Tag Archives: parenting

The Incredible Human Sick Bowl

E has just finished his course of antibiotics for a chest infection, and I breathe a sigh of relief: another contagion banished from the house. Even B is well, having shaken off his viral cough in a matter of days – although not before he passed it generously on to me. And given that I am old, worn out and haven’t had more than two consecutive decent night’s sleep for four and a half years, I am struggling after two weeks  to feel anything other than lousy. I have a sneaking suspicion that my immune system packed away its sword, threw a few essentials into a holdall and got the hell out of me a few months ago, so fed up was it of the constant battle with snot, coughs and unspecified viruses. So my current cough has claimed squatters rights and shows no signs of moving on. At least it is just me that is ill now, I muse, in a most uncharacteristic show of maternal martyrdom. Blimey, I must be ill.

But I should not have worried, for by ten ‘o’ clock that evening, mere hours after the last spoonful of that yellow antibiotic elixir passed through E’s lips, he awoke with a temperature of 40 degrees. This is concerning. 39 degrees is tolerable. Even 39.6. But reaching the hallowed ground of 40 shifts whatever he has into more worrying territory. I peer into the gaping abyss that is my medical knowledge. Just a fleeting temperature or suspected meningitis? The start of a cold or an infection so aggressive we may need light sabres to fight it off? That’s the thing with kids and illness: there seems to be no way of telling. From this point, it could go two ways: vanquished by a dose of Calpol or the start of a life-threatening  illness. Let’s flip the coin and find out.

I sit next to him on the bed, stroking his hair, as M runs to fetch some Calpol.

“I feel sick,” he says, which translates as: “There is a tsunami of vomit rushing up my gullet as we speak.”

With an air of resignation, knowing that the sick bowl is under the bed and out of reach, I cup my hands together and hold them under his chin. Sure enough, a huge stream of stomach contents lands warm and foul-smelling in my hands. Ah. Welcome to my life. The Incredible Human Sick Bowl. There is so much of it that it is threatening to dribble over the top of my fingers, and whilst uttering meaningless platitudes such as ‘you’ll feel better now’ (yeah, because I always feel smashing right after I have puked) I concentrate on keeping the sick off the carpet. E is distraught so I throw a few more impotent words in his direction whilst I glare at the sick in my outstretched hands, willing it not to spill. E’s arms starts to flail about wildly and I glance up, wondering for a fleeting moment if he is having some kind of fit. But no, he is gesticulating with abject horror at the smallest of sick splashes that have landed on his pyjamas, the full extent of the collateral damage he sustained when the vomit struck. Well, don’t mind me, with my hands full of your lumpy stomach contents, smears of sick on my arms and tracks of yellow vomit slowly making their way down the backs of my hands. This is obviously nothing compared to that miniscule fleck of puke you seem to be screaming at. M arrives with wipes and medicine, and quickly daubs E clean, before gently wiping his mouth and offering water. And I say again, don’t mind me, frozen to the edge of the bed, trying to both simultaneously look at the sick in my hands to ensure I am holding steady, whilst trying to move my nose away from the smell. I will just sit here for a while longer. I send up a quick prayer to the God of Coughs to have mercy, because one tickly throat incident now and we may all end up wearing what E had for tea  four hours ago.

E’s temperature has dropped a smidge, but I am still concerned. His torso is outrageously hot, his face red.  “I think one of us should sleep with him tonight, ” I suggest to M. “I’ll go and get you a duvet,” he replies. That’ll be me, then.

I switch the fan on in E’s bedroom, a remnant from the summer. Although I may have just dreamed we saw the sun.  I lay down on a makeshift mattress on the floor next to E’s bed. I am immediately freezing. Now, I am no expert on aerodynamics, but there was something bloody curious going on. I lay with my back to the fan, shivering under the duvet, facing the bed. And yet, somehow, I was getting a sodding  great breeze in my face. A cold one, at that. I lay there, listening to E breathing as he drifted off to sleep, no doubt having nightmares about his soiled pyamas, and cringing every time the fan swung round to chill me that bit further. I push the thought from my mind that if he is sick again, there is every chance he will lean over the side of the bed and puke on my face. Well, this is fun.

