Yesterday I was walking through the house when I discovered that our 1 year old pup had eaten an eye off a of stuffed penguin. Thirty minutes later Elliott couldn’t find a decent pencil because the same pup had chewed the erasers off of pretty much every pencil in the house. First of all, these kiddos need to pick up after themselves or we are going to have a sick dog on our hands and second, perhaps some chew toys would be an appropriate purchase at this juncture.
But I wasn’t necessarily thinking either of those things in that moment. Instead I smiled and thought, this is life. Of course we have a pup who chews everything, and one day when his days have passed and we bury him under a tree I’ll wipe away a tear as I place a few chewed up pencils on the little, rounded mound of dirt. He always liked those, I’ll say as I glance up at taller and more handsome children who now use computers over pencils.
We finally found a pencil with a point and an eraser that was shaped like a dinosaur and the homework was completed. The kids were tucked in, with much struggle. Books were read, teeth were brushed, frustrations were expressed. And finally, I sat downstairs with my husband quietly snacking behind glowing lap tops as we each caught up on work. I sensed the cry before I actually heard it. It’s an odd sense that four children will help you acquire. I stood. Calvin, there’s crying! I don’t think he heard, but I jogged up the stairs to find a dark haired, crying girl covered in vomit. I threw up, she said. This is life, I thought as I made my way toward her. And I traveled back in time past countless sick days and vomit bags and remembered the story that makes me laugh despite the miserable circumstances.
We were visiting my Uncle Bob, my dad’s brother. He served us shrimp for dinner before we headed back to my grandma’s house to sleep. I remember my brother, eating that shrimp with gusto. I also remember waking up a few hours later with stomach pains that threatened to rip me in two. I was always very neat when I was sick. 9 times out of 10 I made it to the appropriate place before vomiting. But this. This was something else. Something violent. And the night was long and awful and I told myself, dramatically, I might not make it. Bless my mom, who can’t handle puke. She would peer in and try to provide towels or some ice water. But my misery could not be helped.
Finally, by day break the pain had subsided. I couldn’t eat or move a lot but there was some relief. And I didn’t have to wonder if there were other sicklings for long. My younger brother, overcome with stomach pain himself, holding his hand over his mouth, made a beeline for the porch after finding the bathroom occupied. I watched in horror as he struggled to wrench open the glass sliding door. I ran to assist him but it was too late. He had already decorated the glass. Disoriented and weak, I giggled and pointed. Daniel, there’s little shrimp stuck all over the door. His answer was to vomit again. This sent our mom running and left me to scrub the mess while my brother laid down to endure several more hours of stomach pain. That was life. And now it’s our story, a giggle shared between grown siblings.
Years later, I’m standing upstairs looking at my child, miserable in her pain and vomit. I scoop her up, making a mess of us both and we start a warm shower. We clean up and relocate while Calvin cleans the sheets. I hold her close, thankful that my stomach is strong after years of telling myself it needed to be. I wonder if I’ll be the one puking next but can’t back away when she clings to me. She’s like my sister in that way. She would hug you while she puked if she could. We lay out towels and rub on fennel oil and forgo liquids for the time being. Every hour brings another sick bag, and more tears. I Lysol, I bleach, I clean, I hold, I hug, I wipe down. And I think this is life. This is one more story that binds our hearts together. When you’re 18 and call me from college, sick and away from home. I’ll stay on the phone and order soup for delivery. I’ll care for you from far away, knowing that our growing years made you strong, you’ll be okay.
Life’s little disasters and difficulties. I’m beginning to smile at them. I’m beginning to cherish the odd ways they bind us together and build our stories. The way they give us a chance to love each other deeply in service and with our time. They won’t all be as simple as chewed up items and stomach bugs, but perhaps our everyday is practice. This is life, beautiful, frustrating instances and moments that point toward past and future at the same time. If we can face the little disasters with grace, we can learn to face the big ones as well.