As a parent, sometimes the best solutions are the most disgusting ones.
We learned this the hard way one Sunday, driving home to Chicago from my brother’s wedding in Atlanta. Everyone told us we should fly to the wedding, but we like to drive, and 12 hours isn’t too long of a trek. Or so we thought.
My sons were 3 and 1, and they had a great time at the wedding. And as we would discover, picked up something fun there too. For shortly into the drive home, the 1-year-old starts throwing up.
When a 1-year-old gets the stomach flu, it’s not pleasant, but it’s manageable. They can’t fit too much in their stomachs, so after the first puke, each subsequent one is just a bit of stuff to clean up. You don’t even need to stop the car, just reach back and clean it up with some wipes.
But about halfway home, we hear an awful sound come from the backseat. It’s hit the 3-year-old.
Now when a 3-year-old throws up, that’s a bigger problem. You can’t just touch that up, you’re talking about an entire child covered in stomach stew. This requires work.
So we pull off the highway, stop at a McDonald’s, and do the “gross family” walk of shame to the bathroom. I clean him up, change his clothes, and we get back on the road, feeling a bit proud of our parenting competence.
20 minutes later, he spews again. So we stop again, clean, change clothes. Back on the road once more.
20 minutes later: again.
At this point the realization hits us: We’re in trouble. And we don’t have a lot of options. Stopping to spend the night puking all over a hotel room isn’t going to do anyone any good. We have to get home. But it’s hours away, and we’ll never get there if we have to keep stopping to clean puke.
And then, like a red-eyed beacon in the evening sky, my wife spots our glowing savior: Target.
“Towels!” she shouts. “They can puke in towels!”
I have no idea what she was talking about, but my wife is a lot smarter than me, and I’m desperate, so I nod my head. We pull off the highway again, hit the Target, and buy a bunch of towels. My wife spreads them across the back seat and on the kids’ laps and says “Kids: puke away, we’ll deal with it when we get home.”
And puke they do.
The baby keeps up his little pukes, while the oldest alternates between sleeping and waking up every 30 minutes to puke. Even time we hear him start to stir, we shout, “Towel!” so he remembers to puke onto the towel once the inevitable puke urge hits.
After hours of this, the backseat is a disaster scene. It looks like someone scooped out 5 large pumpkins and hurled the guts all over some kids.
And the smell is overpowering. But we don’t have to stop anymore, so we’re making progress.
Then, about 150 miles from home, from the passenger seat my wife softly says, “Um, you might want to speed up. I’m starting to feel a bit flush.”
So now I’m flooring it, going 100 miles per hour down the highway. At this point I’m almost hoping a cop will pull me over, sure that upon seeing the carnage that our car has become, he’ll send me forth with a police escort to clear our way home.
No cop comes, but I finally pull into the garage around 11:30 p.m. My wife runs inside and immediately succumbs to the flu symptoms. From the bathroom I hear her say, “Just clean the kids and anything that has puke on it, the rest can wait.”
Three hours and three loads of laundry later, I’ve finally cleaned all the puked-upon kids, clothes, car seats, and toys. The kids and wife are sound asleep. And so at 2:30 a.m., I collapse on the couch and start to fall asleep, thinking of how much worse it would have been if that had all happened on a plane.
And then I feel my stomach gurgle.