You know those times when your kids say their stomach hurts and you say, “you’re fine, come on, get in the car?” How many times have you dragged an about to be sick kid out of the house because you have work, plane tickets, a manicure appointment (you know, with the really good manicurist).
I have always been an alarmist parent – there’s a Facebook group devoted to us – and when my then infant puked as we were leaving for a family trip to Florida, I called the pediatrician. “She’ll be fine,” she reassured me. “Probably just because you are rushing around.” Great, blame the mom. But I was a semi-experienced mom at this point; Sela is my second child. And Hallie, at 2 ½, was so looking forward to the warm weather, so I ignored my instinct and we went to the airport.
At JFK, Sela turned into a mini-version of Regan in The Exorcist, and of course I called the doctor again. She noted that most kids puke a couple of times and then they are fine. And she reminded me that it was a pretty short flight, we were going to a place with good medical care, and we should just get on the plane.
Now, I don’t know what travel god sees to it that parents with infants are always separated from their spouses. I was in a middle seat holding Sela and Rob was a couple of rows away with Hallie. The stewardesses made a half-hearted attempt to switch seats, but no one wanted my dreaded middle seat. And the guy on my left was downright rude when the stewardess asked him to move. He was perfectly comfortable in his window seat and didn’t want to move two rows back .
Sela had not thrown up during the boarding process, so things were looking up. Then the plane taxied down the runway. She started spewing a mixture of bile and chunks of food that I swear we had never fed her. How does a vegetarian infant regurgitate something resembling goulash? Come to think of it, she was still on baby cereal and pureed fruits that somehow coagulated in the digestion process.
As Sela started the projectile vomiting, the guy next to me leapt out of his seat, demanding another place (this was pre-9/11 and the underwear bomber, when things were a bit more loosey-goosey on airplanes). The stewardess ran over to me and I begged her to bring the plane back to the gate. But no, we had started our gruesome journey and had to see it through. The stewardess moved the people on either side of me so the rest of my family could join me and also get collateral splatter.
By the time we landed, I had vomit in my shoes. I had worn a sweater, with a tank top under it; both were sopping. Rob took his sweatshirt off, revealing his ratty T-shirt. When we got off the plane, the other passengers cut us a wide berth and when my mother greeted us, she turned up her nose in disgust.
Sela had ruined her clothes, her spare clothes and her pajamas. We were carrying a dripping plastic bag with all the filthy clothes, Sela was still wailing, and Hallie, who had been virtually ignored while we tended to her sick sister, was whining loudly.
Are we having fun yet?
The next morning, Hallie was up bright and early, eager to go to the pool, the beach, the playground, all the places we had promised her. Instead, we went to the pediatrician’s office. Surprise, surprise, Sela had an ear infection. And a temperature of 104.
Poor Sela was sick the whole 5 days. We tagged-teamed, one parent taking Hallie for her promised fun, one staying and trying to calm, amuse, clean the puke off Sela. She laid to rest that myth that vomiting usually doesn’t last more than a day.
We actually did bring her to the beach one day, and there is a lone photo of her from that trip, sleeping on a blanket. She was 10 months old, and I know she wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip the way Hallie did, but if she had been feeling better, we could have brought her into the warm pool, pushed her on the infant swings, let her crawl in the soft sand. Instead, she had a nap.
The doctor had warmed us that with ear infections and flying, there was a slim possibility of Sela rupturing her eardrum on the way home. But he figured she should be over it; we were flying several days after diagnosis. As soon as the plane took off, Sela began screaming at the top of her lungs and then was suddenly quiet. Yes, both her eardrums had ruptured.
Luckily, kids heal quickly and her hearing was not impacted. The guilt, however, lingers.