I’m writing this quietly from my kitchen table, while my husband and three kids nap…..at 9am. We are finally, almost completely done with the stomach flu that has ravaged our house for the last five days. As I’ve been moving between kids, rubbing backs, and doing laundry (constantly), I’ve been noticing a lot of things that this flu is reminding me about being a mom.
1. Life Can Be Cancelled
I had a busy week planned before my first daughter got sick - dinner with friends, two meetings, a lunch date, a play date with Grandma & Grandpa - but as soon as she went down, with a wave of my magic wand/phone it was all gone. Just like that.
It’s always nice to be reminded of how easily life can be cancelled, so I don’t make the mistake of taking myself too seriously, or worrying about things that really aren’t worth worrying about.
2. Mom Instinct is Powerful Stuff
My middle daughter got sick first, then the baby, then my oldest, then my husband. And I got sick…...never. As of this moment I still haven’t come down with this virus in any tangible way. Sure I’ve felt tired and gross, but that would happen to anyone who’s watched people throw up for five days straight. #mirrorneurons
Now, this could be because I am washing my hands like crazy and being really careful, but I don’t think that’s it. I’ve heard this happening to too many moms for it to be a coincidence (or just good hygiene).
I think there is some ancient biology at play here that keeps moms well so they can take care of everyone else. There was one moment in the early days of this flu where I was sitting at the kitchen table and felt the chills. And then, almost as quickly as the feeling came, my daughter called out for me and a switch flipped. Just like that the feeling was gone, and I went to take care of her.
So the story of “everyone else first” really is built into our DNA. I need to remember that this can be one of the reasons it’s so hard to take time for myself - because thousands of years of instincts are telling me to take care of my kids first. That doesn’t mean I’m about to give up on all self-care, it just means I’m going to be a little more gentle with myself if it doesn’t come easily. Of course, there are times when the kids obviously come first…...such as when two kids are vomiting, and the third is about to crawl into the pile of pukey sheets. That may not be the time to go run myself a candlelit bath.
3. Intuition is Everything
How much vomit is too much? When should we give her water? How long can she go without food? Is this food poisoning or a virus? Oh, wait…..there goes kid #2, definitely a virus.
When my kids are sick, Google will only get me so far. The truth is I know my kids and what they need, but it’s really easy to doubt myself especially when I’m in the thick of it. This is when listening to my intuition is everything. So I would do some research, then get really quiet and see what my gut had to say. We all do this intuitively, but what I’m remembering now is that I have access to my intuition all the time, not just when I’m trying to figure out how soon I can give my sick kid applesauce.
4. We Are Warriors
My younger daughter went through a 24-hour period where she vomited every 15 minutes. The roughest patch was through the middle of the night; she would get sick, I would comfort her and clean it up, lie down on the couch for 10 minutes, and then do it again. On, and on, and on…...and suddenly it’s 7am, and the baby wakes up, and it’s time to dig deep and start the day.
I bet every mother reading this has had one of those moments, if not several. I am constantly amazed by what moms can do, and I’m also not surprised at all. “Oh, she lifted a car off her trapped child? Of course she did. She’s a mom.”
Do not mess with a mom when her kids need her.
5. Don’t Be A Hero
On the third night my husband got taken out. He was sick (but not as sick as the girls) so at 2am after several hours taking care of my oldest, when I could feel that I was running out of gas, I woke him up to take the rest of the shift.
I felt terrible waking him up! Could I have done the whole night? Of course I could have. But I knew if I didn’t sleep I would be a wreck the next day.
Asking for help isn’t weakness, it’s strength. Even though I know this, I forget it all the time. I have to remember to make it a priority. Saying no, disappointing people, being willing to accept help - these do not come easily to me. I have to work at it.
The antidote for compassion fatigue is whatever brings you back to yourself. That’s why I’m finishing up this blog post quietly in my room, with a cup of tea while my MIL watches the kids.
6. Any Day Without Vomit Is a Good Day
I’m not going to say I’m grateful for the stomach flu because then I’d have to punch myself in the face for being obnoxious, and nobody needs that. However, the fact is that when the crappy stuff happens it gives us the ability to notice and appreciate the good. All of the simple moments have been given back to me now - making pancakes, playing outside, dancing in the kitchen - and all I had to do was care for four humans through five days of stomach flu.
So, thank you stomach flu. Screw you, and thank you.