I knew something was wrong when I heard the doorknob turn. I opened my eyes when the bedroom door creaked open and I heard a little person whimper. “What’s the matter?” I asked, looking through the darkness and trying to find my wits.
“I threw up in my bed!” It was Kya. “I threw up all over my green blanket!” she wailed.
“Oh dear,” I said, thinking about how cozy my bed was and how much I didn’t want to wake up to vomit. “Go hop in the tub. I’ll be right there.”
Sure enough, Kya was sick. She threw up in the bathtub and again on the couch and once more while the older kids started school. The twins didn’t know what to do without their mini-matriarch so they hovered near, bringing her stuffed animals and books and asking if she felt sick.
She did feel sick. It was one of those mothering moments when I felt a little sick too, not just because I turn into a paranoid hypochondriac when there’s a stomach bug about, but because one of my little ones was suffering and I couldn’t do anything about it.
But I was thankful too. When I saw her little body cuddled up under a blanket, I was reminded how healthy she is normally, how healthy all of my children are. Not every mother can say the same.
I remembered a day when this was not true. We were out in the warm spring air. Jeff was pushing Jonathan and Faith on the swings, high up into the bright blue sky. I held the baby and laughed at their delight. Suddenly, a rope broke and my three-year-old was hurled high into the air above my head where I could not reach him. I ran but I could not catch him. He was on the ground too quickly. His little body crumpled into the winter-hard earth head and shoulders first.
“Don’t touch him!” I yelled as we ran to him. My mother-in-law and husband and I gathered around, all three of us who had been right there but could not stop it. All I could think about was what might be broken inside my boy—his neck, his back, his skull.
But it was his femur that sent him to Children’s Hospital in an ambulance and earned him five weeks in a spica cast. I stood next to his hospital bed and looked at him. I could not believe he was alive. I could not believe he broke his leg and not his neck.
Still, I was grieved by what I saw and heard. He was in so much pain and his lips were dry and cracked because he couldn’t have any water before his surgery. The doctor said his leg might never grow properly. He might walk with a permanent limp. He might need surgeries in the future.
Just beyond the flimsy curtain on the other side of the room was another child, about Jonathan’s age. His mother stood by his bed too, but it was not the same. Her boy’s head was wrapped in white bandages. His skin was all at once pale and dark. It was a brain tumor, I heard, and her boy might not live. There was only so much they could do, the doctors told her, and most of that had already been done.
I went into the hallway and cried.
I thought of that little boy today when I looked at my child suffering through a sickness with a bowl by her side. I have long since forgotten his name and I’m sure his mother has no idea how much her son touched me. I’m just the mother on the other side of the partition, the mother with the healthy boy. But I see his face today when I look at my daughter, curled on a couch with a bowl by her side.
And I am grateful for this stomach flu, for her body which is healthy enough to fight and was designed for that very purpose. I’m thankful that these symptoms stand in contrast to the ordinary days and are not a definition of them. I am thankful that she is already asking for food and needing to be reminded that sick girls can’t chase brothers.
It is a grace to be able to hug my children at the end of the day, fully expecting to hug them again tomorrow.
On this beautiful day, I am thankful for sick kids.