It strikes. I knew it was out there and they were instructed to be extra vigilant with the old hand washing. Not allowed to eat a morsel without scrubbing first. It is not funny when a vomiting bug hits a house of seven. So when marque 4 saunters out of school, guitar in hand, and announces that someone threw up all over the shared desk I let out a little yelp. Or perhaps a loud shreik.
‘Did you wash your hands before you ate your lunch?’ I ask, hopefully.
‘Yes, and the vomit splashed everywhere, it even landed on someone’s school bag’ he says chortling away.
‘But you washed your hands?’
‘Yes. I don’t think it’s a vomiting bug. It looked like porridge. I think he just didn’t digest his porridge properly’, he says reassuringly. So I know from then on that it is lurking. It is lurking waiting to pounce.
3.30am Saturday morning. Wine coursing through the veins after an evening of the Late Late, a fire and a curry. I love Friday night more than any other. It’s intoxicating just thinking about not having to find uniform bits, make lunches, cajole them into finishing homework, sign notebooks. I’m on a high every Friday before a drop of wine enters into it. I love Friday and I love the weekends, more so every year. So when at 3.30 marque 5 comes running into us calling ‘come quick, he’s choking, he’s choking’ a little part of my maternal instinct is reluctant to kick in. I go in to view the extent of it, and like all middle of the night projectile surprises it’s gruesome and my first thought is not ‘you poor little mite’ as it should be. It is ‘well that’s it. The weekend is ruined. We’ll all go down now’. I peel the PJs off him, strip the bed, clean him up, get a bowl and set about the washing downstairs. Of course it’s not as simple as bunging it all in the machine. All the lumps need to be washed free first. So I’m up to my neck in the sink, with poorly digested Friday treat Domino’s pizza chunks, moaning to myself about the loss of the promise of the relaxing weekend. I must be talking out loud because suddenly from the corner of the kitchen the pale little waif pipes up.
‘We all were Mum’.
‘All were what?’
‘We all were SO looking FORWARD to the week-end’.
Oh dear. That’s when it kicks in, the old instinct. Full throttle. The poor little fella. And he gets it bad. Every half hour for 12 hours solid the bile chokes out of him. We offer teaspoons of dioralyte and flattened 7up and watch for the signs in everyone else.
It’s a sneaky one and it takes its time. Waits until you are feeling a little bit smug. That your bleaching and scrubbing must be supreme because no-one else is getting it. Ha. Strike two. Three and a half days later. Makes sense. He was sharing a room with marque 4. Strike three. One and a half days later. This is poor little marque 5.
‘Sorry Mum’ marque 4 chimes staring at marque 5.
‘Sorry for what?’
‘Sorry for brining the vomiting bug home, look at him, he’s so sick’ he says.
‘It’s not your fault, anyone could’ve caught it’ I say a tad guiltily. Somewhere in my message about vigilant hand washing a little blame game is being played. ‘Especially if someone throws up at their table’ I add and he laughs.
It is sneaky and misleading, giving false hope and laughing at us all. Particularly now. It laughs hard and loud. Because we’re eight days into it and wise mother that I am I’ve booked last minute to get us out of the big smoke for three nights of the mid-term break. From tomorrow. I’m sure we’ve beaten it. We’re running out of bleach after all. I’m packing the bags. Strike four. Wake up and smell the coffee. There’s still three to go. Cancel. But somehow I’m crossing my fingers. Coming out with ludicrous wishful thinking statements like ‘maybe it’s only the younger kids that will get it. Maybe it’s just a young kids’ bug’. I’m eight days tending to the sick and cleaning up. No sign. Neither for himself nor for marque one. Maybe once you’re over a certain body weight it just can’t get a hold, the wise mother think-eth. It’s a discerning clever bug and selects the under twelves only.
There’s a vote. We all agree. We must go. We head off with just in case sick bowls and disinfectant wipes planted about the car, risk takers that we are.
It’s bank holiday Monday and we are knee deep in storm strewn seaweed on our favourite beach. We walk the length and breath of it. Stop to marvel at the colours, the giant bird’s footprints in the sand, the peculiar witches’ hat pattern cast at our feet.
It is a hand holding, hoods up excursion blowing away the cobwebs of the first term. Marque 1 wonders out loud if he’ll have to go to the Gaeltacht next summer. He does not want to go. We preach mindfulness at him, tell him to just be here in the moment, noticing and breathing in all that surrounds him. He is not to be fast forwarding to next summer. Not here. Not now. Especially when the notion of the Gaeltacht hasn’t even occurred to his parents yet.
Strike 5. Twelve days in. Marque 1 succumbs on a glorious holiday Tuesday. But it has lost it’s power over us. We don’t care any more. We defied it. We’ve had a just what the doctor ordered couple of days. It will get the parents yet and we’re here waiting, finger beckoning it. Come on you bastard. We’re ready for you.