I was away on vacation for the first time in months. It was glorious. I still woke up early, went on a run and had eggs for breakfast. But I got a bit of time and space to think, to breathe and to remember who I was without all of the distractions of daily life.
My dad was home with the kids. I called every night and talked to them via FaceTime.
One night he answered after just one ring. “Things are fine here,” he said. “But Austin is playing basketball in the alley and refused to come in for dinner.” He shook his head with a mixture of frustration and resolve. “Tommy wasn’t feeling well, so he’s in bed. Claire had some problems with her friends at school today. I talked to her about how you sometimes had problems with your friends when you were her age. I told her that it’s normal and she should try and stay out of as much of the conflict as she can.”
“Wow, dad,” I said, “you are doing some real parenting there!”
He raised his eyebrows. “Here, you should talk to Claire,” he said, and handed the phone to her.
“Mom,” Claire said, her eyes wide, “there were SO many problems at school today. All of my friends were upset.”
She continued to tell me about the drama of fourth grade. It involved a rumor that she described as “definitely NOT TRUE!” and a lot of girls crying.
“Well,” I said, “I think this is an example of something you should try and stay out of.”
She made a face. Then, there was a terrible sound in the background, followed by shrieking.
The phone went sideways. A second later, Claire came back into my view. “Tommy is throwing up!” she screamed.
I could hear Tommy crying. “Go get Grandpa Tom!” I said to Claire.
The picture on the phone shook as she ran to get my dad. “Tommy is throwing up!” she screamed. I could see an image of my dad moving quickly across the screen.
“Ew!” she said to me.
Tommy was still crying in the background. “I’m going to go in my room so I don’t have to smell it,” she said.
She shut the door to her room and started to tell me more details about her day. I interrupted her.
“Claire, you need to go check on Grandpa Tom and see if he needs help.”
“Ew!” she said. “If I do that, I’ll have to look at throw-up! And then maybe I will throw up! And that would definitely be worse for Grandpa Tom.”
She had a point. “Okay,” I said, “why don’t you just open the door to your room and yell out it, “is everything okay?”
She did that. In the background, I could see my dad quickly running with a bucket. Tommy was still crying. “You’re okay,” my dad was saying to him.
“He’s okay,” Claire said to me, and shut the door. We continued our conversation. After a few minutes, I said, “how about you go give the phone back to Grandpa Tom?”
She went and found him. He was cleaning out the bucket in the bathroom. “I can’t talk right now,” he said.
“Dad, I’m so sorry you have to deal with this,” I said.
“It’s no big deal,” he said. “It’s just a little bit of vomit.”
Claire turned the phone back to face her. “Do you want to talk to Tommy?”
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to watch him throw up again, but I said yes anyway. She put him on.
“Mama!” he said, and started crying again.
“Oh, baby,” I said, “you’re so sad!”
“I threw-up!” he said. “I don’t like throwing up.”
“I know,” I said soothingly. “But you’re okay.”
Finally, after a lot of back-and-forth, Tommy said goodnight. Claire handed the phone back to my dad who was finishing up the clean up.
“Dad, I’m so sorry,” I said again.
“It’s fine. I told him to throw up in the bucket so it wasn’t that bad to clean up,” he said.
“Still,” I said, “I’m sure this wasn’t something you imagined doing this week.”
“Hell, Marjorie,” he said, “this is just life. Sometimes there’s a little vomit.”