We had a gastro epidemic in our home recently. My youngest kids started school and all four of them started germ-swapping with a bunch of other children. When one of my twins came home complaining of a sore stomach and refusing to eat his favourite foods, I knew something awful was on the horizon.
And man, it was AWFUL.
As our gastro bug moved its way through the kids, I started thinking about how other big families cope. While the gastro bug is bad in any household, it takes on a new level of horrid in a bustling household of six, where we all kind of live on top of each other, and, try as I might, I can never be sure of how well anyone washes their hands.
In the middle of all the vomit-cleaning and hand-sanitising, I realised there are a few gastro truths that only other big families would truly appreciate.
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1. Vomiting is a big event
One minute they’re watching TV or playing together, the next minute … vomit everywhere. Little kids aren’t well-versed in the signs of being sick, so that first time always takes them by surprise (and it’s always on the carpet, right?) And when they’re surrounded by their siblings, also happily watching TV, a sudden vomiting episode gets a big, noisy reaction. And someone always shouts out ‘Gross!’.
2. ‘Mum, I wanna see it!’
As gross as being sick is, for some reason, all the other kids wanted to see what the unwell person produced. So in the middle of all the upchucking, me with the sick bucket under some poor child’s head, trying to keep them calm, I have the other kids jumping up and down behind me, all clamouring to get a look in. It’s not a private illness when you have a big family, that’s for sure.
3. Quarantine? Waste of time
Any parent of a big family is going to make some valiant attempts to stop the bug travelling through every member. From room separation to insane levels of hand sanitiser use, we’ll do anything to stop the bug in its tracks. But of course, the insidious nature of the gastro bug means the germ sharing has happened days before, so it’s just a matter of time before the next victim is struck down. It’s futile trying to thwart it.
4. Waiting with dread
Who will it strike next? Does anyone look a little grey? Anyone off their food? Doing runny number twos? When you have a big family, it’s impossible to know who will be hit next with the bug. But one thing’s for sure: someone else IS going to catch it. Hang on … is that a cramp in my belly??
5. When it gets close to home
When my husband was hit with the bug, I braced myself for it. After all my obsessive hand-washing and trying not to inhale the vomit I’d been cleaning up, I thought my time was up. If I was sharing a bed with a gastro victim, my turn had to be on its way. I started picturing my week, and the plans I’d have to change if I became unwell. All the kids I’d STILL have to parent through gastro. Gulp. I’m not a religious person, but I may have prayed once or twice at this point.
6. The eye of the gastro storm
After working its way through half the family, we thought we were rid of the bug. The affected kids were back at school and eating their usual food again. I even tossed out the sick buckets we’d been using. Job done. Then, days later, our big kid woke up clutching his stomach. The bug had returned. The gastro storm hadn’t passed over, it was merely gathering strength for its next path of fury.
7. They all want to be sick
Despite the awfulness that is throwing up, a throbbing headache and an inability to eat, all my kids wanted a turn of it. My second twin made sure he got it from his brother by kissing him while he was unwell. He soon changed his tune when he was sent from school with a sick bag a couple of days later. My daughter wanted a turn so badly that she faked being sick at school and had me come and collect her.
That’s part of being in a big family. Always wanting want someone else has.