Stomach bugs are pretty common in children, and they have absolutely no upside. Kids get sick. It’s what they do. As parents, we’re supposed to be a source of comfort and solace. And, sure, we’re sympathetic, and we regret that we can’t make it better. But we’re also human, so there are other, not-quite-so-Norman-Rockwell feelings involved. I mean, come on, who wants to spend their night catching vomit in their hands?
It’s our duty as parents to be ready to embrace that disgusting child with barf on her shirt and sing to her, even as we try to keep from gagging ourselves. In order to get through these dark times, I’ve identified the five stages of parenting a sick kid. Much like the five stages of grief, they are here to show you that you are not alone.
He probably just ate too much. This is the first thing I think every single time my son has vomited. He got it out of his system and now it’s over. OVER. This means that I am definitely not going to end up sick myself in a few days because there’s nothing to catch. It’s just like spit-up, only so much grosser because you can see the grapes he had for dinner. But it’s OK because there is absolutely no problem here.
You’re not angry at your poor kid who has not yet stopped throwing up—you’re angry at life. How could this be happening, and now of all times? (Because inevitably you will have had plans, even if they were just to fold laundry.)
This stage is also where we identify what you’ve been feeling from the first moment you smelled the rotting insides of your dear, sweet child: revulsion. This will be a constant throughout all stages. Because gross.
If I give her a bath, maybe she won’t throw up again. Her insides want her to stay clean, right? Or maybe if I just wish really hard to the Mom Fairy, actually pray to the porcelain god. I will never yell at my child again. I will sing constantly if only the vomiting will stop. Stomachs are calmed by singing, I’m sure of it. I’m cleaning. I will clean this house spotless if I can avoid seeing another piece of stomach-churned food. I will never complain about anything again. And these are his last set of sheets, so we really, really need to be done with this now. OK? OK?!
This is our life now. This little person is going to keep vomiting forever, and the smell will stay in my nose hairs until I die. Nothing will be the same again.
This is also when you start to worry that there is something seriously wrong with your child. To the doctor, or not to the doctor? That is the question. Is this really just a stomach bug? What if I dismiss it and then something really bad happens? Is throw-up really supposed to smell this bad?
More often than not, if you’re lucky, things will start to get better sooner or later. After you’ve caught the last droppings in your 500th clean shirt, your kid is likely exhausted and ready to sleep it off. In the morning, you’ll decide about the doctor, but for now, you can clean the floor, do the laundry (then do it again), take a shower, and have a drink while you still can because you’ll probably be throwing up yourself in a few hours.
I have, thankfully, not yet had to deal with a serious illness in my short career as a mother. The worst kind of sick I’ve experienced so far is a vomiting toddler, one that is too young to completely understand what’s going on or why you’re forcing his head into the toilet. There are worse things in life. There will be worse things in life, but for now, during those dark, vomit-y, midnight hours, I’m going to remember these stages and look for the light at the end of the revolting tunnel.