Life on a Plague Ship

Warning: this post is going to be gross. You’ve been warned.

Kids are disgusting creatures. Yeah, frogs might lick their own eyes, and dogs might sniff/nibble their own poop, but one needs look no further than a pre-schooler licking snot off his own lip to realize how whisker-thin the margin is between man and beast. Little kids are foul, just foul. Babies are easily the worst of the lot, as their curiosity has them ramming their hands into their dirty diapers like they lost their car keys in the sand at the beach. When they fill not only their diapers but their PJs with poop, you realize that pets of the same age already do not require you to wipe feces off of them, and you wonder just what you’ve done with your life.

But, to me, the apex of revolting life with kids is when they get sick. Over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays, our kids traded snotty head colds and an especially potent stomach bug. Jack’s nose ran a lot. “Leaky faucet” undersells it by several orders of magnitude, but it’s more relatable than “leaky geyser,” so we’ll leave it there. His unsettlingly moist coughs made us think he’d contracted the flu, despite his flu shots, or that he’d taken up smoking when we weren’t looking. He shared his affliction with Joshua whose symptoms were similar. Except, at four years old, we expected Joshua to be able to blow his nose, or at least wipe it on something that we hadn’t bought at a furniture store. Joshua, full of surprises, suddenly forgot how to blow his nose (his command of the the skill was always questionable, admittedly), and opted to wipe his nose with his hand, and to then rub that hand on whatever was nearby. This included his clothes, our clothes, the curtains in his room, a couch, and the edge of our dinner table. That we kept tissues in nearly every room and in our very pockets for easy access was irrelevant. Convenience was not a factor. He had germ syrup to spread around, and spread it he did. Our disinfectant wipes finally saw some use outside of the bathrooms and kitchen.

All of this was gross enough. I was at full capacity for repulsive after watching Joshua digging for nostril nuggets and then sampling them like he was at a tapas bar. But then the stomach bug hit. HARD.

Jack was the first to empty his toddler tummy. He showed little appetite that morning when he woke up, and seemed lumpier than usual*. So I held him and rocked a bit. Then, like a klaxon, his stomach gurgled loudly and with great anger. But it was hardly a timely warning. Seconds later, everything he’d eaten from the time he was born to that moment emptied onto me. I was able to position myself between the spew and our furniture, but I ended up looking like I’d gone down a Slip n Slide filled with wretchedness. If only that were the only time one of my children would vomit on me that day.

Joshua booted sometime in the night. When we went to get him up for the day, we found him, his sheets, his floor, and his prized alphabet floor mat coated in a crust of dried sick. Now, Joshua has an unusual habit for a four-year old. He will not, for anything, get out of bed until someone comes to get him up in the morning. Last year, we took in a stray cat for a while until we could find a home for her. That cat ended up trapped in Joshua’s closet overnight, unbeknownst to us. When we went to retrieve him the next morning, he had enormous circles beneath his eyes. It was obvious he’d slept very little. We asked why, and he replied that the cat kept him up. We found her, extracted her, and informed Joshua that he did not have to stay in bed if something like that happened again. We’ve explicitly told him that he can get out of bed to use the potty at night, and we extended this permission to opening his closet and bedroom doors to let the cat out should she become entombed in toys again. Sure enough, that very week, it happened again. We found Joshua with sleepy eyes and a cat meowing rather insistently in his closet. We’re at a loss. So, when we found him coated in his own vomit, it was without surprise.

It took some time to clean the boys up, and to then clean Joshua’s room. Neither of them felt like doing anything apart from reinventing themselves as throws for our furniture, and we were content to let them do so. After a couple of weeks of sick kids and bodily fluids being applied to everything in the house, we were ready to do the same. I really thought this was the low point. Not so. Joshua’s second round came while he was already on the floor. In complete exhaustion, he just lay down in it, rolling slightly onto his side as a few more trickles escaped his mouth.

I really thought this was about as low as it would get. I watched my kid literally rolling on the floor in his own throw up. I was unprepared for Jack’s subsequent diarrhea. That Joshua did not also endure that was a small, but merciful kindness from whatever virus found our kids.

Jack’s diarrhea was the worst of all of it. I can handle snot, boogers, vomit, pee, spit up, and almost anything else. But poop is my kryptonite.** Seeing it run out the leg of his pants and pool on his high chair before dripping onto our dining room rug*** was my limit. Jen gave him a bath and I tended to the rug, doing my level best not to add my own sickness to it.

Jen described these events to her sister, who responded, “You’re not really selling me on having kids.” That’s the thing. When parents tell non-parents about kids, it’s a Hallmark commercial of rainbows and laughter and baking things together.**** But the truth is repulsive and revolting, tiring and taxing, full of futility and folly. You spend the first few years of your kid’s life just cleaning up after him and desperately trying not to get yourself sick in the process. It’s like living on a plague ship, but with play dates. Have kids. They’re great. But they’re also really, truly disgusting. You’ve been warned.

*Jack has earned himself a few nicknames in his brief time on the planet so far. “Lumpy” was one of the first, earned for his affinity for draping himself on whoever holds him as if the very acts of being awake and upright at the same time were just too much work.

**Truly unfortunate given my current profession as a stay-at-home dad to two pre-people, one of whom is still in diapers.

***The dining room rug is an act of mini-rebellion on our part. It is totally impractical around young children who are as likely to deposit their meals on the floor as they are to actually ingest them. Yet, it’s one grown-up thing we want to have and use to help us feel as if these kids are living in our house, not us in theirs. Jen wisely thought we should not use the rug, but I insisted. I will almost certainly be eating some crow off of it at some point. The resemblance of that crow to Spaghetti-Os will be the only thing unpredictable about this.

****It might be more like a Nestle commercial, come to think of it.

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