A child has been sick. My husband, the lighter sleeper of us, is first to the scene. By the time I react to the kerfuffle, the child is half stripped while daddy stands, whimpering, at the pile of chunks on the sheet. It is like those cairns that you see piled on top of arduous hills. My husband has thrown a bit of loo roll on top in an attempt to begin the clear-up, but there is no disguising it – this is a job for mummy hands.
There is no greater division of labour than the puking child. While my husband gets to cuddle the cutely weak and sleepy babalinks, I return to the scene of the crime. Bam, full lights on. In addition to the primary deposit on the sheet, the waterproof mattress cover (yesss! I bothered to put it on last time!), the duvet and cover, the pillow and pillow case, two muslins and Bear need to be cautiously taken to the washing zone. Experience has taught me not to whip off everything in a fury of grossed-out efficiency – this will only lead to spattering and/or a chunk in the slipper (not immediately discovered…) that caused me to throw my last pair prematurely away.
Downstairs, the oven clock says 2.23am. It is time for the best part – sluicing off the chunks with the hottest water on earth. I don’t care that pieces of my hands are being scalded away down the plughole, I need to get this stuff in the machine. There is a certain stoical glamour to this kind of sacrifice, I reflect, as I knead away at the soiled fabric. First load in, I turn back to discover it is not over yet. Who invented butler’s sinks, for crying out loud?! There is a nest of chunks in every corner of the damn thing. As I root them out, I think grim thoughts about my husband, by now probably gently snoozing with our child nestled adorably in his arms. My only consolation is that with each breath he is inhaling the sick bug while germs seep into his pores from our poor infant’s soft skin.
I remember, belatedly, the pack of disposable gloves I bought in some fit of hygienic aspiration, and pull them on. I finish my gruesome task and wash my hands twice – and that’s before I even take off the gloves. Upstairs, I wearily make up the bed. After the initial concern, my mind is now cycling through the implications – can I get away with sending him to nursery so I can bank a “sick day” for a Real Emergency? Obviously this is mean and morally suspect, but on the other hand, how did he get the stupid bug except from some other mother doing exactly the same thing as I’m contemplating? But the dear little thing needs his mummy when he’s feeling all wiped out and poorly, surely?
I wash my hands again for good measure and then peel a sticky junior from his father. He’s bound to be sick again. If only someone would invent some kind of towelling nosebag. Not for the first time, I reflect that motherhood really is the mother of invention. Travel sick? Simply don one of these for your journey! First trimester? Pop one in your handbag! As long as you have your mother along to scoop out the chunks.