Saturday, November 13, 2010

Operational Shorthand

When the kids were diagnosed with whooping cough last month, the doctor told us that, post-treatment, they would likely have a cough for up to 90 days.

She wasn't kidding about that. Although not as often anymore, Ava and Grace continue to have dramatic, "whoop-y" coughs going on, especially at night. It sounds awful, but they're mostly undisturbed by it. And I will add, that "whooping" cough sounds a lot more cheerful than it really is. Whoop sounds too much like "yippee" to me. And trust me, there are no balloons or parties involved here. Just phlegm, mostly. Sorry--there, I've said it. Should I have said sputum instead? No, definitely not, that's way worse.

Anyway, we've gotten used to hearing them cough in the night, and sometimes one of us has to go and hold Grace for a minute so she'll calm down. But this week, Nate got a stomach bug, followed a few days later by Ava getting it. And now the countdown is on to see if Gracie gets it too. You know how some workplaces will have an "84 days without an accident" sign posted? And then, when someone gets hurt, the sign goes back to zero? That's a little how this feels. We'd been doing so well! But now our sign is back to zero. Someone's gonna get canned.

So this week, in the night, when one of them coughs, we sort of lift our heads off the pillow. We're thinking, Is that a normal whoop-y cough? Or is it an I am about to throw up cough? Then one of us, whomever got up the time before, will nudge the other and say, "Nate--threw up" or "Grace--just coughing." It's one of the many, many things in life that you don't think you'll have to think about. Until you have to think about it. Yes, my life right now is about discerning whether my child is blowing chunks in the next room or just merely hacking up a lung. And then, half asleep, trying to decide which child it was.

It's interesting to me, from a communication perspective, the way we handle these types of things in the middle of the night. Our neighbors, Jules and Andy, used to crew a yacht in the Virgin Islands. They were the only crew on a 60 foot boat, and they were telling us tonight about how they had to develop a kind of sign language to use with each other, when Andy was driving at the back and Jules was at the front. It wouldn't do, you see, to be yelling over the heads of the passengers. Later as I was getting ready for bed, I thought of that and how it's kind of like what Jason and I are doing. Well, except for the part about being responsible for a 60 foot, multimillion dollar luxury yacht. And except for the part about being in the Caribbean. Oh, and also the part about knowing how to do stuff.

When you're working with someone you have to figure out the most efficient way to get your message across and the goal met. And at 2am with a sick kid, Jason and I are not exactly verbose. It becomes all about meeting the immediate need so we can all go back to sleep. You figure out a kind of shorthand communication to use with each other. And you try to do it in such a way that you carry your share of the load. There is a lot of give-and-take, even when you're half asleep. I think part of parenting together is figuring out how to do that without anyone being ticked off the next morning.

By the way, remember when I sent Jason down the hall to check on Grace in the middle of the night and caused major blood loss? Click here to read that story. Clearly, our shorthand communication is a work in progress.


  1. My DH & I do a lot of trips on his motorbike & have developed a communication system that doesn't involve speaking/yelling or much movement. Our kids weren't vomiters & tended to come to us for help if needed but I remember...stepping on Lego is the worst.

  2. ... you forgot the part that we excelled at - making lots of stuff up, pretending that we knew what we were doing and smiling 24/7!

  3. Oh, totally, these two situations are very much alike. Yep, I can see that.

  4. Such a bummer, vomit and phlegm super ick. But hopefully this means you've met your "sick kiddos quota" for a while now.