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11/26/2005

It's not Thanksgiving unless somebody's vomiting

After courteously sleeping through the night on Wednesday, making only the quietest rustle in his hotel crib as he shifted and sighed, Charlie woke crying Thanksgiving morning with a low-pitched cough rattling deep in his chest. His eyes were watery, his nose was runny, and there was that cough. It was the cough we had come to recognize, the cough we had come to dread, the cough that presaged the delivery of a great deal of foul-smelling vomit.

And vomit there was. Ten minutes into his morning nap, I heard him cry, and entered the back bedroom at Paul's aunt's house to find the mattress of his Pack and Play awash in it. That was the end of that nap. His clothes, his blankets, and my V-neck T-shirt went into the wash, and we rejoined the group, Charlie cheerful in his fresh outfit and I only slightly whiffy in Paul's denim shirt. I had missed breakfast entirely; there was no more food, so I ate some of Charlie's Cheerios and looked forward to dinner.

Not having had much of a morning nap, Charlie was on the verge of a meltdown come dinner, so everyone else sat down at the table while I took him to the bedroom to settle him into another nap. What with the coughing and the crying and his unshakeable conviction that I was actually trying to murder him, it took forty-five minutes of rocking, jiggling, and bouncing on the end of the bed before I was able to deposit him again in his Pack and Play (cleaned to the best of my ability given the situation, but still smelling downright revolting). When I came out, I had missed dinner entirely, but to my relief I saw a plate had been saved for me.

But ten minutes into this nap, I heard Charlie cry once again. Because I'm clairvoyant, I stopped by the laundry room to pick up our clothes before going to see to him. And sure enough, the Pack and Play had been slimed once again; Charlie's spare outfit and Paul's denim shirt were totalled. Together Paul and I cleaned Charlie up, stuffing him back into that morning's outfit. I took off Paul's shirt, trying not to let it touch me anywhere, and reassumed my T-shirt, now clean and only slightly damp.

Paul, who'd eaten, took over with Charlie. I returned to the table by way of the kitchen, where I gave my hands a thorough scrub. And yet, alone in the dining room, as I lifted an appetizing forkload of stuffing soaked in gravy toward my eager and quivering lips, I was assaulted by the ineradicable smell of vomit.

And that is how I ended up discreetly scraping most of my Thanksgiving dinner into the trash.

...

After his bath, after a bit of milk, he settled to sleep without issue only two hours past his bedtime. But only an hour later, he was up again, crying and coughing, vomiting a little, drinking a little, settling down eventually. This cycle repeated all night long. We've all spent nights in hotel rooms next to the baby who wouldn't stop crying. Thursday that baby was Charlie.

Between 1:30 and 3:30, we turned on the lights and played with him on the hotel bed. We knew he would be awake, and we decided it was better to have him awake and happy than awake and crying. Strangely, it was the best part of the day. I blew raspberries; he watched intently, then blew them right back. He rolled happily among the pillows clad only in a diaper. I nipped him gently along the ribcage, making monster-finding-snack noises, and he laughed a belly laugh that turned into still more coughing. But it wasn't crying, and it wasn't, at least in that moment, more vomiting.

Now you would think that after such a night, a baby would sleep late. Charlie doesn't. It's as if he has an internal alarm clock that wakes him reliably between 6:30 and 7:30 every morning of his life. He woke early, cranky, phlegmy, and malodorous. I woke — ha, as if I'd slept — with a headache like a spike through my eye.

"I think..." Paul said carefully as he balled up Charlie's vomity pajamas, "...we gotta go home," I finished. We nodded at each other grimly, then began stuffing damp onesies into luggage as fast as our leaden limbs would allow.

...

It was strange to be back at Paul's aunt's house, where I'd been so ill last year. It was strange to be back in Connecticut, recognizing landmarks, knowing where to turn to get to the shop that sells nursing bras, driving as fast as I dared past the run-down residential hotel where we'd spent six weeks in limbo. I felt uneasy the whole time, as if another unseen anvil was on its way down, hurtling towards our unsuspecting heads.

In lots of ways the entire enterprise was a letdown. Cutting our trip short meant missing an eagerly anticipated visit with a friend who'd set up a tiny birthday party for Charlie, complete with chocolate cake and, as a gift, a festive array of helium balloons, his all-time favorite toy.

It also meant missing a chance to visit the hospital where Charlie was born. We didn't get to say hello to the doctors and nurses who cared for him late last year. We didn't even try; knowingly exposing NICU personnel to a respiratory infection seemed like a poor way to thank them for their efforts. It was a great disappointment. I'd wanted to show them the happy, thriving family they'd helped create.

That doesn't sound so thankful, does it?

...

But I am thankful. Thankful, of course, for Charlie and Paul, but I feel that every day, and tell them so with a frequency and fervency that border on mania. Thankful for a dear friend, but I hope I show her that by being an appreciative and admiring audience no matter what comedy or drama comes next. And thankful for Paul's family.

Last year on the day after Thanksgiving, one of Paul's cousins came to retrieve me in the parking lot of Costco where I'd finally ended up, too sick and weepy to drive any farther after three hours of being lost. (Yes, I'd asked directions, three separate times, getting each time a different wrong answer. Yes, I had a cell phone, but in the wilds of Connecticut it had no service.)

As I lay in the back bedroom trying to breathe deeply through terrible pain after pain, one cousin, a physical therapist, rubbed my temples while another, trained in massage, rubbed my feet. A third brought tea and broth. No one was hurt when I said I needed to be alone to retch in solitude.

After Charlie was born, Paul's aunt opened her house to us with unstinting generosity, inviting us over frequently for dinner, offering us full run of the laundry room, urging us to stay with her and politely cloaking her relief when we declined.

This year our circumstances were different, but the kindness they showed us was not. They made much of Charlie, showing an easy approval I sorely needed. They gracefully accommodated the upheaval any small child brings into a house, especially one as thoroughly encrusted with knickknacks as this one (the house, not the baby, who was encrusted with other matter). They soothed my jangled nerves while I contended with a vomiting, diarrheal baby in someone else's home.

And when I admitted that I'd left Charlie's nebulizer and albuterol at home — he'd been fine when we left, and I'm new at this, okay? — three separate family members offered Charlie a hit off their inhalers. Not only does warmth run in this branch of Paul's family, but apparently so does asthma.

We got out of town Friday morning without difficulty. Charlie did us the unprecedented kindness of sleeping for most of the morning and then again through much of the afternoon, objecting loudly only during the last and longest hour of the drive. When we set him free to play, he was off like a shot, crawling and pulling up and chortling aloud as he reintroduced himself to the toys he'd left behind.

I knew, though, that for all his good cheer he'd wake up in the night, as is his wont when he's been coughing and vomiting. I put clean sheets on our bed, showered, and tucked myself in with the grim knowledge that the sleep I needed so badly would be broken at least once by crying.

Charlie slept all night, and woke at seven singing.

Yes, indeed, I'm thankful.

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