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Friday night

I smell of vomit. I've lost count of the times Charlie's tagged me. I've changed my clothes, washed, rubbed a wet washcloth briskly through my hair, but I still smell awful.

Charlie doesn't win any prizes, either. He's been throwing up intermittently for the last day, keeping no solids or formula down. Because he's not dehydrated, and can keep down the electrolyte liquid the doctor has recommended, he's not in any danger, but between the ear infection, the cold, the teething, and the vomiting, he's obviously feeling awful, in need of a great deal of comfort.

So we comfort. I'm rocking Charlie after he wakes at 8 PM. I'm humming along with his lullaby CD. He's folded into my arms, as comfortable as he can get, and he's wrapped in a soft blue blanket printed with friendly white clouds.

He finally falls asleep, so after ten more minutes of rocking — insurance — I stand and put him in his crib. In his sleep, he tosses and turns and tries to get comfortable. His movement wakes him again, and he starts to cough.

The coughing brings more vomiting. He's fouled a great deal of his crib sheet. He's crying piteously. I pick him up immediately and am, of course, therefore smeared anew. I don't care. I sit back down and as we rock, I clean him up with wet wipes.

There are globs of vomited...something...in his eyelashes.

It takes a long time to calm him again. As we're rocking, I feel him gradually relax. His hands stop clutching the blanket — a fresh one, bright primary plaid — quite so tensely, and his left foot slows in its rhythmic kicks of my thigh.

I'm humming and patting, occasionally chanting snippets of his favorite book, Big Red Barn, in a monotonous singsong. I feel a patch of his vomit drying on my cheek.

His body is getting heavier in my lap as he nears sleep again. His hands are still moving, but languidly. I watch one hand slowly explore his cheek. He's gently stroking his face with his left hand. As I watch, he gives his cheek a soft pat, then another.

PreemiecalmI haven't seen him do this — have scarcely even thought of it — since before his due date, when he, like many preemies, used to stroke his own face to comfort himself as lay in his isolette.

It's this that really gets me, more than the vomiting, the helpless look he gives me as he coughs hard just prior, the sad whimpers directly after. He pats his cheek to soothe himself. I pat his sweaty head. In time with my rocking, I talk to him. I'm here, I chant, I'll help.