A different kind of soapbox - FamilyEducation

A different kind of soapbox

November 10,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

A type of strange stomach virus hit our household this weekend. My husband, who almost never gets sick, came down with it first. While this virus doesn't make you have to spend all day in the bathroom, it does swoop down and leave you feeling weak and tired and queasy and achy--all unpleasant things for a weekend.

It's a good thing, really, that Scott hardly ever gets sick, because I tease him a lot about how, when he does get sick, two things happen: 1. The whole world must know about it immediately. 2. The whole world must also stop moving immediately (the rest of us, of course, have to keep on going). It doesn't matter what has to get done. All obligations are frozen instantly in favor of prolonged couch time, lots of moaning, and graphic discussions about what exactly has gone wrong. I'll never forget the time the dreaded rotavirus hit our house for the second time (be very afraid of this virus, very afraid) when T. was about a year old. After spending a full 24 hours cleaning up baby vomit and runny diapers, Scott and I promptly both came down with the horrible virus ourselves. I spent the day nursing T. (who definitely wanted to make up for the valuable milk time she'd lost while sick), trying to entertain L., and fighting off waves of nausea. Scott spent it curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor.

We all handle being sick the best we can, and in the ways we can. While I try to shy away from gender stereotyping, I've said before that I do think women are genetically programmed to multi-task and that we are especially adept at splitting ourselves a zillion different ways, if need be. But I've found that the longer we parent, the more willing we are to cast aside our own needs and feelings, for the good of the children. My husband definitely deserves some type of Dad-of-the-Month medal for his valiant efforts on Saturday for the cause. The kids and I returned from a walk down to the neighborhood creek to find him shuffling, hunched over, towards the van, keys in hand.

"What are you doing?" I asked him in alarm.

"Must.Go.To.Lowe's..." he muttered, clutching his belly. In one hand he had this sketch:

And his last words when he climbed into the van were something about lumber and bolts and a soap box derby car. For you see, some months ago we got an invitation to a neighborhood block party and soap box derby race for this next weekend (note: if you want to find out the history of soap box derby racing, you can check Wikipedia's entry). How fantastic! I thought to myself when I read the email, romantic notions filling my head all at once of kids astride homemade derby cars hurtling down the street while parents cheered and grew misty-eyed at the sheer bonding moment of it all. It can't be THAT hard to build a derby car, I thought to myself. The kids were thrilled and wanted to build the car RIGHT AWAY. Scott was all for it, too, although he was a little more enthusiastic about the block party part of it, and decidedly less enthusiastic about the soap box derby part; still, he was game to give building one a try. But what with Halloween and work and meetings and life, we found ourselves this past weekend with less than a week to go and no derby car in sight.

So on Saturday I grew misty-eyed again at the sight of my poor husband driving off to Lowe's, his stomach no doubt lurching with every move, so he could buy the lumber and bolts and screws and somehow turn that impossible-looking sketch into a reality. As I write this on Sunday afternoon, my own stomach in the clutches of this strange virus (I also made pancakes this morning and did two loads of laundry, but I am not gloating...), I can hear Scott out in the garage with L., hammering and sawing, and drilling--working hard to make that soap box derby car dream come true, despite all the odds, viral and otherwise.

Because that's what you do when you're a parent, isn't it?