Nelson was the first one sick. For three days. On the fourth day, mother nurse was down for the count. Another three days and Kendall took the hit.
But there was a one-day period in which Kendall was not sick, Nelson was in recovery and I was sicker than a dog. Nelson stayed home from school on a Monday… and in a surprising turnabout, became the nurse.
Nurse Nelson was reluctant. He was, after all, home sick and wanted to have the TV remote and the toast brought to him. Some brownies and cookies too — after all he was feeling better. The only problem was that his mother was too sick to leave her bed, much less care.
“Nelson,” I called weakly, “can you try bringing me Vernors?” I am not kidding. I was that weak. I had to be to ask a child to open and pour a brand new 2-liter of pop. It was sure to be a 1.5-liter disaster.
But it was nearly noon. I had had nothing to eat or drink for 24 hours. I was going downhill and fast. The puking had stopped and my survival instinct had kicked in. If I was going to make it and feed my own child a lunch eventually, I needed help. And help stood at the end of my bed in a pair of track pants, a running shirt, and, no doubt, yesterday’s underwear.
He carried the very full glass of Vernors in and stopped at the end of my bed.
“Sorry, Mom, I might catch it,” he said, reaching a very short arm out a very long ways.
I stared at him. He stared at me.
Finally, I spoke. “You gave this to me.”
“Oh, I did? That’s right.”
“Give me that,” I seethed. But my indignation was working in my favor — my verve and vigor returning with it. “Now get me some toast.”
This turned out to be the biggest challenge in his 9 years.
“How?” he bellowed from the kitchen. Soon I was screaming instructions that took more energy than actually making the toast. When I caught sight of him ransacking the utensil drawer for tools, I knew the show was about to begin.
“Where’s the bread?”
“You’re leaning on it.”
“Oh, that’s right.”
Some twist-tie untwisting, the sound loud in the quiet house. I resist further instructions, sip my Vernors and wait.
“Where’s the jam?”
“Top shelf of the fridge.”
“There’s no top shelf.”
“Yes there is, keep looking.”
“Oh, you’re right.”
I watch him fumble the jar down. It’s as big as his head. He would have dropped it if not for the grip of jam drip dried down the side of it.
“So I just, uh, put it in the toaster?” he asks.
“Just stick it in and press the lever.”
I see then he is poking the electronic death machine with a long, shiny stick.
“Put the knife down!” I yell. I am sicker than I was before this all started.
With more coaching, he wrangles a piece of bread in and out of the toaster. I hear the jam jar open, the lid clatter to a stop on the floor. Some sawing and pushing and shoving. He’s going to town on it. I say nothing.
“So, I spread it like this?”
He presents me with the cutest piece of barely toasted toast ever made. On his Star Wars plate. With a blob of jam high and mighty in the middle. A few edges pulled at with a knife. It’s clear he gave up before he started.
At this point my wrath disappears and I am overcome with love.
“Oh my God,” I cry, “get the camera!”
“WHAT?” He’s the indignant one now.
I sit up in bed, using my last ounce of strength to take his picture. He poses reluctantly but I don’t care. He doesn’t know it, but this is the bestest, sweetest, perfectest slice of toast I will ever eat in my life.