We didn’t have a good week. Tuesday afternoon, I babysat for my girlfriend Adrienne’s kids. Adrienne has four children, same way I do. Every week we trade babysitting. I watch three of her kids on Tuesday afternoons. She watches three of mine on Thursday mornings after I drop Rebecca, my oldest, at school.
Tuesday afternoon, 15-month-old Johnny woke up from his nap just as Adrienne and her kids arrived. Johnny seemed a little fussy, but I thought he was just taking a long time to wake up. As the afternoon wore on, Johnny got fussier. He grew warm with fever. Adrienne’s youngest child, Anna, is eight months old. Usually, Anna and Johnny play side by side on the family-room floor. This Tuesday, Anna and Johnny fussed side by side. Anna is teething.
Drool rolled down her chin. She screwed up her face and whimpered. Johnny clung to my leg and tugged at his ears.
While I tried to console the two cranky babies, four-year-old Angela had taken her younger sister Lucy and Adrienne’s two- and three-year-old upstairs to play “Fort.” Fort involves moving the entire contents of one room into another and spreading blankets and pillows and books and dolls and stuffed animals all over the floor. Every few minutes, I broke away from Johnny and Anna and called up the stairs, “Are you guys doing okay up there?”
“Yes,” Angela called back. “We’re just playing.”
Nobody was crying. Nobody was complaining. “Gee,” I thought, “they’re really playing nicely this week.”
Forty-five minutes after Adrienne’s kids had arrived, I hoisted Anna and Johnny into my arms and trudged up the stairs. I poked my head into Angela’s room. The beds had been stripped. The bookshelves were bare. I walked down the hall with a growing sense of dread. “What are you playing, Angela?” I asked as I crossed the threshold into my room.
Angela looked up from where she sat with her friends in a pile of blankets and pillows. “Fort,” she whispered.
Every square inch of floor space was cluttered with the contents of Angela’s room. I couldn’t see the carpet. “Do I like it when you play Fort?” I asked.
“Well, you can keep playing for a little while. But before you guys have a snack, you have to clean everything up. All right?”
I went downstairs and called our pediatrician. He could see Johnny at 4:15. If everything went right, I could pick up Rebecca at school at 3:30, get to Johnny’s 4:15 appointment, and still get Angela and Rebecca to their 4:45 gymnastics class.
Back upstairs, the cleanup took half an hour. Johnny and Anna fussed the whole time. After Adrienne picked up her kids, I got Rebecca at school near our home in San Marcos and raced to the pediatrician’s office in Encinitas. A quick peek in Johnny’s ears showed he had an ear infection. I hustled everyone back into the car and drove like a maniac to San Marcos. “Will we be on time for gymnastics class?” Rebecca asked from the back seat.
“I hope so, sweetie,” I said.
“I really want to go to gymnastics,” Rebecca began to whimper. “I’ve been looking forward to it since yesterday.”
“I’m doing my best.”
We got to gymnastics 15 minutes late. Rebecca and Angela found their teacher and joined their group. I drove Johnny and Lucy to Vons to fill Johnny’s prescription. When we’d gotten the bottle of pink medicine, we drove back to gymnastics and picked up Angela and Rebecca.
When we got home that night, I told my husband Jack, “Today was the worst day I’ve had in a long time.” I didn’t know my week was only beginning.
Thursday, when I retrieved Angela, Lucy, and Johnny from Adrienne’s house, Angela had thrown up. “I’m so sorry,” I told Adrienne. “I hope your kids don’t get whatever it is.”
Angela threw up every three hours for the next two days. She couldn’t keep down water, Gatorade, 7-Up, or ice chips. Lucy woke up Friday morning and threw up all over her bed. Midday, Johnny came down with a case of roaring diarrhea. Friday afternoon, I started to feel achy and queasy. 1 wanted to put my head down and go to sleep. But I kept having to whisk Angela to the bathroom so she could be sick or change Johnny’s diaper or ask Lucy if she needed to throw up. When Jack came home from work, I lay down on the couch and let him deal with dinner and baths and getting the kids into bed.
Just after Jack had tucked everybody in, Lucy threw up again. We moved her into our bedroom so we could keep an eye on her during the night. Angela was already asleep in our.bed for the same reason. Rebecca, who normally shares a room with Lucy, didn’t want to stay alone. That’s how Friday night everyone but Johnny ended up sleeping in one bedroom. We moved mattresses from the girls’ room onto the floor and brought up cushions from the couch. We woke up every 20 to 30 minutes all night to minister to someone. Each time I got out of bed, I felt weak and clammy and nauseous. “Silly me,” I thought as I rolled up another soiled towel and Angela’s second nightgown of the night, “I thought the room looked messy when Angela was playing Fort.”