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What Does The Trick When Kids Are Sick?

Be grateful you have a washing machine.

03/07/2016 7:11 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:56 PM AEST
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People say that under-fours have no capacity to wield willful control yet. Those people cannot have met infants who are sick.

Both of my children have just been sick.

Let me clarify: my newborn daughter has just been sick, as in 'vomited', as in right now. And again just now.

My son has just been ill, as in vaguely recently, in the past few weeks. More on that shortly.

My daughter's version of sickness is astounding. It's not just the excessive frequency and volume with which she empties her oesophagus. The actual substance consistency is something that would impress the Roux Brothers: it is a white mixture -- impossibly both slime and soufflé -- that slides and flops its way down my shoulder, my back or -- my favourite -- my cleavage.

What to do about this? Not much, apparently, except be grateful for my washing machine. She's a 'happy puker' which means that her 'oesophagal sphincter' (excellent term) just needs to mature until it can keep food down. In short, this is not a health but a laundry issue.

Glad as I am that she's doing fine, she and I are like actors in an unglamorous Bollywood film: we undergo multiple costume changes per day. However, actual Bollywood actors do not, of course, have to launder said costumes themselves. Me? Add all this to my son's potty-training knicker-slip-ups and I'm riding a tidal wave of washing every day.

In fairness, I have got used to the laundry. I'm now even quite proud of the military efficiency with which I can do it. Sad, I know.

What it is that bothers me, then? It's not the actual breastfeeding of my daughter either, which must have increased since I'm sure what she chucks up is double what went down. No, feeding her is time we share and something I enjoy, particularly as I look down at her doing her best Popeye face mid-feed, with one eye wide-open and the other scrunched shut. Ug ug ug ug.

Besides, I'm hoping that the more milk I make, the more calories I burn, so hooray to that. Spew me thin, Daughter.

No, it's more the general aroma that is troubling. The faint, cheesy whiff has embedded itself into the fibres of our clothes and our lives, even when the telltale white goo or silvery smears are nowhere to be seen. Since we rent our current property and live abroad, we've filled it with cheap and/or second-hand rugs and furniture that I do not think would survive being washed. So the smelly spectre lingers on, forever haunting and mocking us from each room... when I put on clothes I think are clean; when I lie down to play with her on the rug; when we invite guests to relax on the sofa.

Yet even all this is something that we have had to grow used to; my son's recent illness was something we could not.

The day before Good Friday, my vaguely productive afternoon was cut short by a phone call from his daycare: he is coughing wildly; please come and take him home. Sure enough, my son's coughing fits sounded like a hurried conversation between a walrus and an old donkey. It was officially labelled croup, a type of laryngitis, by the visiting doctor.

We were not too worried about the croup. It is highly contagious but the illness itself sounds a lot worse -- literally -- than it is. Also, he had had this before, about 18 months prior. But back in those days, filled only with his jolly chuckling and baby talk, it was quite easy to bear. This time, having had eighteen months to cultivate his language and tantrum skills, he truly tested us.

So over the Easter holiday, family plans were shoved aside in favour of strict instructions:

1. Any further swelling of larynx = trip to hospital, and

2. Keep subject indoors and pacified to the extreme, as any upset or raising of voice = further swelling of larynx (see point 1).

Pacified to the extreme, eh.

"Good luck with that", the doctor forgot to utter as he left. No sooner had he gone than, right on cue, my son leapt into full terror mode. What a picture it must have been, him stomping his way around the cramped flat, demanding here and refusing there as we slithered behind him, obsequiously shushing and fluttering our fingers at him in attempt not to trigger his temper. Croup or no croup, he must have enjoyed it.

People say that under-fours have no capacity to wield willful control yet. Those people cannot have met infants who are sick, in any sense of the word.

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