For this story and any others on my blog, my three children are referred to as “Little Miss” (kindergarten), “Middle Man” (about 3), and “Mr. Smiles” (about 2).
It was a rough afternoon. My husband texted to let me know that he was working all night (as in, all evening and all night through to the wee hours of the morning). I knew I was in for a long night with just the kids and me.
The boys got up early from their nap and began to scream at each other over every imaginable injustice (he took my toy, he pushed me, he roared at me like a dinosaur, he tried to bite me, etc.).
After we picked up Little Miss from school, the chasing and screaming began afresh. This time it was punctuated by banging spoons on the coffee table and metal banister.
I tend to lose my calm demeanor in conjunction with the noise level. The louder it gets in the house, the less likely that I’m able to respond kindly and firmly.
What could have been, “Honey, please give me the spoon. We don’t use it to bang,” morphed rapidly into: “MIDDLE MAN! GIVE ME THAT SPOON RIGHT NOW! IT IS WAY TOO LOUD IN HERE! MOMMY CANNOT THINK!!!”
The rest of the evening continued in similar fashion. I made dinner and worked with my daughter on her letters and straightened the toys. When anyone misbehaved or got too loud, I would stop what I was doing to yell or put someone in timeout or pull one screaming child off another.
It was not a good night for any of us.
In an attempt to end the chaos, I put the boys to bed early. As I kissed them each good night, I felt guilt over the evening bubbling to the surface. I heard myself say, “I’m sorry Mommy was in a bad mood tonight. I’ll do better tomorrow, okay?”
As I shut the door, all my outbursts and frustrated yelling replayed in my head. Shame and disappointment etched themselves on my soul, a scarlet letter for my poor parenting.
I wished I had another chance.
A chance to show my kids what patience looks like. A chance to breathe deeply and count to five before intervening. A chance to remember that my kids are kids. They are not grown up or perfect. They don’t always understand the consequences of their actions. I’d had an opportunity to love and teach them, and I had blown it.
I was sitting at the table still wallowing in these muddy thoughts just minutes later when it came.
Mr. Smiles started crying. It was a distressed cry, not the type to ignore. I sighed and headed down the hall, praying for energy and strength to deal with whatever I would find. I thought perhaps Middle Man had crawled into his crib and was pestering him. Or maybe he’d gotten his foot stuck between the wooden slats.
No, not this time.
This time it was vomit.
I could smell it the second I opened the door. Mr. Smiles stood in his crib covered in vomit and gagging on the next wave.
Normally, this is the moment when I yell for my husband to come help me. I clean up the kids while he cleans up the sheets. It works for us.
But he wasn’t there.
My mind blurred momentarily. Okay, God. It’s You and me. I need Your strength. Help me.
I picked up Mr. Smiles and carried him to the bathtub. I stripped him down and turned on the faucet. He looked up at me with wide open hazel eyes as I poured warm water down his shaking body. “It’s going to be okay, honey,” I said.
When I thought most of the chunks had drained, I plugged up the tub for a shallow bath.
“Little Miss!” I called. “I need your help. Can you help Mommy?”
“Yes!” she said happily as she appeared at the door.
“I need to clean up Mr. Smiles’ bed. Can you keep an eye on him while I do that, please?”
“Yep!” She smiled at me proudly. Then she walked in past me and began to talk in soothing tones to her little brother.
I walked the two feet from the bathroom to the kids’ room and inspected the crib. By God’s grace, nothing had reached the floor. It was all contained on the mattress and top of the crib. Middle Man stood close to me, eyes bright with excitement.
“Middle Man, can you lay back down?” I asked. “Go lay down, honey, while Mommy cleans this up.” Instead, he left the room. I decided that was okay.
I pulled off the dirty bedding and cleaned the mattress. It needed to dry before I could remake the bed, so I headed back to the bathroom. Little Miss was sitting calmly on the bathroom stool, explaining the situation to Middle Man.
“Mr. Smiles throwed up. But you and me are not sick,” she told him. “We are never getting sick,” she said seriously. I smiled at her sweet innocence.
Mr. Smiles was sitting motionless in the tub with an uncertain look on his face. I saw new chunks above his lip and realized he’d vomited more out of his nose. My poor kid, I thought fervently. I sat on the toilet and bent over to wash him.
Middle Man ran out and returned a minute later with a book in his small hands. “You ree boo?” he asked. He offered it to me with one hand while he sucked on his other thumb.
It would have been easy to brush him off. To tell him “another time” or “not tonight,” but I didn’t. I wasn’t frustrated anymore. Instead, my heart was overflowing with love for my kids. And this was my chance, my do-over. Why not? I thought.
So, after I washed Mr. Smiles and dried my hands, we opened the pages of George and Martha by James Marshall. In our post-vomit circle next to the bathtub, we giggled over split pea soup and hot air balloons. I watched smiles form on three little faces and felt the corners of my own mouth pull up in joy and satisfaction.
Later that evening, after I had sung the goodnight song and prayed with my little ones and tucked them into bed, I thanked God for the chance He had given me. Blissful and burning joy warmed my heart. I knew that in this second chance to love and teach my children, I had not failed. Thanks to God’s strength and energy, I had succeeded. I smiled to myself and did something I never thought I would have reason to do.
I thanked God for the vomit.