Sarah Clegg is the final winner of this year’s series of weekly challenges to contribute a guest post to Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins. She’s also a new blogger! Join me and check out her new site, “Stay at Home Socrates.”
–J. A. Allen
At the start of May I entered the unfamiliar world of blogging, and set-up “Stay at Home Socrates” on a whim. By the end of the month, I had won J. A. Allen’s Sunday Scribble Challenge to the prompt “Show a Mother’s Twisted Love.” A tad concerning for the mother of two young children. Nevertheless buzzing with the validation of online strangers, I sought undisturbed moments with my laptop like a drug, fingers racing over the keys in a word-fuelled binge. The rest of the time I tested out material in my head, sniggering at my own jokes and tweaking my creations, whilst I just about managed to hold monosyllabic conversations with my tiddlers. For the first time in a while there was a spring in my step. I had a hobby.
Then as spontaneously as the blog had started, it juddered to an emergency halt.
My body betrayed me and all words, inspiration, puns, and footnotes, were ejected faster than the streams that poured forth in my first episode of gastroenteritis that month. Survival became my only pursuit as I navigated a constant cycle of toilet sprints, bleaching, languishing on the sofa, languishing on the floor and attending only to the most primitive of my children’s needs.
In a conscious act of desperation I send a futile message to my husband, knowing there was no way he’d even consider coming home from work, conscientious to the end.
Note how long it took to get a reply.
At one point I must have nodded off on the sofa, exhausted from wretching and googling ‘catabolysis’. I came to with a start when the Small One (S1) whacked some Duplo in my face. I allowed her to continue, even when she upgraded to a phone charger as her weapon of choice, rather than face the task of sourcing another form of entertainment. I then took a selfie to check whether I looked as bad as I felt and was satisfied with the result.
A quick scan of the room revealed relative destruction. The Big One (B1) had managed to unlock the iPad and was watching videos of plastic dolls doing pretend poos in potties. S1 had spread soot from the fireplace throughout the vicinity. It was at that moment that I knew what I had to do. Whatever it took, I had to summon the strength to deliver B1 to Preschool and get S1 to nap at the same time. The promise of solitary toilet trips and three hours of lying prostrate was too alluring not to at least attempt the gargantuan task ahead.
Even now, with time to reflect, I can’t say how I managed it, but somehow, head pounding, buttocks clamping, I stumbled out into the light of day, and deposited B1 at the hallowed gates. I can only recall key moments of that trip – the despair at having to make small talk with other parents, quickly followed by surprise that no one recoiled at the sight of my blood-stained sclera and emaciated body.
I said nothing about my predicament; had anyone inquired as to how I was, I’m certain my reply would have been a sunny ‘Good, thanks.’
However this approach came at my cost later, when having found slumberous respite , brazenly my phone rang out, re-alerting me of my mortal coil. Seconds later, the inevitable message arrived with an unwelcome buzz – a child care request from another mum. For a moment I almost considered accommodating the third child, worried that the confession to my true state would seem implausible; my performance at drop-off had been just too strong. I bolted back to the toilet, improvising with B1’s Frozen step-up to allow relief of both ends simultaneously, knowing I had to come clean, even if it looked suspect. The mere hint of germs was always sufficient to deter another parent from sending their child to your home.
It took about a week to recover fully from this episode and to start inspecting food without suspicion. I even thought about the blog again and worried I had lost my momentum – could I write again, would my audience have given up on me? Then the unthinkable happened. Three short weeks since the first digestive attack, I was struck again. The injustice was almost as difficult to deal with as the physical symptoms.
Undeterred by my failed first attempt, once again I sent an SOS to my husband when things became too terrible to bear – I worried for the safety of myself and my offspring when I failed to even keep water down. I genuinely wasn’t certain my body, already malnourished from round 1, could survive another onslaught so soon. He returned home triumphant at 5.30pm. When S1 failed to sleep that evening, he flung her back to me and proceeded to work until midnight to make up the time lost by coming home early…
I’d like to say I took it with good grace when days later my husband, becoming afflicted with a mild version of the illness, retreated to bed for the foreseeable and indulged in a 100% bona fide ‘sick day’. However the injustice smarted almost as much as the chilli-laden meals he cooked up following B1’s birth. As my own bile and diarrhoea abated, pitiless prose started re-circulating in my shrivelled grey matter and I knew I was well on the road to recovery.