I cough for a bit into my pillow, desperately trying not to wake E, who keeps letting out quiet moans which have me springing into a sitting position and feeling his forehead. Every time I sit up, the cold air inveigles its icy fingers under the duvet and I feel just that little bit more crap. I need a tissue as my nose is now running profusely, but I’ll be damned if I am getting up in these sub-zero temperatures. I deploy my son’s nose-wiping tactic and use the back of my hand. Sometimes, it’s useful to have been through two childbirth experiences: I have no more dignity to lose.  I lie back down, trying to work out which part of my body has now broken cover and is outside of the duvet territory getting frost bite. Maybe I should get into bed with E and let his radiant heat warm me up a bit. He moans again, and I sit up to check on him. Shit, is it really only midnight?

I get a faint whiff of sick as I move around, trying to find a comfortable position. I sniff the pillow, my hands, my arms, the front of my pyjamas. ‘So what did you do last night?’ ‘Well, after I caught a bucket load of my son’s warm sick in my bare hands, I held onto that for a while for a laugh, then went to bed in a wind sock, spread my own mucus across the back of my hand and then spent ten minutes sniffing round like a crazed bloodhound trying to track down the unmistakable aroma of vomit.’

I peek at the clock. One in the morning. I have yet to sleep, unlike my ill son, who is sleeping the sleep of the righteously-empty stomached. I have had many shit ideas in my time, but sleeping on the floor is right up there.  I start to consider what excuse I might use to swap places with M. I cough hard, to see if I can wake E up, thus meaning that my presence in his room is more of a hindrance than a help, and giving me good grounds to quit. He doesn’t flinch.

Another hour passes. I can’t breathe through my nose due to my sinuses being packed full of Lego, meaning I am now breathing through my mouth. I am afraid my teeth might get so cold they may snap off. At 2am I am freezing, miserable and knackered I can’t take any more. I crawl from E’s room a broken woman, smelling faintly of vomit.  Parenting. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.


The company of other mums is fantastic, a real support network – a chance to realise that there are a whole host of other unfortunate people in the same leaky, uncomfortable, precarious and unseaworthy boat as you. (This boat, by the way, is the good ship Parenting. I get a little sea sick on it and I’ve lost the goddamn oars).

And yet. And yet. Get a group of mums (a fatigue of mothers?) together and there can occur something a little less palatable, a little more divisive. I call it oneupmumship. Mums who just can’t help but boast about their offspring. Of course, every mum and dad wishes that the embodiment of their combined genes will be a perfect specimen of a human being, a wish that lasts usually about a fortnight at which point you can’t help but momentarily hate your baby for not having the skill to sleep through the night. And every day you realise that your child moves a little further away from perfection, slowly but surely. So all that is left is oneupmanship: your child may not be perfect, but as long he is better than someone else’s child, some comfort can be had.

Waiting to see the health visitor recently, I eaves-dropped on a conversation between two mums:

“My son walked at nine months, he was a really early walker.”

“Really? Wow. Mine was crawling at five months.”

“Oh, mine didn’t bother to crawl. He just walked at nine months. And a week later, literally, he ran. Proper running. Literally.”

At which point a silence fell in the waiting room. The woman who was suddenly contemplating that her baby must practically be a retard for not running a marathon by ten months could not muster up a reply to top that. But of course,  there was an appropriate response:

Fuck. Right. Off.


B is fourteen weeks old and our thoughts turn to a routine. Or a new routine, to be precise. He has not put this on the agenda – mainly because his agenda consists solely of three points (drink milk, sleep and shit) but also because he can’t hold a flip chart pen due to his lack of mastery of his opposable thumbs. It is us, the foolish parents, who want a new routine: a new place for B to sleep and a change of night feeds. The latter is mainly due, it has to be said, because we have consulted The Books. Those paperback bibles of lies that make you think that you, too, can have a semblance of a life and have kids. They come in a variety of guises, from fascist parental dictatorships to warm and cuddly and childcentric, but they all have one thing in common. They all make it all sound so fucking easy. Dotted with photographs of delightful looking children representing all major ethnic groups, gurning gleefully at their coiffed and non-sweaty parents, those books all tell us that we have got it wrong. Until the point at which I opened those evil tomes, I was quite pleased that B slept from 7pm until 3am before he woke up hungry – but apparently, that is not right. He should have a 11pm feed then sleep right through until 7am. Foolish me. What was I thinking, getting a full five hours sleep before having to feed him? Now, I should know bloody better. I already have one child that proved that ‘sleeping through’ is about as rare as a tantrum-free two year old and that routines are like a lottery win: we all dream of it, but it always happens to some other lucky buggar.

