Sometimes while traveling an otherwise mundane mommy moment becomes a cherished memory. Caring for sick children is just another chapter in the responsibilities moms dutifully and lovingly carry out. So the image of a little boy, pain etched on his face, precariously balancing his petite frame over a toilet seat designed for adult bottoms is a sight most moms have witnessed. Add to that a child unsure which end his next bout of misery will exit his body, exhausted from the explosions that have already wreaked havoc on the toilet. Most of us have been here. I even won extra mommy points for singing soothingly to my little guy as I held his shoulders to keep him from falling in. Except we weren’t at home. We were in a tight bathroom stall at the British Museum with tourists lined up out the door waiting their turn.
I had been knee deep in vomit and diarrhea the entire previous week as my oldest two battled an awful stomach bug. Miraculously, the baby seemed to avoid the worst of it and I was just left extra sleep-deprived as I spent my nights on the couch next to a toddler who tended to realize too late when it was time to expel more bodily fluids. By the day of our embassy appointment everyone had been on the mend for a few days, so we risked it and headed into London. I was more concerned about myself suddenly coming down with their bug and hadn’t even considered the prospect that it might not be done ravaging my middle child. In fact, we had only intended to take the train to London for our appointment and then head home.
Our morning began with a stressful travel hiccup. The train station that we have parked at multiple times during morning commute hours was packed. All the nearby parking lots were also full and, as usual, we were running late. Our option was to park in the short-term parking and accept the hefty fine or miss the train and our embassy appointment. Begrudgingly we accepted the price of failing to arrive early enough. Two hours later we arrived at the embassy and our appointment took much longer than anticipated. No getting in a half day at work for the husband. No making it home in time for afternoon naps.
Queue the light bulb turning on in my head. We had spent a fortune that morning on parking. Why not make the most of it and actually stay in the city all day? Hesitantly, my husband agreed to our impromptu afternoon of sightseeing with three hungry and tired children. We found food and both boys quickly fell asleep. Everything was falling into place. They napped while we trekked across town to the British Museum. I could barely contain my excitement. We had played tourist in London multiple times but had yet to make it to THE Museum. Things continued to work in our favor. The weather was brilliant, it was truly a gorgeous day to be exploring London.
The boys slept through the first hour as we explored the museum. My oldest stole my £2 map and was determined to be our tour guide. It’s been over a year since our last visit to a Smithsonian museum, and apparently five-year-olds are the perfect age to really start appreciating the “stuff” inside a museum. She treated our map like a treasure hunt. It listed the top “must-sees” and she proudly helped us track down the first half before her brothers woke up. She latched onto the Rosetta Stone (possibly because her mom knew the most about that one) and eagerly inquired for more details about each object we passed.
And then the real fun began. From experience with my oldest, I know 3 is a dangerous age for a child in a museum. They run, they touch, they don’t quite understand… Thankfully, the museum was not crowded on our random Tuesday afternoon. But my child awoke in a mood. He fell asleep as we strolled the streets of London and awoke in a sparsely lit museum hall full of Egyptian artifacts. To make things worse, his mommy still had a sleeping baby strapped to her chest and could not hold him. He eventually climbed into his daddy’s lap and took in the sarcophagus in front of him. He wasn’t impressed. He warmed up to the museum as we reached the Greek exhibits. Walls of etched battle scenes caught his eye. This was something he could relate to–“knights” fighting with swords. He happily followed his sister around confusedly staring at knights with missing heads, limbs, or cough other unmentionables.
About two hours into our exploration, my fearless treasure hunter, knight-seeker, and restless baby were tiring of the museum. We headed outside to the courtyard with the promise of ice cream. They only had vanilla ice cream and my little knight did NOT want vanilla ice cream. He contemplated a temper tantrum but held it together with an angry scowl on his face. As the rest of us enjoyed our ice cream, he moved to the far end of our bench and placed his head on his arms. He groaned and mumbled responses to our numerous inquiries if he was okay. And then I knew we might have a problem. Abruptly leaving my husband with the other two, I swooped up the now audibly groaning child and made a beeline back into the museum. I knew I’d seen a bathroom sign somewhere.
“Are you going to throw up? Is your tummy upset?” No response. He just buried his head in my shoulder as I raced towards the bathroom at the far end of the hall. “Mommy, it’s coming NOW!” he finally whined in a panic as I looked up in horror at the line winding outside the women’s restroom. I stood patiently in the back of the line while reassuring him it was almost our turn. But those in front of us could sense his panic and quickly allowed us to take the next open stall.
We made it. The sounds echoed and the smell engulfed the small bathroom. Everyone was immediately thankful they’d let the little boy cut in line while suddenly regretting being anywhere in the same vicinity. He quickly finished and the relief was evident on his face. No sooner had we opened the stall door to leave, his face went pale and he started to cough. I shoved him towards the toilet, prepared to be splattered in vomit. But he needed to sit on the toilet, too. No vomit came, but explosions again rocked the toilet. But this time he was afraid to get up, afraid it might not be over yet. And he was right.
On one knee next to him, I gently rubbed his back while he leaned his shoulders against me. He was done, but the tears welled up in his eyes. He was exhausted. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray...” I quietly sang as he recovered there on the toilet, still afraid to get up. As I finished singing, I peered down at the face resting against my chest. His eyes were closed. He had fallen asleep. On the toilet. At the British Museum.
I carried my sleepy pooper back to the courtyard. For some reason, I felt like it should have been raining as we walked back outside. But it was a brilliantly sunny, perfectly temperate day. My oldest was frolicking in the grass chasing pigeons. Judging by his face, the baby had clearly enjoyed his ice cream and was smiling from ear to ear as he balanced himself while standing in the grass. One look at us and my husband knew he didn’t want to know the traumatic events of the past half hour.
We loaded the kids back up in the stroller and sauntered back towards King’s Cross Station. It was a good day. My oldest loved the museum and wants to go back. My children all behaved and there were no temper tantrums or meltdowns of any sort. I actually got to stop and read the descriptions at the museum. And I got to meander through the Egyptian exhibits –something I’ve wanted to do since living in Cairo a decade ago. But when I think back to our first trip to the British Museum, I’ll remember the bathroom.
Already in my mere five years as a parent, the colds and flus and stomach viruses we’ve battled all just kind of blur together. I certainly don’t want (or need) to remember each nitty gritty second of their childhood illnesses. But in forgetting or blurring the unpleasant memories, I also forget the beautiful, quiet moments that occur in the midst of the chaos. That perfect, calm moment that followed my little guy’s stormy bathroom take-over won’t be soon forgotten. He fell asleep on the toilet at the British Museum while I sang to him in a bathroom crammed full of tourists. Thank you, British Museum, for a special mommy moment I won’t soon forget.