Editor’s Note: We’re digging into our ample archives to find some great articles you might have missed over the years. This one comes from 2018.
An acrobat known as Red Panda has been a staple of basketball halftime shows across the country for more than 20 years. I once saw her at an NBA game years before I had children. I was stunned by her simple-in-concept yet seemingly impossible-in-practice act. In short, she rides a very tall unicycle, places an increasing number of bowls onto her foot and leg, flips the bowls into the air, and catches them in a stack on her head.
She never stops peddling her unicycle during this and she rarely ever drops a bowl. Her performances are mesmerizing.
But because I was a single, child-free adult when I saw Red Panda perform, I didn’t make the connection that she is the perfect metaphor for parenting. Especially when you have sick children.
As the dad of three children under age 7, I often feel like I am Red Panda. I’ve been an at-home parent for more than six years and, in that time, I’ve developed routines and methods that help keep the household running relatively smoothly. However, just like a momentary lapse in concentration or an unnoticed spot of perspiration on the basketball court could send Red Panda, her bowls and unicycle clattering to the ground, the slightest bit of misfortune can wreak havoc on a household filled with children.
Sure, the physical stakes aren’t as high for me. I rarely put myself at risk of a seven-foot plunge onto a hardwood floor. Except maybe when I’m climbing on the kitchen counter to hide snacks on top of the cabinets. The emotional stakes, though, certainly are.
My sick children bring out their vomit pots
Most recently, a seemingly routine bout of illness set our bowls (and bowels) trembling. It was perhaps the most dreaded of common illnesses: a stomach virus.
My 4-year-old brought it home with him from preschool. (For those with kids starting preschool soon, beware. In the first few months, your child will bring home lots of paper with smaller pieces of paper glued onto it and germs. Both are nuisances. The germs are probably slightly more disruptive.)
The first of our sick children, little Patient Zero, erupted late on a Sunday evening, just before bedtime. For someone only alive for four years, he has an impressive resume when it comes to vomiting. His tendency to vomit at the drop of a hat is unfortunate for him and was for me, at first, but it does have its advantages. Namely, he already has exquisite timing and aim. He knows when he needs his trusty vomit pan and he hits the target with a precision that would make Katniss Everdeen jealous. Recently, he managed to spew into the pan while we were dropping his brother off at kindergarten. Didn’t get a drop on our new car’s upholstery! I’m so proud.
From the first sleepless night, which Patient Zero and I spent together on the couch on top of some towels curled around a large silver pot typically used for boiling spaghetti and vomiting into, the plague ran its all-too-familiar course. Mostly it’s a waiting game. We go heavy on mindless television watching with brief flurries of cleaning and disinfecting interspersed between Handy Manny episodes.
Soon enough, all I could think about was sickness. Who was going to succumb next? Was I ever going to do anything normal again? Like leaving the house, sleeping in my own bed, or watching a non-animated television show.
And what was really going on between Handy Manny and Kelly, the Sheet Rock Falls hardware store owner?
Once one bowl is off balance, there’s no stopping the ensuing cascade.
The next victim falls
Later, the disease struck our youngest. The great thing about 2-year-olds and stomach viruses: there is not a second of warning before the terror is unleashed. Two-year-old children with sick stomachs are not like volcanoes or hurricanes; they are like earthquakes and tornadoes.
In the end, a whole week later, I was lying on the couch on a Sunday morning waiting for my anti-nausea medicine to kick in while my finally healthy kids watched more television and scampered around our living room. Perhaps I was dozing off just a little. I do, however, distinctly remember hearing one of my sons saying something about his 2-year-old sister having markers. By the time I roused myself sufficiently to stumble across the room to investigate, the boring, white ceramic tiles surrounding our fireplace had been transformed into an array of little Jackson Pollack paintings. The 2-year-old’s appearance was similarly colorful.
Such is the life of a parent whose routine, monotonous world has been disturbed by the most mundane provocateur — a sick child, or three. When the bowls crash down, boy, do they make a great clatter. And more often than not, the parent takes the fall, too.
But, eventually, when the wave has passed and the normalcy and motivation begin to return, you just have to get back on your unusually tall unicycle, arrange some bowls on your legs, and start flipping them up into the air so you can balance them on your head again. Because that’s just what parents do.