The Magic of Nighttime Parenting

by Melissa Cohen
Originally Published: 

It was 2:30 a.m. and day six (or is it seven?) of one of my kids dealing with the stomach flu. I’ve scrubbed down the car seat more times than I can count and washed so much laundry but legitimately fear I’ll never catch up again. I’ve got mixing bowls strategically placed all over the house, just in case the urge to throw up hits and they can’t get to the potty quick enough. I’ve only actually been puked on a couple of times, and have grown inordinately proud of my 5-year-old’s ability to run for a bucket. But my baby, my tiny, little almost 2-year-old—she doesn’t know to reach for a bucket, and while she’s incredibly verbal, she didn’t have the words to tell me before she threw up all over the bed. All over herself. All over me.

For a few minutes, she sobbed and retched, and I rubbed her back and tried hard to keep it from getting on the king-size comforter (the one too big to wash in my machine). And then it was over. I stripped us both, grabbing my husband’s T-shirt and some old sweats for me and carrying her into the living room. I rifled through the clean laundry basket for new jammies for her, and settled down on the couch in the dark living room. She was still whimpering, half-asleep, horrified and confused. I snuggled her down in a blanket and nursed her. Grateful, because at 2 years old, she’s still nursing and I knew that it would calm her down and she’d be able to keep breast milk down even if she couldn’t keep down the chicken and broccoli I’d fed her for dinner.

It was just the two of us. The birds were starting to sing outside, and the room was dark enough so I couldn’t see the clutter of toys and books on the floor. I was able to just be for a while. To hold my baby girl when she was sick, when the only thing in the world that would make her world right was to be right here, in my arms, with her long eyelashes casting shadows on her cheek and her big, big eyes looking up at me. That, right there, that moment, that’s what makes me grateful for the middle of the night puke-fests of parenting. Sure, it’s messy, and today, I can’t drink enough coffee to keep my eyes all the way open—but I know that last night is a night that I’ll remember when she’s 5 years old and tells me I’m the worst mother in the world, and when she’s 9 and rolling her eyes at me when she thinks I’m not looking. I’ll remember when it was just her and me, a dark night, with birds chirping and big, big eyes gazing up at me.

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