Reader essay Many mothers talk of the monumental surge of maternal love they felt the first time they held their child in their arms, or the first time they heard "Mommy!" pass those tiny lips. It hits suddenly and without warning. Our hearts swell to infinite proportions and we realize, "I am a mother."
I wish I could say that was how it happened to me.
When they first placed my son in my arms, I was so exhausted that all I wanted to do was sleep. I loved my son; I just didn’t feel that heart-swelling surge of emotion.
The hours went on and my love for my son grew, but it would be many months before I had that defining, life-changing moment. A moment that involved vomit.
Just after my son’s first birthday, we moved to a new house. Now, anyone with children can attest to the strategic military planning involved when undertaking such a task. But everything went smoothly and I patted myself on the back on more than one occasion.
We were still settling in when it started: Jonah coughed. Just a little at first, then a bit more. Then he sneezed.
"Have no fear," my father reassured me. "It’s winter. Kids get colds. Let’s take him to the deli for a big bowl of chicken soup."
Off to the deli we went, where my child devoured pickles, rolls and chicken soup with matzo balls, along with a large glass of pink Gatorade.
We returned home and I put him down for his afternoon nap. I breathed a sigh of relief—two hours of uninterrupted unpacking time. I hadn’t even opened a box when I heard him crying. I went to his room. He was standing up in his crib.
"What is it, babe?" I asked, lifting him up.
He coughed. "It’s OK," I soothed. He coughed some more. It sounded like he was choking. I tilted him back to look at him.
Then I realized: The Deli Food Alien had taken over my son’s small body, and now it was time for the alien to emerge from its host.
Pickles, soup, matzo balls, bread, Gatorade and a healthy dose of PediaCare all made another appearance, landing on him, and me, in an arc of poetic spray filling the air around us. All I could think, as various delicacies landed from head to toe, was why today, of all days, did I choose to wear a tight-necked, ribbed turtleneck?
When the horror finally ended, I stood there, dripping with gastric discards, and did what any first-time mother would do: I put Jonah in the bathtub and called my mommy and daddy. My dad was home.
The moment my father arrived, I threw a semi-clean Jonah at him and mumbled something about taking a shower. I stood in the tub—fully clothed—and assessed the situation. How should I get my top off without smearing everything in my hair?
I began to wriggle out of my turtleneck and suddenly it was as if the blue sky had opened up on a cloudy day and the birds had begun to sing. I had my first maternal epiphany. My knees buckled. I could barely breathe. Here I was covered in vomit and it hit me: I am a mother.
A few years ago, while on an airplane, Jonah—who was then 4—told me he thought he was going to throw up. I hurriedly dug through the forward seat pocket and located the barf bag.
It was a false alarm, but Jonah was fascinated by the barf bag.
"What’s this for?" he asked.
"It’s for when you’re going to be sick and you can’t get to the bathroom fast enough."
"Oh." He thought a minute. "Did you ever use one?"
"No. But I’ve come close."
"When you were in my tummy I was a little sick."
"What was it like when I was in your tummy?"
I told him how he craved french fries and fish sticks and that he kicked me awake most nights.
"Then what happened?"
"Then you told me you were ready to come out and Daddy and I went to the hospital."
He was on the edge of his seat now. "Did you throw me up?" he asked.
"No," I laughed. "The doctor helped you out and everyone yelled, ‘It’s a boy!’ And they put you on my chest and I gave you a great big hug, and since then, I’ve never let you go."
Jonah turned to me, took my face in the palms of his small hands, and kissed me on the lips. I noticed tears in the corner of his eyes when he pulled back and said, "I love you, Mom."
"I love you, too," I told him.
Tears of my own fell.
"You OK?" my husband asked, looking up from his book.
When we got off the plane I went home and put on my tight-necked, ribbed turtleneck.
Stacy L. Frueh lives in Wilmette with her husband, Joe, son, Jonah, 8, and cat, Leo—who (unfortunately) also vomits a lot.
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