When Mom is sick

Last week two of my three children, and then my husband, came down with a quick-attack stomach bug so virulent it kept taking after there was nothing left to give, if you catch my drift.

This added moderate amounts of laundry to my already moderately frantic attempts to pack us all for a looming four-day ski vacation. (Have I mentioned that I don’t like to ski? Really really don’t like to ski? Yes. Yes, I have.)

My husband watched me from the couch as I zoomed to and fro, tracking down three sorts of chargers and three sets of homework. “Why don’t you ever get sick?” he asked, completely flummoxed.

“Moms don’t get sick,” I explained over my shoulder, digging in the closet for mittens that matched. “Cause we can’t.”

A chill came over me at that moment. An immediate sense that I had tempted the gods. I imagined myself feeling a sudden rumbling in my intestines the next day, in seat 14E, just after the captain announced he would be keeping the seatbelt sign on a while longer.

And so I made a deal. “Just let me get there,” I prayed silently. “Once we’re there, it doesn’t matter.”

Thirty-six hours later, I woke up in my hotel room at 2 a.m. in a cold sweat.  Then slept for three minutes. Then woke up with a stabbing stomach pain. Then came the reckoning, me feeling my way repeatedly to the bathroom for the next few pre-dawn hours in that pitch-black only true hotel curtains can provide. I couldn’t turn on the lights, or I’d wake everyone else– although honestly it was amazing they managed to sleep through it all, since I can’t say that I was quiet.

But they did. And when my husband and children awoke to the ting-tong of an iPhone alarm, there I was:

retouched Charley in bed

Any child of the 70s worth her salt will recognize this drawing as actually being of Cousin Charley, the very naughty boy in Little House in the Big Woods who got stung by a hundred yellow jackets and then got all wrapped up in mud and muslin and then Laura and Mary and the cousins stood there all day watching him get what was coming to him for being such a boldie. Since Garth Williams died in 1996, he could not be in my hotel room to capture me lying there, but this was basically it.

My children stared down at me. Not frightened, not sympathetic. Just fascinated.

MAGGIE: Are you SICK, Mom?

ME: (muffled groan)

Long pause.

SEAMUS: Are you, like, REALLY sick, Mom? 

It did not compute.

My husband hustled them out the door to breakfast and I fell into a fever dream. Twenty minutes later, I sensed that I was being watched.

retouched Charley in bed


SEAMUS: We brought you breakfast, Mom.

ME: No thanks, honey.

SEAMUS: We brought you some pumpernickel bread.

MOM: Please. Don’t even mention–

MAGGIE: And cream cheese.

SEAMUS: The pumpernickel bread was Dad’s idea.


The children stare.


My husband eventually got them out the door to ski, although I think the lot of them would have been happy to stand there all day.

Is there anything more fascinating than the sight of a sick mom?