When your toddler is sick in the middle of the night, it's the beginning of an emotional journey. And also a physical journey, to a cot full of puke. Jo Verrill has been there and got the vomit-soaked t-shirt...
Stage one: The Awakening
You're awake and not really sure why. Everything seems suspiciously silent, but just as you're sinking back into that lovely creamy deep sleep it happens again. A groan from next door, so slight it's only detectable by mum-tennae.
As it accelerates to a full-on howl you roll over and stare at your partner. His eyes are closed. You close your eyes too: Two can play at the 'if my eyes are closed you can't prove I'm awake' game. Unfortunately one of you has to give in eventually, and, unfortunately, it will be you.
You get up as angrily as possible and swoosh out, almost certainly with your slippers on the wrong feet.
Stage two: The Denial
"What's wrong?" you whisper into the blacked-out abyss.
"My arms are wet," comes the ominous reply.
Those mum-tennae should be buzzing by now. Arms do not simply become wet in the middle of night. Something has dampened those arms, and it probably isn't unicorn tears. You remain hopeful nonetheless and approach the cot for a conciliatory shush-pat.
Stage three: Acceptance
The smell begins to waft over. The nostril-wrinkling, distinctive, couldn't-possibly-be-anything-else-and-is-definitely-not-the-usual-No-Tears-Shampoo-and-dribble-smell smell.
You slap the light on with a Gina Ford-defying backhand.
Acceptance dawns. You’re not going back to sleep. Your toddler, who is sitting in a puddle of puke holding up its slimy limbs for a cuddle, is not going back to sleep. This is not a mess that can be mattress-flipped away. It's not even, you realise with horror, a mess that can be cleaned up with baby wipes.
Stage four: Containment
There's no time to ask questions, such as why you don't have four sets of freshly-washed-and-pressed sheets in the drawer, or, indeed, what pressed even means. You work quickly to establish the perimeter of expulsion, remove the now inexplicably cheerful and energetic child to a wipeable place and begin Operation De-Vom.
You have greater responsibilities to fulfil than just the simple act of getting your child into clean (ish – all right, from the laundry basket) pyjamas and bedding. It could be something they ate. But it could, and most likely is, the dready spready norovirus. You scrub like you've never scrubbed before. Because if you don't, it will be passed from family member to family member like a sicky baton, and within a week you'll be good for nothing but self-pitying posts on Facebook.
Stage five: The Second Denial
The next morning your toddler wakes up more jolly than ever, thoroughly refreshed by their middle of the night adventure. They haven't been sick again, but the murky spectre of illness still hangs over them, jabbing its finger at the nursery's 48-hour exclusion policy.
But you can't. And not just because you fancy having a nice nap on the train and drinking a latte from Pret with two hands. 48 hours is two whole days of holiday. Or two days of precious, might-be-needed-for-the-inevitable-June-chickenpox-outbreak, parental leave. Two days unpaid. Or, at the very least, two days of the simple irritation of looking after a housebound toddler.
"We think he might be teething," you trill at his keyworker, your go-to mantra for covering up general peakiness/vomiting/diarrhoea/rashes/frothing at the mouth.
On the way to work you practise your shocked voice for the phone call later. "Gosh, these things do come on quick, don't they?".