This past Sunday, I celebrated a birthday. I use the word “celebrate” very loosely and with great reticence. I say that because I neither anticipate with enthusiasm, nor attack this day with the zest and vigor that I once did as a child or a young man. I’ve reached the age where I view another birthday as simply better than the alternative. I’m bringing this day to your attention not because I am seeking well wishes, or to remind you that I bucked the odds by surviving another year. In fact, were it not for my loving family, a handful of dear lifelong friends, and my social media profile, I could probably sneak the anniversary of my arrival on Earth under the radar.
The only reason I’m writing about my own birthday is because that particular day, and the days on either side of it were so tragically, yet comically typical of my life that it seemed worth sharing with you. So sit back, relax, and enjoy yet another installment of a gratuitous chuckle at my expense.
I’ll start with Saturday, February 27th, the day before my birthday. My perpetually upwardly mobile bride is in the process of starting a new position in a different part of the hospital. This of course means that she didn’t necessarily have the scheduling luxuries that she did in her established job. So true to form, she was scheduled to work long days at the hospital on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I was not nearly as troubled as she was about not being with me on my birthday. I never believed that it was really my day anyway. Even when I was younger, I always thought of it as more of my Mom’s day. After all, she did all the work. All I did was show up. I spent 9 months as a pain in her front, and the rest of her life as a figurative pain in her ass.
So my wife was feeling unnecessarily guilty as she left our house at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday. I went about my day as usual knowing that I too had to work that night and that my sister in law would be coming over to watch the kids for a few hours between my leaving for work and my wife getting home. It was a pretty typical Saturday in my house for me. Diapers, formula, meals, read a few books to the kids, lots of play time, some household chores, and me trying desperately to stave off being an adult. Everyone was pretty happy and content until around mid-afternoon when I noticed my 4-year-old was acting uncharacteristically lethargic. I asked her how she was feeling and she responded that her tummy hurt. Being a child who never complains, I knew that she was being sincere. Also, being a seasoned veteran Dad, I know when to call bullshit. So I kept a pretty close eye on her.
Shortly thereafter, I heard what sounded like a form of a hiccup come from her. I noticed she had a bit of a Grinch like hue to her complexion and started for her in anticipation of what could happen. I hadn’t quite made it to her when a large portion of her stomach contents launched from her like a bottle rocket. I was still far enough away to have not reached her in time, yet close enough to catch a substantial amount of guttural shrapnel to my chest, arms, and face. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a regurgitation olympics, but if there were, my little angel would have taken gold in both distance and volume.
Thus the long and arduous tasks of cleanup and fatherly comforting commenced. She continued the repeated expulsion of demons and her previous few meals throughout the course of the day. I didn’t have the heart to leave her in this condition, nor would I be comfortable handing her off to my sister-in-law like this. I did something I seldom do and I had someone cover my shift at work so I could stay home. She continued her intestinal assault well into the evening until her Vesuvius-like digestive system finally went dormant. By the time Mommy got home, both my daughter and I were several wardrobe changes, a handful of showers, and a few loads of laundry into the day.
When my wife got home, having a terminal proclivity to putting all others before herself, she was mortified that she couldn’t have been there for the esophageal pyrotechnic display. My daughter and I both tried in vain to reassure her that there was nothing she could have done.
We proceeded through the evening with as much normalcy as possible, scrubbing carpets and furniture, tending to our sick child, and making sure not to neglect the other three. Bedtime came around, and we were all collectively exhausted both physically and emotionally. We did our best to segregate and quarantine in the hopes of evading a domestic epidemic. My wife slept in our room with the baby. My 11 year old and 3 year old slept upstairs in their respective rooms, and I slept in a makeshift triage camp in the living room with my little patient. Mommy went to bed on the fence about whether or not to go to work the next day. She’d never admit it, but she barely slept if at all, and both her protective motherly instincts, and the professional nurse in her brought her out to the living room several times overnight to check on our daughter. I of course pretended to be asleep each time.
Sunday morning came around quicker than any of us would have liked. It started shortly after 5:00 am like any other day. The only thing different about this day is that exactly 46 years ago I emerged from my amniotic hammock to start the first leg of a long, uphill journey. It took quite a bit of salesmanship, but I convinced my wife that she should go to work and that we would be fine. She departed with great trepidation feeling devastated by the thought of not being with her sick child or the man fortunate enough to hold the title of her husband on his birthday. The latter of which was the farthest thing from my mind. My little girl had made it through the night with minimal difficulty but was still very clearly under the weather and not yet out of the woods. She of course was my primary concern, but I like to think that I was more than capable of caring for my other three children even under these circumstances.
I thankfully had the foresight to turn off the ringer on my phone the night before because sometime after midnight, the well intended birthday wish phone calls and text messages started coming in. By morning there were already several, and I was glad I had made the decision to go device silent. I was pleased and flattered, but they were not my foremost concern. Given the potential options, I was secretly thrilled to wake up and start another year. But like many days in the twisted story of my life, this one was just beginning and was about to embark on a roller coaster of a journey. I’ll tell you all about it when we pick this up next time from right here.
Thanks for playing along, Syd Nichols.