Every time my daughter gets sick, I unlock a new parenting achievement.
This last bout of flu I unlocked the ability to catch all of her regurgitated stomach contents in my cupped hands, saving both the favored “Micka-mouse” jammies and the new duvet cover. Did you know a toddler’s stomach can hold 6 to 8 beakers of fluid? I do, having had ample time to Google it while nap-trapped beneath her for the next 48 hours. I majored in feelings, so I’m not sure how much liquid even one beaker can hold, but 6-8 is more than I could catch pre-motherhood.
The virus before that, the one the on-call nurse said, with enviable nonchalance, does sometimes cause fevers up to 103.9 degrees, I unlocked the ability to vomit in complete silence. Besides having a notoriously weak stomach that reacts to any strong emotion by violently emptying its contents, I also shared this bug with my daughter. As a result, I threw up every 18 seconds. Ms. Rachel ran interference while I crouched behind the coffee table and perfected the art of heaving in graceful silence into a pink plastic teacup, saving Daisy from the horror of listening to her mother gag, but still somehow leaving her one cup short of a set.
Last year, when she got Covid, I unlocked several achievements in one night. You’d have to ask the intake woman at the emergency room to confirm, but I’m pretty sure the sheer force of my panic as I thrust my gasping baby at her and screamed, “IS SHE OKAY” over and over stopped time. Unfortunately, this ability coincided with the freezing of all parts of my brain responsible for knowing relevant facts about my own child, so while my husband told them her name and birthdate in a measured, adult, inside voice, I marveled at the fact that the laws of time were no longer applicable to us, the only logical explanation for why this was taking so fucking long.
The baby-faced EMS who gave me a plush helicopter to squeeze on the ambulance ride from the local ER to the scary-sounding university hospital absolutely felt the lengthening and stretching of time as he watched me violently wretch into the provided paper bag. I tried to explain, in fits and gasps, that I was only peeing because of the vomiting, and I was only vomiting because of the panic attack. I was FINE. The ride took approximately 13 years and when we arrived, he let me keep the plushie.
Later that night, after she’d been checked out by rational, calm adults who assured me no less than 129 times that she was fine and just being monitored, I opted to sleep with her on my chest. If I could have chosen a superpower in that moment, it’d have been the universal wish of all parents: to take it away her discomfort, to bend the circumstances of the universe to protect her from all pain. But instead, as we lay huddled together on a hospital futon, only one of us in wet pants, I joined a billion parents before me in unlocking an integral new parenting achievement. It’s not as cool as the reflexes one, but it comes with the knowledge that it’s our job to share our peace with them, in whatever meager capacity remains. To be the source of Calm. We can’t always stop the storm, but we can be a safe vessel, absorbing the impact of the waves so all they feel is a gentle rocking.