My Son and His Vomit Pail

5 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

“Mommy, my tummy doesn't feel so goooood...”

Yes, you’ve heard this one before. In my Disney cruise post, as the huge ship rocked  its way through a storm and I lead my tummy-sick eight year old weaving down skinny corridors from the dining hall, trying to find our cabin though I’d forgotten the number….

This now infamous phrase this time around wasn’t out on rocking seas. It was on land!  Up in New Hampshire where we were renting a cottage on Lake Sunapee for a week.

Ryan stood at the screen door. “My throat hurts too.”

Well, this made it at least a little different….

We had my mother up there with us as well, who, when she wasn’t taking naps right after breakfast was pestering me with “what can I do to help?” which drove me batty, as she was on a walker, barely mobile, and couldn’t help at all.

“Here.” I’d hand her some plastic cup for her to dry, that I knew wouldn’t slip through her arthritic hands and crash to the floor.

I’d actually been looking forward to escaping the tiny house, alone, on this rainy day to run a quick trip to the market; I rarely ever look forward to food shopping. In fact never. I was as exhilarated as if I treating myself to a pedicure.

“I want to come with you,” Ryan said, his faced now pressed against the screen door, distorted, flattened.

How can a mother resist a distorted screen-flattened face?

He got in the van.

And moaned and groaned along the winding country road to the supermarket.

I wound up doing the kind of shopping I do when my kids are along, the kind where you forget your list and throw things into the cart you don’t need. The difference was, he wasn’t whining for a fruity gummy snack or Lucky Charms; he was pale and leaning listlessly on the cart, and I felt as if I were back on rocking seas, weaving up and down shopping aisles as unfamiliar as those skinny cruise hallways. In that same panic, forgetting what I was looking for, as I’d forgotten our cabin number.

There were two more days until we would be going home. Beautiful sunny days that Ryan spent with his head over a plastic scrap basket pail thing lined with a white kitchen garbage bag that he would poke at and rearrange, even though he never once got sick.

What seemed some 24-hour tummy virus turned into 48 hours and was hightailing into 72 the night before our five-hour drive home, when he sat upright between me and Daddy in bed, with the pail, shaking, now severely nauseous. He was scared stiff of throwing up, and wanted us near him but not to touch him. So I lay there staring up at the ceiling as I had on that rocky cruise night when I’d had to listen to the closet doors sliding open and shut. Now I listened to crickets and the sound of my son breathing heavily, fighting back the nausea, until he finally actually fell asleep, with his head in the still-empty pail.

Relief. Had the worst past?


Next morning: Ryan emerged from bed, hair askew, cradling his pail. “Mommy, my tummy still huuurts.”

I was already up, dressed, cleaning out the refrigerator; we had to be out of the rental by 10am. Ryan weaved in and out of rooms with the pail, as my husband and I weaved in and out with suitcases, water toys, dirty towels and sheets, throwing everything into the van.

My son was reluctant to leave behind the pail, but I explained that the pail belonged to the rental.  But he could keep the kitchen garbage bag!

Which he did, and for five hours, sat with his head hanging over it.

I called my pediatrician from the road, a patient man, as we were cut off three times weaving our way through mountains. I told him my son’s symptoms and he confirmed what he thought, that it was a tummy virus, but said if he wasn’t better in the morning, to call his covering physician or take him to pediatric emergency.

And he recommended an over-the-counter med for the nausea just to get us home.


We stopped at the first pharmacy.

The Emerol did take care of the nausea. He seemed better and with a bit milder complaints of  “my tummy still does hurt.” He was a even able to  be distracted by a Youtube Minecraft video his brother was watching…

…until we had to make a stop at Friendlys, the rest of us starving – a real quick stop. If you ever want really efficient service dining out, drag along a child with his head hanging over a garbage bag.

We did make it home, and he did seem better.

Until the next morning: he came downstairs with a new pail. The white plastic one he’d taken from his room and nestled the still clean white kitchen bag into.

“Mommy, my tummy still hurts!”

Off to the pediatric emergency room.

With the pail.

And a child who fought to hang onto his pail as if it were his most favorite possession, when the nice patient doctor tried to pry it away to examine his tummy.

