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parent nights

Up late for me this morning, because I was up late for me last night. No, no trouble sleeping -- I'm as regular as the post office there. Neither leaky tap nor midnight espresso nor past-due GST (must get to that soon) nor heartbreak will keep me from my appointed five or six hours. But my dreams are susceptible to a few sounds. And one of them is a kid being sick.

Strangely enough I do not worry when the kids are out late. Perhaps I should. They are only teenagers, after all, and Cobourg is full of dangers. They could bump into buildings and bruise themselves. They could go blind trying to read all the memorial plaques by moonlight. They could be startled by old people driving slowly and craftily, sneaking up behind them. But all these terrors are beyond my control, so I leave the door unlocked and trip unconcernedly up to bed.

Until one of them is ill. It was Sam this morning. The sounds were unmistakeable. I fumbled on my glasses and headed to the bathroom before I knew what I was doing. Stopped at the door and stared down at the kneeling figure.

So many memories. When kids are small it seems that you are wiping up vomit every few nights. You know it's probably not serious, but they are hunched over the toilet so uncomfortable and sad, and there is nothing -- nothing -- you can offer but sympathy and a towel. You rub their backs, you hold their hair out of the way, you yawn. And you put them to bed wondering if you should wash the floor yet, or if there is more coming up the pipe. And then an hour, a few days, a week later, you do it again. As they grow up, their bodies settle down and these moments become less frequent. Thea told me a couple of months ago that it had been four years since she'd thrown up. (Funny that she thought to work it out. I too hated throwing up more than anything, and I can remember realizing at age fifteen or so that it had been a few years since my last bout of flu.)

So last night was a throwback. I sat on the edge of the bathtub and yawned. When the bout was over Sam sat back on his heels. "Ohhh," he said.

"There there," I replied. So far, the dialogue was about the same as when he was two. But life does move on, and I ventured a new question. "Is this," I gestured, "bad luck or did you, um, earn it?"

"Oh, I earned it."

"Good party, then."

'Well, right up until the end."

I felt like I was asking Mrs Kennedy if she'd enjoyed her visit to Dallas. I decided to shut up, and offered a cup of water. He declined with thanks.

"You know, you didn't have to get up," he said.

I gave a crooked poignant smile, but he was too preoccupied to notice. He had that look, in fact. As he bent over the bowl again, I patted him on the back.

"There there," I said. "There there, you idiot."


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