Of the Norovirus and Other Joys of Pietri Dish Parenting
“I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees,” I tell my wife, bent over myself after she reminded me what a poor decision it was to challenge my stomach with a barbecued medium rare 2-lbs bone-in ribeye steak after spending two days in bed with a stomach bug.
Since my oldest started toddler care, she has brought home an impressive roster of viruses. For her mom and I, it has been alarming to see our youngest following suit and enrolling in all of the extracurricular diseases. Our oldest stayed home for three years during lockdowns, exposed to nothing, so she never got sick. We thought we had finally created an überfrau like Nietsche predicted someone would. We didn’t know that sending her to school would ruin that delusion.
Now we do everything in our power to skip whatever virus our daughters get, like inhaling corticoids, drinking bitter juices and elderberry, snorting mushrooms, culturally misappropriating indigenous health dances, and any other new hack and trick we see on TikTok.
Alas, we are never successful.
Inevitably we go down, and we know the exact moment we will go down because, for some hare-brained reason, we always say something that will mark our demise. When my wife calls me out on why I eat the kids’ food or kiss them when they are sick, I bring my finger to my forehead and tell her, “it’s all in the mind.” The next day I will wake up sick. For her, after days of my two daughters and I being sick, she will say, “I am the last holdout,” and that would be enough to make her sick the following day.
It happened in that exact order when we caught a stomach bug, which some people call norovirus. A very fancy word indeed, which leads me to believe a publicist is involved in their branding platform. They probably have a fancy slogan: “Nothing to do this weekend? Catch a bug! It will keep you going… to the bathroom.”
It started with my youngest on Wednesday after putting her down for an afternoon nap and finding she got sick in the middle of her sleep. It was shocking because, so far, neither of them had ever thrown up. Then my oldest called us around ten pm Friday night. We turned on the light, and with an apologetic look, she softly told us, “I spilled.”
What a cute way of calling something definitively not cute.
I pulled her out of her crib, cleaned her up, and we layed on a bunch of blankets and pillows on the floor to try to sleep — with a bucket within arm’s reach. I had already started feeling the bug taking over me like a Motown rhythm, so the two of us sleeping together made sense.
She had to throw up every five minutes. I lay next to her, and every time she got up, I got up with her, I held her hair, I caressed her back, I told her she was going to be okay while fighting my own desire to follow suit. Once done, she would immediately pass out, and I would do the same next to her. This cycle played out the entire night, and every time she got up, her motor skills diminished, meaning she missed the bucket a few times or the exhaustion didn’t help her reach it.
Parenting originates from the Saxon root, “at least once in your life, you will sleep on vomit other than your own.” Can’t you even say you really love someone if you haven’t dealt, or are not willing to deal with, their bodily fluids?
Stomach bugs are truly the worst virus. It will make atheists reconsider their know-it-all stances on every single topic there is to know when they are learning the love of the language of their toilet bowl — spoiler alert: it is quality time and physical touch. Even Nietzsche knew it, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Except for diarrhea; das shit is the worst.”
You walk around with your stomach a mess, knowing every fart is an act of defiance against the gods, finally understanding what Pocahontas meant when she told John Smith, “can you paint with all the colors of the wind?” Because I could. I would only have brown in my palette, but I could still create a knockoff of Mark Rothko’s (Untitled)Red and title it Untitled (Brown) instead.
Being the optimist I am, I always look for the silver lining in everything I go through.
For example, I can appreciate the technological advancement of our society and the little computers we hold in our hands. Vomirrhea shouldn’t be an excuse to stop consuming the insurmountable amount of content crap available at our fingertips. That’s the whole point of one-click buy; to do it all from the toilet bowl. Thank you, Amazon!
I can also prioritize the ways I’d like to die:
- Having a hearty guffaw in the middle of a conversation.
- In the middle of sleep while dreaming about loved ones.
- Anything (and I mean ANYTHING! like drowning in a children’s pool, burned by a river of melted marshmallows, beheaded by a rusted and dull guillotine, bitten to death by a donkey) but a stomach bug!!
Honestly, if I die of a stomach bug, I probably deserve it. I’m sure it will give my enemies something to laugh about, and I love making people laugh — even assholes. But I would not choose it as a top-rated death, presented with the opportunity.
Then there is having to still function as a parent while feeling the essence of your soul fleeing through your butthole.
These are the kind of moments before having kids that I wondered and doubted whether or not I had it in me to show up for my kid, of whether or not I had what it took to be there, and luckily, my brain didn’t even think about it, I just showed up.
In this feverish state of sleep deprivation, I started to think of the times my mom was there for me when I struggled with asthma as a kid. I had no idea my mom had to work the next day or where she needed to be, I just needed someone to be there for me, and my mom was always there for me.
I marveled at how my daughters handled it all. That is one thing I have noticed in both of my daughters through the hard and exhausting cycle of viruses floating around, their resilience.
But it is a resilience that doesn’t come from anything other than they just don’t know. They wake up in the middle of the night, they have diarrhea, their bones hurt, they vomit, they have chills, they still get up and explore and do the things kids are supposed to do because they don’t know anything different. They don’t have the baggage we have, they are not trying to turn this event into something bigger than it is, they don’t know how to read WedMD and get alarmed by a false-positive cancer diagnosis. They are just “spilling” as they go about their day.
Momfluences will make you believe you can somehow avoid getting infected when an extremely contagious virus is floating around your house. I don’t buy it, and I don’t care to buy it.
They say, “wear masks around your kids.”
No mask will protect you.
Even if you are using an N-95, it might as well be a YKY-95 which stands for “You’re Kidding Yourself-95,” and even the plastic bag would display a tagline, “A G-String Can Cover More!”
The CDC also has guidelines. But they don’t stop at masks; they also suggest you Clorox everything in your house, including your kids. As a matter of fact, here is an excerpt from the CDC guidelines, all entirely true, probably, “fuck kids! Tiny badstads are walking Wuhan labs. But they are also why we still have jobs because they keep everyone sick, so keep having them.”
I guess the only way not to get infected is to wear a hazmat suit around the house while I sit to play with my kids, make them waffles, and juice large oranges.
Then I remember that being a weenie also has long-haul effects.
If my kids want comfort when they feel the worst, I’ll give it to them; if they want to hug me, I’ll hug them. If they want to kiss me in the mouth, I kiss them. If they want to spit on my face with their viral-y spit, I let them.
Nobody will stop me from being there for them, even if it kills me, even if I die of the norovirus.
Saturday morning finally came, and the night was behind us. Dawn’s light seeped through the blackout shades on my daughter’s window. It illuminated her face in a way that could only be captured by one of Matisse’s pastoral.
We softly woke up at the same time, we locked eyes, she told me she loved me, and we tenderly smiled at each other.
Then she threw up in my face.