Pulling An 'All-Nighter' As A Parent Is Freaking Brutal

by Erica Donahue
sick kid
anandaBGD / iStock

He’s sick — again. This time, it starts off as a mild fever — teething perhaps — but quickly turns into something more. Spots on throat. Rash on face. His temperature soars to 102, 103, 104. “Mamaaaaaaa” beckons the owl-shaped monitor on my nightstand. I strap on my furry candy-stripe robe, toss my greasy hair into a ponytail, and get ready for battle.

You know the drill. We’re going to be pulling an all-nighter, and not the kind that co-eds or newly in-love couples pull. It’s not going to be sexy, and it won’t be a story we share at the water cooler while we wait for a conference room to open up. I won’t wake up to empty champagne glasses glistening on the kitchen counter or articles of clothing strewn about the room (or actually, that is a possibility come to think of it). Nope. We’re going to have to dig deep. We’re going to have to mentally and physically prepare not only for what the next eight hours will bring, but also how we’ll summon the strength to continue moving across the battle lines onto company grounds tomorrow without looking hungover, insane, or insanely hungover.

Hours 1 to 2

The adrenaline is flowing and I’m feeling pretty good. I can handle this. As long as he stays stable, maybe there’s a chance he’ll conk back out soon and the night won’t be a total shitshow. The ER can be avoided if we just stay below that fine line. Tylenol, check. Motrin, check. Thermometer, check. Let’s do this.

Hours 3 to 4

I begin negotiations. Just one more time, and then Mama is going to bed. He must be laughing on the inside. He has other plans, and I’m at his mercy given he’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, especially with that pouting and pained face. “Rub,” he dictates, pointing to his back. And he assumes the position. I’m pretty sure he was thinking, Rub, bitch, because let’s be honest: He totally owns my ass at this point. I’m rocking, I’m rubbing, I’m making up godawful song lyrics just so they rhyme and fit into the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle” because that’s all I can think of at the moment. I’m on the 327th round of “Hudson, Hudson, you’re the best. You stand out from all the rest. You are smart, and you are bright. Mama’s here to hold you tight.” I’m not proud of this. Yes, I’m a writer, but viral warfare is taking its toll. Forgive me.

Hours 5 to 6

The adrenaline has dissolved into the wee hours of the morning. I desperately continue to rock and rub and sing. I try to focus on the positive: It’s just a virus. It won’t last forever. Other kids are way sicker. This isn’t that bad. It could be worse. Be grateful for whatever illness he doesn’t have. Just hang in there, do what you can, and try like hell to get at least a little sleep. But the sun will be up soon, and no matter how hard I try to walk on air and slip out into the hall, the creak in the old wood flooring signals his overtired nervous system, and he snaps to attention like a veteran Navy Seal. Busted. We start the routine again.

Hours 7 to 8

All hope is lost. I concede, little one, you’ve taken me down yet again. “Vee-yos?” Yes, yes, please watch all the videos you want. I take him into my bed, put on the Kindle and pull up YouTube. Anything short of porn is just fine at this point, so we select his new favorite, Blippi. I hear the first “Wheels on the Bus” video wrapping up, but I’m on that sweet edge of slumber and so I start making some dark deals in my head. I hear my brain promising oral favors to Blippi if he’ll only cue up the tractor song next so that my son doesn’t start freaking out and stays silent long enough for me to get in another four clutch minutes of rest. Blippi delivers, and I know I’m dealing with the devil now. But I’m okay with it. Oral favors for Blippi — put it on my long to-do list for next week.

Hour 9

The sun has risen. Somehow we’ve survived. Well, mostly. No guarantee we’ll both hold it together ‘til nightfall, but in the light of day, my next mission seems easier: Find backup childcare so I can ultra-caffeinate and remain employed. Lunch break will have to be a nap break. Food has taken a backseat. Speaking of backseats, maybe that’s where I’ll nap. You don’t scare me, 34-degree day. This mama bear’s about to hibernate for 60 blissful minutes, Blippi, and binky, and baby-free. Just as I’m sliding off into narcoleptic oblivion, my phone starts buzzing.

“He’s throwing up everything I give him. What should I do?” says my sitter.

“I’ll be right there,” I sigh.

At least I’m already in the car.