The Mercy of a Stomach Bug

Last week, an Olympic-level gastrointestinal event radically transformed my trusty To-Do List. Taking it from: Chores, homeschooling, piano lessons, Altar Boy League, tennis practice, article editing, meal preparation to … Okay, just survive.

My family of nine also transformed from a well-oiled, highly functioning machine into a wilting set of parents and seven sons barfing in polyphonic harmony. But here’s the crazy part — there was actually something very enjoyable about the whole thing. Okay, not the extra laundry, but seeing my To-Do List going from one of multi-tasking to single-tasking. Yeah, I needed that.

I also loved cuddling up on the couch with my wolf pack and watching reruns of Shark Tank — our favorite show. We had to pause it now and then to cheer when each running dash to the toilet was met with success.

“Hooray for Henry!” We would have never known our track star’s athleticism translated to “quickest bucket delivery boy” without such a challenge. 

Phone calls were ignored. The van never left the driveway.  Card games were played. 

Just before it was my turn to curl up in bed, I sadly learned about the untimely death of a high school friend. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I mourned his loss, prayed for his soul and contemplated my own mortality — a sudden absence of bodily health (albeit temporarily) has a way of doing that. I moaned and wrestled with twisted bed sheets, reflecting on life, death and everything in the middle. I went away from the whole experience thankful for the friend I once knew, thankful for the time to properly ponder his life, but also sad that had I not been slain with the stomach bug, the news of this friend’s death wouldn’t have gotten the contemplation it obviously deserved.

And since I literally could not do anything else, I opened the closest book available to me, which happened to be the Bible. A favorite verse jumped from the pages, but I felt like I was seeing it for the first time:

James 4:14: “What is your life? For you are but a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” 

As my gang recovered, I resolved to cultivate the art of single-tasking more often, to carve out more purposeful day-time hours for contemplation. Maybe this will mean eating cold cereal for dinner some nights (my kids would be thrilled) so I can spend entire afternoons painting watercolors with my budding artists. Maybe this will mean putting off involvement in sports teams for a season so we can zone-in on academics.  Also, all my family’s peaceful time alone together made me seriously reconsider our full slate of extracurricular programs. I picked two to cut out, and it felt like a real victory.

By day-3 of our illness, we were able to move from survival to laundry.  By day-4, since I couldn’t rid the household of germs by fire, I opted for “bleach”as the only added word to my Single Tasking To-Do List. Now, with the flu season in full swing, I’m well armed with hand sanitizer and a weekly schedule that’s — mercifully — a little lighter.

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Sarah Robsdottir writes from the mountains of Pennsylvania where she and her family are often found stomping through creek beds and wooded glens, seeking out the wonder. Visit her at  

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