Of stomach bugs & sleepless nights

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Nothing about this day has gone according to plan. There were unexpected white-outs during my morning commute, one of the headlights in the car went out, I had to choke back tears at the office, and then the pharmacy sent a message that my son’s prescription was to be delayed because the medicine was out of stock and they had to order more.

And this was all before 1 pm.

As I write this, it’s more than 12 hours later, and things have only derailed since then. Dinner tonight was pizza delivery because neither Kyle nor I had the mental capacity to cook a meal. After a few bites of yogurt, our son, Atticus, declared that his tummy wasn’t feeling good. I immediately thought of his babysitter and her family and the awful stomach bug they’d had that previous weekend. Kyle waved my fears away. “No. It’s just coincidence. He’ll be fine. He’s not sick.”

Half an hour later, just before we gave him his nighttime bath, he threw up. All over his father’s jeans and sweatshirt, the upholstered rocker in his room, the carpet — it was everywhere. 

While Kyle cleaned, I bathed Atticus, remembering that my daughter, Jumah, was waiting for me downstairs because tonight was hair night, and I had to help her with her deep conditioning and detangling. Feeling torn between my two responsibilities, I had Kyle finish up bath and start bed time for Atticus, while I joined Jumah in the living room, working conditioner through her hair in segments, combing it through each section to make sure we didn’t miss any. It was then I heard Atticus cry out again, and the splatter of his sickness hitting the tile of the bathroom floor. I helped clean up — again — while Jumah finished up what she could do downstairs. Atticus went to bed with a bucket beside him in case he got sick, and we went downstairs, where I resumed working on Jumah’s hair. Just as I was starting the second-to-last section, we heard Atticus calling out for Mama and Dada. Kyle raced up the stairs, pulled him out of his now-soaked-with-vomit bed, and that was when we looked at each other frantically, our eyes saying what both of us were feeling: I don’t know what to do.

At this point, he was hysterical, which I suppose is to be expected when you’re three and sick with a stomach virus, and demanding that I pick him up and carry him, telling me “I want my mama” through his whimpers. At that point, Jumah had come upstairs to her room, so Kyle and I decided it was best if we all just had an early bed time, and he went in to pray for her and make sure she’d picked out an outfit for the morning. I carried my sobbing toddler up the stairs to our third- floor attic bedroom, where I laid a spare twin mattress on the floor and covered him up, soothing him and hoping he’d fall asleep. He demanded I lay down with him, and he curled his body up into me, his face grimaced in discomfort as he finally, finally slept.

In the next 45 minutes, he threw up another eight times. There was nothing left in his stomach but water, and he was so exhausted by this point that he couldn’t even lift his head to spit up in the bucket. At that point I started panicking that he would choke in the middle of the night, so I settled into the armchair beside the mattress on the floor, with two books, my phone charger, and a glass of water, resigned to the fact I’d be holding an all-night vigil by his side. Kyle needed sleep desperately, having had insomnia the previous two nights, so other than calling out for help to change the sheet or Atticus’ pajamas, I was determined to let him rest. I read fifty pages of my first book, seventy-three of the second, and finally, at 1:03 am, I closed my eyes for a moment and started to cry.

I cried for the zero hours of sleep I’d be getting, and the nine hours at work the next day.
I cried for my son, who sleeps beside me, pale and shivering under his blanket, and I cried for the helplessness I feel as I watch him.
I cried for my daughter, who always looks forward to hair nights, and I cried for disappointing her.
I cried for the guilt I felt for not having even said goodnight or given her a kiss before I carried Atticus upstairs.
I cried because some days are just so incredibly hard, and life is hard sometimes too, and I wish we as a society talked more openly about that.
I cried because of all the laundry that accumulated in just a few short hours, and because the water bill had already been much higher than we expected last month.
I cried because of mom-guilt and because feeling like a failure, because of feeling pulled in too many directions, because of never seeming to have enough of me to go around.
I cried because I had wanted to take a shower and wash my hair tonight but couldn’t.
I cried,

and I tried to pray,

but all that came out was, “What was that, God?”

And isn’t that the question we all want to know, really? Where is God when bad things happen? Does God care about our pain, my sick son, my disappointed daughter, my exhaustion?

I know the right answer, of course — yes, God cares. Intimately.
And yet …that doesn’t change the circumstances, does it?

But now, as the clock inches closer and closer to the alarm that will go off on my phone at 6am, I find myself remembering Hagar’s story from the Bible. Mistress of Sarai, who was barren, Abram impregnates her at the request of his wife so that she may build her family through Hagar’s child. But Hagar ends up mistreated by Sarai, and so, pregnant and alone, she flees, trying to return home to Egypt. She very nearly makes it but stops, exhausted, by a spring of water in the desert.

And it’s there where God visits her — in the desert. In Hagar’s pain and exhaustion. In the bleak landscape and perceived hopelessness. And Hagar walks away from their encounter having named God as the One who sees me.

So maybe God sees me, too, sitting next to a sick child in the middle of the night while I worry about my family and whether or not I’m doing this whole motherhood thing right.

And if that’s true — maybe God sees you too, right where you are, in whatever desert you might find yourself.

And maybe, for now at least, that can be enough.

1 Comment
  • Nancy Woods
    January 9, 2020

    God DOES see you. He sees me. He sees everyone. And in those desperate moments, those moments of questioning, those moments of despair…the next breath you take, the next beat of your heart, the next footstep…He is beside you, guiding, giving strength. Holding you up in His light!

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