By Jen Rouse
The Short Years
It was after midnight. The tent was dark, the girls all peacefully slumbering, when I heard the crying. The hard, choking kind of crying that comes from a truly distressed child. I raised my head off my pillow, but it took only a second for me to realize it wasn’t my kid. Rebekah’s voice, soothing her son, followed in a moment.
Remember how I said it was a not-especially-large group camping site? Well, I wasn’t kidding about that. We had six families in the campsite, and our tents were only inches apart from each other. I could hear everything, plain as day, as Rebekah coaxed her son into clean clothes and got him quieted down. Oh, the poor kid, I thought. Throwing up in the tent? That’s the worst! And then, Gosh, she’s being such a good, compassionate mother, I thought. I don’t think I’d be nearly so sweet to my kids if they were the ones puking in the middle of the night.
Of course, of course, you can see where this is going, right?
I think I’d just drifted off to sleep again when suddenly I was sitting bolt upright in my sleeping bag, barely certain of what had awakened me. What was that? I whispered loudly in the kids’ general direction. What was that? And then I heard it again. Then unmistakable sound of a small child upchucking an entire evening’s worth of s’mores.
I scrabbled around in the darkness. Where was the flashlight? Where was the stinking flashlight? I ended up grabbing my cell phone and holding it up in my hand, the faint glow from the screen illuminating Beth’s teary face and the puddle of yuck on the floor. I didn’t quite know what to do. I sat there, staring, as Beth wiped her mouth with her sleeve and said, “I threw up, Mom.” And then we both watched as her still-sleeping sister stirred in her sleep. We gasped. “Oh, even worse! Now Lucy’s rolled in it,” she said.
I sprang into action, scooting the sleeping kids out of the way, pushing Beth’s hair out of her face and ordering her to sit still. I dashed for the door of the tent, somehow found the flashlight on the way, and started pulling still-damp towels off the clothesline I’d rigged up in the trees.
Back in the tent, where I wiped and swiped and cleaned as best as I could. The nasty pillows and blanket and one poor little stuffed kitty-cat I just threw out the tent door into the bushes. I’d deal with it in the morning. I tucked Beth back in, giving her my pillow since hers was be-fouled. I found a bucket we’d used earlier in the day for making sand castles at the beach and tucked it next to her head, instructing her to use it if she had to puke again.
Which, unfortunately, she did. And did. And did.
And it wasn’t long before Lucy joined in.
More towels, more buckets, more blankets tossed out into the darkness. Inbetween times I fell down onto my sleeping bag and dozed. Sometimes I’d start awake, hearing the sound of someone puking, and shine my flashlight at the girls, only to see them both lying still and quiet, and I’d realize the noise was actually coming from Rebekah’s tent. I lost count of how many times this went on.
All mothers have nights like this–nights where you feel so bad for your poor sick kiddo and yet you just keep praying for them to STOP being SICK already so you can sleep. For a minute, just a minute of sleep. It’s all you need. And then you feel guilty for your selfishness and stroke their poor little sick forehead tenderly, and then you fall asleep again because you’re just so doggone tired. And going through this with two kids simultaneously was a new experience for me. Plus, at least usually when you have a sick kid, it’s at home. Where you have the benefit of linen closets stocked with clean towels and blankets, of washing machines (or at least laundry hampers) to throw the dirty clothes in. Of sinks where you can get your kiddo a glass of water and wash your hands after cleaning up the puke. Where you don’t have to breathe in the smell of it all night long. Enduring a night of vomit in a tent took the whole experience to an entirely new level.
I have to say, hearing Rebekah’s son through the thin tent walls was, in a strange way, comforting. Bad, in that no one wants to listen to someone else being sick, and no one wishes that on someone else, but good in that at least I knew I wasn’t the only one awake all night dealing with it. Sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not the only one suffering. And, bad in that I was the one who’d cooked dinner that night, and so when I wasn’t cleaning up vomit or fitfully sleeping I was lying awake worrying that the sudden sickness meant I’d poisoned everyone, but that’s another story (we’re still pretty uncertain what caused it). In the morning when Rebekah and I straggled out of our tents, both saggy-eyed and droopy, we shared a sad little smile across the campsite. Listening to each others’ children puke all night: it’s a bonding experience.
And then I got everything packed up while the girls lay around all pale and sickly. (Except for Evie, who woke up as chipper and rested as ever, having slept through the entire thing). I shoved the disgusting blankets and pillows and sleeping bags into the plastic trash bags I’d brought and put them in the cargo container on top of the car, so we wouldn’t have to smell them all the way home. The kids puked as I buckled them into the car. They puked as I pulled out onto the highway. And then…they slept all the way home. And they haven’t puked since, thank God.
And that is the story of the camping trip I will never forget. And that I pray I will never, ever repeat.