Perhaps it is the tiredness, or the bewitching allure of a full night’s sleep, but before we know it we are changing B’s routine and waking him to feed at 11pm. The first two nights goes swimmingly. Ah, we think, what a breeze it is, this routine malarkey. B takes his 11pm feed then sleeps until nearly 6am, which round these parts counts as a lie in. It is about the point at which we start congratulating ourselves on our brilliant parenting that it all goes terribly wrong. Take last night, for example. B wakes at 10pm, screaming for milk. We dutifully oblige, just to shut him up. He then wakes at 2am and is only consoled by more milk. I have seemingly just got back to bed when he wakes again. It is 4am, according to the clock, although by this juncture I am so fucking tired I am not sure I could read my own name printed in 72 point type held four inches from my face.

More glugging of milk ensues, before I return B to the cot where he moans, kicks his legs and generally is a miserable sod. A three-feed-a-night scenario is not quite what we had in mind when we changed his routine, it has to be said. Nowhere in those bloody books did it mention that your baby might end up consuming his own not inconsiderable body weight in milk and suddenly develop an aversion to being put in his cot. I wouldn’t mind, but he’s only been in his cot for a week, since we moved him out of our room (for which I say a mighty hurrah). I know his brain is small and under developed, but he surely can’t be bored of his new surroundings already? Putting him in his cot for a sleep is becoming a high tension, knife-edge drama, particularly at 6.30pm, which I usually refer to as wine ‘o’ clock. Will he stretch out his arms and fall straight to sleep or suddenly enter scream mode? I usually hold my breath as I lower him in, gently shushing at the same time and perhaps throwing in a gentle hum. (It is not uncommon to be gasping for breath like a netted halibut after a few minutes of this, as I am using up far more oxygen than I am taking in, just in case any sharp intake of breath might just be the trigger to set him off). I will him to sleep whilst I keep my hand on his head. I am not sure why. Why the sensation of wearing a hat would encourage sleep I don’t know. His eyelids are closing at an interminably slow rate. Closer… closer… then suddenly his whole body jerks and he is wide awake again. Fuck.

So I start the whole bloody process over again. It is getting tricky to shush effectively through gritted teeth, but I do my best. His eyelids start to droop again, slowly.. . slowly… then B farts and jolts himself out of his near-slumber. Fuckity fuck. I try not to look at the clock or think about the glass of wine that awaits me downstairs as his low-level whinging suddenly ramps up into full-scale screaming. This boy does an impressive nought to screamy in under six seconds – he’s the frigging Ferrari of the weeping world. It’s no good, I am going to have to pick him up. Which is tantamount to admitting defeat in my book, and no one likes to be bested by a three and a half month old.

And so there I am, baby in arms, swaying back and forth to try and get him back to sleep. I do this for so long I am not sure if the creaking sound that I can hear is the floorboard beneath my feet or my hips. I may have child-bearing hips from a size perspective, but they are not designed to spend hours at a time moving in a circular motion. One morning I shall awake to find both hip joints have crumbled to dust and I shall have to mount my torso on a lazy susan. Finally, he seems to have fallen asleep, so in increments of five millimetres, I lower him into the cot, ignoring how much this makes my back hurt. It will all be worth it if I can get the little sod to sleep. At the moment his back touches the mattress, his eyes spring open and he immediately starts to cry. I take a deep breath and try not to join him in the wailing. What the fuck is wrong with him? I am clenching my teeth so hard that I fleetingly wonder if it is possible to push your teeth up through your gums and into your sinuses. I guess I am about to find out. After another round of shushing, lullabies, head stroking, stomach patting and poking him in the eye (okay, I didn’t do that last one. But I did think about it) I am out of ideas and patience. I decide to leave for a minute and then come back once I have prised my own fingernails out the palm of my hands. I go downstairs and switch the monitor on. Less than three minutes later, all I can hear is the slow, deep breathing of a baby fast asleep. Ah. It seems that it was me all along that was stopping him from sleeping.

I ponder this for a while as I take a dainty sip of wine (or inhale the entire glass in three mouthfuls, I can’t quite remember). It suddenly seems obvious. After all, if someone was leaning over me whilst I was trying to sleep and they insisted on rubbing my head, patting my stomach and humming some out-of-tune melody, I would scream as well. So. It seems less is more. Less fannying around and more time for wine. Now that’s my kind of parenting.