It happens every winter and always at the worst possible moment. You’re just sitting down to watch a movie with your spouse, you’re getting ready to visit the in-laws at Christmas, or it’s the middle of the night, and you’re deep in a peaceful sleep. And suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, you find yourself thrust onto the battlefield with the dreaded stomach flu. Stripping beds, washing sheets and precious stuffies, scrubbing the carpet, the couch, the walls, and waiting for the next family member to get taken down.
It never fails. Since having kids, when stomach flu season arrives, I just know at some point, my husband and I will be in the trenches with the rest of them. As my Facebook newsfeed fills with parental woes, and everyone around me is dropping like flies, I can feel it coming. Like Laurie Strode hiding in the closet, waiting, listening as Michael Myers searches through the house, knowing that soon she will be face to face with her worst nightmare, I wait.
Then, it happens. And over the course of thirteen years, four kids, and more vomit and diarrhea than I care to mention, I have learned a few things.
There is always a period of denial. You’re just hoping and praying this isn’t it. “She ate something bad.” “She just had too many sweets.” “He must have motion sickness.” And on the rare occasion, we have actually lucked out and been spared. But usually, the next child falls victim, and we know we’re in it for the long haul.
No matter how shitty it may be, you must cancel plans and quarantine! Unfortunately, we have learned this one the hard way. Nothing feels crappier than thinking you’re in the clear, bringing your illness to someone else’s house, and having another family get sick because of you. Now, we play it safe and we don’t take any chances. When the stomach flu hits, we go into isolation mode.
Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. Once the first person goes down, we start preparations. Stuffed animals and extra blankets are removed from the line of fire, garbage cans are placed next to each kid’s bed (whether they feel sick or not), we stock up on saltines, chicken broth, Jello®, and ginger ale, and we drill each kid non-stop on what to do if they start to feel sick.
There’s always that one kid. Despite our best efforts, there is always that one kid who will come to find us first to tell us their tummy hurts. And of course, each time, this ends in disaster. Namely, vomit in the hallway on their walk to find you, or better yet, on your bed announcing their arrival. There is also the kid who will deny, deny, deny until their head is buried in a toilet bowl.
Kids can be assholes when they are sick. Having four kids, I have definitely noticed that each one has their own unique sickness personality. Some kids will hole up in their room for the duration of their illness, and you will barely hear a peep from them. Or curl up on the couch and snuggle with you while binging on Netflix. I like those kids. Then, you have the ones who are incessant whiners, who scream at you not to touch them or come near them when you’re trying to help, or best of all, the ones who throw epic tantrums about being hungry or thirsty when they’re still vomiting every thirty minutes. That is when I go to my happy place and pray for it all to end soon.
My husband and I have our roles. When the shit (or vomit) hits the fan, we assume our positions. He is the designated vomit cleaner. Unless absolutely necessary, I just can’t do it. He must have the stronger stomach. I am happy to strip beds, wash laundry, disinfect the house, and comfort the kids. But when it comes to any direct contact with undigested food chunks, don’t look at me.
Disinfect constantly. And when it comes to the stomach flu, the harsher the chemicals, the better. I live for a week or more with a tub of Clorox wipes by my side, following each sick person around the house, and disinfecting their path as they go.
Dad always gets it worse and longer than any other person in the house. I will often hear about how it is affecting my husband weeks after the stomach flu has run its course. As mothers, most of us will continue to wash sheets, disinfect the house, and comfort our children, barely taking a moment to vomit ourselves. But when Dad goes down, the world stops.
This too shall end. Although it feels like it will never stop, there will come a point when the dreaded stomach flu will finally leave your house and move onto its next victim. This is a time to rejoice in the five pounds you lost and write off your sickness as a great “cleanse” to start the new year right. Then, put it all behind you until next year.