Then he looked in my son’s throat and easily made a diagnosis. Coxsackie virus (I have such a hard time pronouncing that without sounding offensive)  A virus most commonly caught in crowded daycare centers – or crowded pools perhaps. As on the Disney cruise. Remember this pic?

They gave him IVs for dehydration and low sugar levels. Even though he never once had vomited, he was dehydrated because he’d stopped drinking due to the blisters in his mouth. Which he never complained about, and thus I’d forgotten all about his original throat complaint.

We went home with a child who now truly was feeling a bit better. With the pail.

Two weeks later now: the nausea has long passed. He’s returned to a normal diet.

But there’s still… the pail.

It goes to bed with him at night and comes downstairs with him in the morning. It used to be his favorite bunny stuffed animal or the Stitches Disney creature he bought on the cruise that he’d bring down in the morning.


Yesterday, I lost my cool. Or mommy adult sanity:  “Gimme the pail.”


“You don’t need the pail anymore.”

“I need it.”

I grabbed it from him.  A mother reduced to a toddler stealing another child’s toy. If there had been another adult in the room I would have been put in time-out.

“Noooo!” He screamed. Then he started to cry.

I gave him back his pail.  Just as I’d given into all his bargaining at the hospital when he’d fought off their administering an enema until I promised him  the 70 bucks Skylander Wii game. And as he sat on the toilet, crying that this was the worst day of his life (granted with the IV needles and now incessant pooping it could have been, in his short life) the 40 bucks toy machine gun I’d refused months ago.

I went into the bathroom to calm down and tear my hair out. Rather pick at it. I’ve heard of people who do this, pull single strands of hair out under duress.  You can actually pick yourself bald.

After plucking a few strands, I emerged feeling no more rational but at least better controlled.

Or so I told myself.

“Hon, that’s actually Mommy’s pail.”

“No it’s not, it’s the pail from my room.”

“Yes, but Mommy bought you that pail with my money which makes it mine. “

I felt it. That slip-sliding back into toddler mode.

I tried to resurrect my maturity: “And it’s in a room you share with your brother. And we need it to throw away his cheese-stick wrappers.”  From the cheese-sticks he sneaks into bed after brushing his teeth.

My just about fully-recovered eight year old glared at me. Hugging more tightly the pail. Poking at the plastic bag to make sure it was arranged just right. Reminding me of our gerbils when they’re rearranging their nest.

I came over and made myself eye level. “Listen to me, Hon. You’ve never thrown up once. Not once. You’re over the virus. You’re eating now. You’re not going to get sick.”

“My tummy still hurts.”

“And you talked me into over 100 bucks of new toys!” He’d shot only one round of the rubber bullets at the kitchen wall. “Go shoot your gun!”

“I can’t. That means I have to run around a bit and that hurts.”

“Then we need to take you back to the doctor.”


“Then give me the pail.”


Back to the doctor last night. With the pail. Enough to scare off every other parent into whatever corners were unoccupied. Really. If you’re ever out in public and want to be left the hell alone – say Starbucks, where you just want to enjoy your pricey fancy coffee treat in peace and not wind up chatting with your next door neighbor, the one who talks your ear off, anyway, every time you run into her walking her dogs just as you’re going out to get your mail – bring a pail and hang your head over it.

Or bring that pail if you want really fast service like at Friendlys. Or perhaps too fast service such as a pedicure. An appointment you were determined to keep because you truly believed your child was no longer sick, even though you had to drag him along with you.

With a pail.

Turns out they only had time for a “mini” pedicure, and gee, they were all booked up for actual manicures….

My pediatrician was able to get him to let go of the pail to listen to his tummy.  He sounded good! But there was a bit of digestive distress, more having to do with the bowel arena, which is common aftermath of such viruses, so he recommended a little Maalox.

Which should clear up, once and for all, all tummy discomfort!

So we left. With the pail. And with a mother who is now sagging with guilt for not fully honoring his son’s tummy hurting complaints. For giving in to her own exhaustion and inability to recognize her son without the pail as if he’d grown a new limb.

But it's amazing what a little Maalox can do. This morning he put down the pail.

To shoot a few rounds of bullets. I didn't even mind that one landed in my saucepan and another in the frog bowl.


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