Friday, January 31, 2014
Underneath the Fever
When my daughter started child care earlier this month, I knew that we would be up against a steady wave of daycare ailments and illnesses, resplendent and resilient in all their combined snotty, sniffly, snuffly glory.
While I am not entirely naive, my first-time-mummy-self optimistically believed there would be an adjustment period, a blissful and relatively sustained snot-free time in the sand box before the first illness set in.
Over my morning cups of sleepy coffee and cogitation, I always imagined my daughter's immune defenses to be nothing short of a solid wall, carefully constructed from nine months of exclusive breastfeeding bricks and iron-fortified cereal mortar.
Every day, I would wrap my hands around the coffee cup, warming my fingers and the cockles of my naivety with the happy notion that it would take weeks, months, maybe even years, for the nasty viruses of the childcare world to chip away at that impressive wall.
I was delusional. Downright - stark raving, looney-tune, kilo bag of mixed salted nuts, dancing by myself on the side of the road in my worst holey underwear, seeing Bette Midler and Hugh Grant buying crumpets in a Melbourne supermarket, eating chalk seasoned with toothpaste for dinner - DELUSIONAL.
Perhaps I drank too much coffee, or too few cups of the stuff, but I can openly confess that the great wall of baby immunity that I had built in my head was nothing but a shimmering mirage in a mental desert of exhausted parenting madness.
It took all of two short days in care for my previously non-snotty daughter to lick the communal toys, lick some stolen sippy cups, and presumably lick the other babies and the educators and the nursery floor as well, and pick up her first unidentified daycare malady.
The first sign of the unwelcome bug was when the baby's nose started to run away with itself - but much like with a nest of white ants, the framework was damaged beyond repair by the time the work showed itself on the surface.
The opening days of the illness parade were uneventful: snot, snot and more snot, with a bit of grumbling and a lot of forcefully refuted saline spraying, nasal suctioning and unavoidable nose wiping.
The fanfare kicked up a notch about the time we ran out of tissues, when my daughter's liquid leak took on a distinctive indistinct yellow-greenish hue (the one time you really don't want to be wearing the Australian sporting colours), and the bug also jumped ship and took up residence in my nose and throat.
Things became unpleasant. I was hot and sweaty and grumpy, and so was the baby. Our heads were abuzz with aches and thumps and the house was floating in an unpleasant haze of toxic little tissue parcels and lethargy. We couched, with Peppa Pig and Hootabelle and Elmo and all his friends filling the inevitable void.
Proving faithful old Murphy was still hard at work down at the law firm even while we were lazing about on our sick beds, my darling little liquid-leaker chose the height of our fuzzy head-cold woozies to become completely and hysterically terrified of all things sneezing, and all things nose blowing.
Every sneeze elicited an intense bout of screaming, accompanied by the angry kicking of little feet against the carpet. Every nose blown into a tissue, whether it was a petite little exhale of negligible proportions or a thunderously productive and powerful achoo, resulted in the baby turning red, scrunching up her face in the most unpleasant manner and squealing at the highest possible volume on her inbuilt speaker.
Just as the malady parade reached fever pitch, and the balloons started to drift off into the sky to make an environmentally unfriendly mess somewhere else, the whole icky parade switched direction.
Out of the snot and the fever and the aching legs, out of the tissue wasteland and the leaking bottles of baby paracetamol with adult-proof-child-safe caps, came a completely unexpected and virulent bout of mutant daycare bug gastro.
Without any warning whatsoever, I was plunged into an abyss of throwing up into a bucket while trying to sing nursery rhymes and change the batteries in a malfunctioning, off key musical toy lion covered in cracker crumbs and snot.
Worse than the head-breaking lion was the unavoidable and instantaneous realisation that throwing up is far higher on the baby noise terror scale than the mere trifling sounds of sneezing and nose blowing. For every dalliance with the bucket, my daughter would issue forth a blood-curdling scream that would send me back to the bucket, a circle so unpleasant it can't be painted with words.
With my husband interstate and my family very far away, I was left without back-up, looking hopefully at the crack of light coming from the back of the television, and pleading with the universe for a box of electrolyte lollipops and a wet face washer.
Clutching onto some ice cubes and the dying tendrils of my dignity, I slowly scrounged up the walls of abyss, changing nappies and wiping noses and preparing finger foods and running baths and singing bedtime songs and throwing up (quietly) and reading Where is the Green Sheep, wishing it was anywhere else in the universe but here.
Where once I would have curled up into a ball and focused on stillness, feeling atrociously sorry for myself, I jumped right into the ugly wave of sea sickness and sploshed around until there was nothing left in my stomach, and my daughter was fed, washed, giggled, crawled, storied and asleep.
It was horrible, and it was painful, and it was brilliantly colourful in the greyest of ways, but I managed to muddle through and come out the other side - and that, right there, is the underlying magic of parenting.
It's the ugliest and strongest kind of magic, the one hidden between the sweaty bed clothes, the one floundering around listlessly at the bottom of the toilet bowl. It's the type of magic that makes you all warm and fuzzy (and potentially feverish, depending on the intensity of the ailment) and sends your ovaries into a little spin and rinse cycle when you least expect it.
It's the magic that propels mothers to simultaneously fix mechanical lions and throw up in buckets, and makes fathers stay awake at night when they are interstate, and helps parents find the energy to become parents again and again and again.
It's the magic that gets you up at midnight and three in the morning and again at quarter to five, and it's the non-sparkly fairy dust that falls from the sky and keeps you going, through and beyond the eleventh napless day in a row.
It's the force that sees you change nappies that would be better attacked with a fire hose, and gives you the extra soul points to get you through another rendition of Old MacDonald Had a Farm, and the only reason that you agree to spend every happy hour dicing up finger food in the kitchen instead of hightailing it down to the bar for a cold mojito and share plate.
It's the reason people without children think about switching out Sundays down at the pub for Sundays down at the park, and the spare room for a nursery, and sleep-ins for just a few minutes of plain old sleep - it's the reason, even though those people don't actually know that the magic exists just yet.
David Frost once said: Love is staying up all night with a sick child - or healthy adult." Having just had my heart on my fluffy dressing gown sleeve and my sleep on hold for the better part of a very long and snotty fortnight, I couldn't agree more.
How do you get through the sick days at your house?
Where do you find the magic?