Stomach flu making its violent trip through a household is no fun for any family. But for a family with young children headed by a solo parent, it’s a whole different ball game. The mere rumour circulating the neighbourhood that the flu is going around strikes fear in the heart of solo parents everywhere. So many logistical nightmares to solve. Meals need to be made, the unsick kids need to get to school or daycare, vomit soaked sheets (and blankets, pillows, stuffies etc etc.) need to be laundered. EVERYTHING needs to be bleached. And all of this must be handled, while you yourself are most likely barfing or pooping, or both. Hence, the knowledge that Norovirus is ripping through my kid’s class is usually the beginning of a panic attack for me. As a widowed mom with young kids, I have handled alot on my own. We have all had lice and pinworms. The cat has had fleas. Ear infections and fevers. Snot, so much snot. I’ve dealt with it all, with a loving hug for my sick kid and a glass of wine for me, after said sick kid is in bed. But stomach flu? In the two years since Kevin has died, I had not yet had the pleasure of parenting while vomiting. I knew my luck would run out eventually, but I did not know when.
The fateful day arrived one night this past Spring. I woke up in the middle of night and faced facts (and I also faced the porcelain god). I officially had the stomach flu. The bathroom and I were going to become quite close over the next few days. In between trips to the bathroom that dark night, my mind raced furiously…who can I text to take the girls to school tomorrow? Who can I call to bring me some gatorade? Do I have bleach? How will I make breakfast? How will I cope? But the thought that was deafening at 3am while I lay on the bathroom floor was ‘I can’t do this alone. I can’t do this alone. Fuck him for dying on me and leaving me to do this alone. Fuck him.’ Eventually, the long, dark night on the bathroom floor ended and somehow breakfast was served, lunches were made and a neighbourhood dad was texted to help with school drop off. My 4 year old may have served herself popcorn for breakfast, my 7 year old may have made her own lunch consisting of yogurt, cookies and crackers but hey, standards have to be lowered when you can’t raise your head out of the toilet.
I’ve been a solo mom long enough to have learned that I simply can’t do this alone. On the best of days, this solo parenting shit is hard. But on vomit filled ones it’s simply unmanageable. That said, they say ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and thankfully my parenting village is vast, diverse and absolutely lifesaving. The head villager is my best mom friend who I met in a parenting class almost 7 years ago when our daughters were new, fresh, chubby and completely anxiety inducing blobs of terror. When Tiffany walked in to the parenting class, her baby in a carrier on her chest, skinny jeans on her legs and to die for leopard print flats on her feet, I thought a) man I love those shoes and b) she looks like someone I could be friends with. The shoes brought us together, the shared experience of post partum depression and anxiety brought us closer and the last 7 years of parenting our kids together has sealed the deal. She’s the head of my parenting village. I would be lost without her and her support.
Our daughters have become fast friends since they ended up in the same daycare and now the same school. Eventually, little siblings arrived in both families, and we began having monthly dinners, alternately at each other’s houses. The location may alternate back and forth, the menu may change, but guaranteed there is alot of laughter, alot of netflix consumed (by the children), alot of wine consumed (by the grown ups) and a raucous dance party (by children and grown ups combined) always rounds out the night. We spend enough time with each other’s families, that I utterly trust Tiffany and her husband Ryan to discipline my kids and vice versa.
I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have such a family enter into my little corner of the world until my husband died and left me alone to parent my kids. Our combined family dinner parties have continued monthly since Kevin died. Laughter, wine, and dance parties are still on the agenda at each one, but now there is often tears too as we marvel at the unfairness of this life. Tiffany and Ryan are on the list of people authorized to pick up my kids from daycare and they do so on many nights. We sign our kids up for activities together so that TIffany and her husband can help with the shuttling of children back and forth. Their family is car shopping currently and are seriously contemplating a 7 seater car so that they can easily drive their kids AND my kids around easily. So when I found myself on the bathroom floor that night I knew who I would text for help. I texted Ryan in the morning and put in a urgent call for gatorade and wonder bread. Both appeared on my porch shortly thereafter. Later that night, when I was barely hanging on, and was parenting from a horizontal position on the couch, I got text from Tiffany and it said ‘do you need help with bedtime? I can be over in 5 minutes to put your kids to bed.’ I cried from relief and from gratitude and quickly sent back a text that simply said ‘yes’. A few minutes later she walked in the front door and simply launched into mom mode with my kids. 30 minutes later both my kids were in bed, clean pjs on, teeth brushed, stories read and tucked in with love and care. She came downstairs, I waved my gratitude at her from the couch (flu germs and all…there was no way we were getting too close!) and she left.
Since Kevin’s death, the idea that my kids don’t have a dad causes tears to prick to my eyes at any given moment. We are a fierce and mighty little girl gang of 3, but we are also missing a member. Simply put, our family has a hole in it. That hole will always be there, as Kevin’s presence is irreplaceable. But what I’ve come to learn in my journey trying to head up this girl gang is that families don’t have to be built on a traditional structure, but in fact are built on love and support. That vomit filled night when another woman, a friend, walked in my house, and put my kids to bed with love and kindness reminded me that. She is not part of my family of origin, but she is a part of our chosen family. My kids have a family that is a beautiful, messy mash up of blood relatives and chosen family members. I didn’t choose for my husband to die, but the family I’ve chosen to create since then is rich in friendship, support and love. The best kind of family.