knew, last Sunday afternoon, that I was about to become SuperMom and be the only adult in sight. I actually wasn’t panicked by the thought. I mean, if I went ahead and HAD three children, I should be able to handle all three of them alone, right? Should I not handle a full Mother Load, at least once in a while, if only to get back in touch with my masochistic side?
“Just accept you won’t get anything else done,” David advised me, and it was good advice. For the foreseeable future, I would not blog, or write, or work from home, or check my email, or go to the gym, or blow-dry my hair, or sit down. I would never be alone. I would be ON DUTY.
Telling myself I was in an extended sort of extreme sport mothering competition, I am very proud to say that I managed to get through the entire week without losing my shit once. I do have to give some credit to the kids for being very flexible. Maddie spent all week going back and forth to school to get her brothers, and going down for her naps an hour late, and Fergus had to miss his gym class because there was no one to take him, and Cooper just had to suck it up in general, and all three of them were troopers. But I was GREAT. I made eye contact and spoke in a low, firm voice, even when all three children were crying at once. I remained calm when Fergus decided to cover his palms with a uniform coat of orange poop. I even kept it together when Maddie crawled in the shower with me at 5:45 am on Day Five and dumped out all my makeup. No one else was watching, so you’ll have to take my word for it: I was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING.
And so I decided to finish my unforgettable performance, at least in my own eyes, with a double axel/triple Salchow combination sure to catch the eyes of the Mothering Judges: I would fly to Florida with all three children, unaccompanied by any other set of capable hands.
No! I hear you gasping. Is she mad? Well, I’d actually done it once before, and survived, and had actually been amazed at the help and attention I got from strangers along the way. People helped me through security, let the boys see the cockpit, and gave me major props for daring to travel alone with them. Men get this adulation all the time. If my husband has more than one of our children under his care, in public, for more than five minutes, people line up to tell him what an incredible father he is. Mothers hardly ever get this kind of attention for doing what is considered to be merely their job, and so I was actually looking forward to this day of travel, a tiny bit. Maybe someone would finally tell me what a good mother I was.
And we were off to such a good start. We were off to the airport by 7:15 am, we got through security without me losing anything but my brand new jacket (but hey! I still had three kids!) and, as I strolled to the gate with Maddie in the sling, pulling her carseat and a duffel of toys and snacks behind me, and a child holding on to one of my belt loops walking calmly on either side of me, I thought: DAMN. I AM good at this.
Once we were on the plane, we were home free. It was JetBlue! The boys put on their headsets and would not be heard from again until we landed. All I had to do was get Maddie down for her nap.
She seemed a little extra fussy. Huh, she hadn’t eaten a good breakfast either. And huh, she wouldn’t take her bottle, no matter how many times I proffered it. Eventually, she became so unhappy that I had to stroll up and down the aisle with her in the sling.
And, just as we approached the front of the plane, Maddie let loose with a torrent of vomit, washing over her, and me, and the Kangaroo Korner sling that wrapped us together.
The two flight attendants, chatting in their jump seats, looked at me, jaws agape. “Oh my GOD,” one said in a low voice. As Maddie continued vomiting, I stepped calmly, calmly, into the tiny bathroom, as if I had known this was going to happen; looked at myself in the mirror; and said, “Keep it together.”
I cleaned us off with paper towels, as best I could. I went back to our seats, sniffing passengers turning in my wake, where I pulled out Maddie’s spare outfit AND spare sling. I put her dirty clothes in the extra plastic bag I always carry. I turned my sweater inside out so the throwup stains wouldn’t be as obvious. And the boys never even looked up from Spongebob.
I DID it, I sat there thinking. My God, I just handled this. And it wasn’t even that big a deal. I am the mother of the year.
And then Maddie looked up at me, whimpered, and cascaded a fresh supply of throwup all over both of us, the seat back table, and everything I had just changed her into.
NOW we were attracting some attention. The woman in front of me turned and peered at me through the crack in the seat, accusingly, as if I were somehow causing this horror. The man across the aisle tried valiantly to jingle his change for Maddie, who would have none of it. The flight attendants, who could SEE me (in row 4) from where they were sitting, looked aghast at both of us, but did nothing. I had to ring the call button in order for one of the flight attendants to approach, with her scarf over her face.
“Can I, um, have some paper towels or something?” I said.
She just stared at both of us.
“I’d, uh, get them myself, but I have a puddle of vomit on my lap,” I added, helpfully.
She came back, threw some paper towels at me, performed a Lysol-spraying vogue in the aisle, and beat a hasty retreat back to the front of the plane.
Now, imagine this whole thing happening FOUR MORE TIMES.
Maddie vomited eight times in all. The last two times were on the monorail from the gate to the baggage claim, where she and I (and the two boys) had one whole end of the car all to ourselves. I had pretty much given up on cleaning either of us up at that point. I had vomit in my hair, on my shoes, on my pants. Maggie just hung there in her vomity sling and let it rip. No one told me what a good mother I was being. No one said anything to me. In this world, when you smell as bad as we did, you are not even pitied. You are reviled.
All I could do was keep looking straight ahead, heading for the exit, and thinking of this moment, when I would sit here and tell you all: I fear nothing. I laugh at danger. Do you know why? Because I SURVIVED.