Never leave a hot dog on the stovetop to ferment in its own juices for three days. Never. The scum that accumulates on the surface of the water is nothing compared with the slime that surrounds its circumference upon extracting it. Not kidding, here. I made the mistake of taking it out of the pot with my bare hand and the slime slipped over it like a mucous-y, amorphous blob. It just kept sliding and slipping until it nearly covered my wrist. So much slime for such a small, seemingly innocuous hot dog. Mike almost threw up. It was like something out of Ghostbusters or Nickelodeon. But it was nothing — I say nothing — compared with the slime that has sluiced from the boys’ noses this week. I wish I’d thought of bottling it up and sending it to Universal Studios to lend some authenticity to the Kids’ Choice Awards this spring.
It all began on Monday — doesn’t it always? The boys had slept terribly, if you could even call it sleep. There’d been multiple coughing fits and periodic wailing virtually all night long. There’s this feeling I get deep in my mommy marrow when I hear my babies – any of them, whether it’s my girls in their twenties or the boys in their twos — cough that raw, rattily cough. It’s a maternal, visceral reflex – like someone has taken a potato peeler to my womb and is shaving off slender curls of it while I’m simultaneously plunging from a tremendous height. That’s what it feels like — except worse. Because I would rather have someone scrape my uterus with a peeler while simultaneously freefalling than to hear that cough coming from any one of my babies’ chests. Needless to say, Monday morning, even before my alarm went off at 5:30, I decided that I was taking the day off and taking them to the doctor. I figured it would be ear infections – our old, familiar foe.
Now taking a day as a teacher – particularly a teacher in Bartow County – is no easy feat. The first order of business is finding a sub, and finding a sub in our district is akin to unearthing the Holy Grail in the kitchens of Hell. The task has not always been so daunting… Our county used to subscribe to a computerized system that allowed teacher to post their needs online and allow open and able substitute teachers to log in and select a job at will. That was long before systematic budget cuts and various and dubious central office expenditures. Now, we must call subs ourselves – from an alphabetical sub list that also includes interspersed but clearly-marked food nutrition subs in the mix… and let’s just say, woe to the unwitting teacher who accidently calls and wakes a food nutrition individual at 5:30 in the morning for a CLASSROOM position… Now procuring a sub wouldn’t nearly be as Sisyphean a task if the subs were allowed to work more than three days a week in our county. You see, if a sub works more than three days a week, our school system would then be required to provide benefits. (Heaven forbid! and Thanks, Obama.) So the subs naturally work for other systems when they can, and only take Bartow jobs when the pickin’ is slim. And apparently the pickin’s were bountiful this past Monday morning because I called close to forty phone numbers before I found a taker – almost an hour later. But at least I had a sub – and a work comrade, who just so happens to be my best friend and department chair, willing to leap tall buildings and run copies and keep an eye on my classes. So I had that going for me…
Now chalk it up to Monday morning and being sleep deprived, or to just plain old twinility (the disease I contracted immediately upon turning fifty with twin toddlers), but when Mike asked if he should call in late and give me some help getting the boys to the doc’s I said, “Honey, they’re two-and-a-half now. Surely they will walk themselves into the doctor’s office these days. It’s no big deal. We’ll be fine.”
I should’ve just said, “I can do this hard thing…”
Because hard it was. And do it, I did — extricating screaming twin toddlers, terrified of getting yet more shots from that pesky pediatrician, out of car seats and into the office building, all the while avoiding giant SUVs and juniper hedgerows. Each boy was saddled up on a love handle, and the diaper bag and my handbag were slung across my back. I looked like a pack mule from Nepal. Parker managed to stay in place as I trudged to the entrance, but Tate slid ever-so-slowly down my thigh until I barely had him off the ground, his arms straight above him, his legs kicking wildly as he shrieked like a child sacrifice. I’m sure the white-haired octogenarian who held the door for us thanked her lucky stars right then and there that she was past childbearing days as I bore my children past…
Once we were actually in the office, the clinginess ended (for a little while, anyway) once they spied the vast row of empty waiting room chairs lining the back wall. There must’ve been fifteen of the vinyl-clad things, just waiting for some lads like them. Like American Ninja Warrior wannabes, they promptly began inch-worming up and over one chair arm and under and through the next, giggling like the healthiest, happiest toddlers alive. Nary a cough could be heard. “Can’t you at least LOOK sick while you’re cavorting?” I pleaded.
Now I’ve known our pediatrician since Caitlin was not even a year old. He treated both my girls until they were out of high school and well into college because they refused to see anyone else. He is a longtime friend and trusted advisor, and I prayed he would remember that I’m generally a smart and intuitive mother. That I’m not the mom who brings her utterly healthy and hyperactive tots to the doc for no good reason and who, therefore, in the most ultimate of ironies, exposes them to some serious seasonal scourge. Every mother’s maternal marrow is bound to be wrong every now and then, right? I just prayed he would remember that while examining my apparently healthy and histrionic twins.
We were only in the waiting room for a few minutes before we were called back. It’s amazing how quickly a toddler twosome can go from charged electrical currents to fixed static cling. They glued themselves to my calves tighter than the compression hose I’d worn while pregnant with them.
Dr. Payne smiled his hellos as he readied his stethoscope for the first squirming, screaming son in my arms. Between the two of us, we managed to pin him to the table so he could get a good listen and look. It was at that instant that not just one, but both boys decided to make the smelliest of deposits. The sound was raucous; the stench was hellacious. It was like I’d fed them both radioactive waste — radioactive waste simmered in cesspool broth. The whole room reeked of it. I swear, I could see the stench shimmering off their shorts. Dr. Payne just laughed it off and pressed on. I did notice he didn’t do any genitalia checks, this time around…
My fears and misgivings proved warranted. My maternal marrow rang true, once again. The boys’ strep tests (which I think they now hate more than the dreaded vaccination needle) came back positive. My diagnosis had been wrong, but my instincts were on point. Their diapers (which I was able to change between the actual swabbing for strep and the final results), came back to haunt me a few days later when I unearthed them from the diaper bag where they’d been festering and fermenting, forgotten, in the back of my van.
As I pen this post, my hair is greasy, my shirt is caked in snot smears and curry stains, and I’m in dire need of a shower. It’s been a long and exhausting week of sleepless nights, antibiotic-filled syringes, nebulizer treatments and forgotten hot dogs. But I learned two things about myself this week. Ok, maybe three. One: trust my instincts, no matter how hard my children try to prove me crazy. (I should never have doubted myself… I’ve already raised two girls who are quite skilled in coercion and diversionary tactics, after all.) And Two (and Three): hot dogs and dirty diapers do not resurrect well after three days and three nights of sitting in their own juices.