Stars and Stripes Scene, Sunday, November 28, 2009

Last night, I woke up to a sound every parent dreads: One of my children was throwing up in the bathroom.

This time, it happened to be Tommy, and as I stood outside the door waiting for him to finish, I reminded myself that I should have seen it coming.

Just that afternoon, he had come home from school colorfully describing what happened in his first-period class that morning. "The kid behind me threw up all over the place," he said. "And it splattered on the jacket of a girl sitting next to him."

He went into a bit more detail, describing the color and texture of the puke, but I will leave that up to your imagination.

In the back of my mind, a little warning went off as I listened to Tommy’s story. "He might be next," I told myself. Then, I totally forgot about it until he got sick at 1 a.m.

Usually, I’m pretty good about putting either a trash can or a beat-up old Tupperware bowl we fondly call "the vomit bucket" next to my sons’ beds anytime they even hint about having tummy aches.

But I have gotten a little slack since I started working in the public school system.

In a typical school day, someone else’s child is always throwing up, losing a tooth or sneezing all over the place. Schools are incredibly germy places, and over the past couple of years, I have gotten used to the endless snot that surrounds me from September through June.

There was a time 16 years ago when I used to spray bleach and water on anything that came into contact with my newborn son, Jimmy. Going on a simple errand with him caused extreme stress for me because so many people wanted to touch him.

I did not mind it when the local Okinawan people wanted to touch Jimmy’s blond hair. After all, he could not put it in his mouth. But when toddlers at the Post Office escaped their mom’s clutches just long enough to play with his toys and grab his fingers, I was horrified.

As soon as I got back to the car with my bundle of boy, I gave him a baby-wipe bath to last until I could give him a real scrub-down at home.

Now, I find myself at the opposite end of the spectrum, with two teenagers and one 10-year-old who do not exude the charm of a newborn baby. I consider myself lucky if all three of them remember to change their clothes on a daily basis.

Anyone willing to touch my sons is more likely to come away needing a bath than contaminating their cuteness.

Tonight, I will be more prepared. No matter how the boys are feeling, all three of them will go to bed with a trash can or the vomit bucket nearby. I might even put one on Ron’s side of the bed, just to be safe.

And when I go to work in the morning, I’m going to remind myself that being surrounded by snot doesn’t make me — or my sons — immune to the germs that go with it.

I’m not going to return to the Clorox-scented days of my past, but I am going to be a bit more vigilant in this season of dual flu viruses and the common cold. Perhaps waking up to the sound of sickness was exactly the wake-up call that I needed.

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has been married to a Marine for 18 years and currently lives in Springfield, Va. You may e-mail her at or visit her Web site at

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