By the time I heard the third retch I knew that the outcome wasn’t going to be pretty. Rather than wait until I heard the revulsion in the voice of our aide, I headed quickly towards the source of the sound. Along the way I deftly grabbed a dishtowel and in one smooth move, slipped it under Bethany’s chin. It was a beautiful action, almost a visual poem – if only the timing had been better.
My poor work at estimating forced me into the second stage of this whole event; that of maintaining dignity for all those involved. Everyone around you is aghast in horror and dismay while the guest of honor of course, thinks its funny. I on the other hand am trying with all my being to downplay the drama of it, not encouraging a repeat, while hopefully calming the “just puked on “ helper by demonstrating a comfortable awareness of the mess that’s covering the lot of us. Many take it in stride; the few unaccustomed ones cause me to wonder if I should have grabbed two towels.
I think back to my first experience when our oldest was but 3 years old, an event that was so horrific that it literally cleared an entire section of the McDonald’s before my wife could begin triage. I recall standing there holding the child as if all was normal in the world. No panic, no darting eyes, no apologies. Stand there and hold your head up as if this was an every day occurrence.
We’ve learned much about maintaining dignity with Bethany, if in a store she begins to scream and everyone starts to stare as if there were potatoes growing out of our ears – we’ve found it best to simply scream right along with her. That way they don’t know which one is attending to which one. If she decides to sit down in the middle of a busy sidewalk and mope, I cross my legs and sit down beside her. If she decides to laugh at a fart, I laugh right along with her.
Dignity is for those who take themselves seriously and Bethany’s game is to make you realize that you are not your own. Only when you accept this reality, can you maintain dignity while your being is under assault. People marvel at us and say, “I don’t know how you do it”, and the answer is an easy one: pour yourself out like water and you’ll easily conform to any situation. Wet bedding, fouled pants, drool, and a host of other typically unpleasant events all become less of an obstacle simply because they cannot confront you, there is no “you”. Like sound waves over the water, with nothing to reflect their energy, they move on until something else, something confrontational accepts their energy.
For us maintaining dignity is a disappearing act, like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, we simply disappear leaving nothing but a grin.