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Parental Flaw #151: Not being able to pull yourself up by your boot straps when the going gets tough, and thereby leaving your children to rot in a pool of their own vomit. Average Therapy Rating: Fear of toilets inevitable Potential to milk it for all it's worth: Of course

There are few things worse than a vomiting child. I'll take long, green boogers strung down to the chin, a hacking cough complete with a phlegm rag, or a nice slice through the palm, all over dealing with vomit.

Vomit is King at our house.

As mothers, we have an inherent sense of duty to step-up to the toilet when the going gets tough. Like it or not, once that child is gingerly laid into our arms upon exiting the womb we are locked into a sweeping janitorial contract. There are no quid pro quos. The offensive fluid can shoot out of any orifice at any time, or even two orifices at the same time, until your child packs his or her bags and leaves the home. And even then you are occasionally in charge of trying to SHOUT it out of their favorite college T-shirt.

Who else is going to clean it up? OK little Johnny, here's a rag and a bucket. Get to work but don't stay up too late; it's a school night and you have a fever.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a magical Vomit Hotline? Where a janitor, complete with his own shiny mop and bucket, and a nurse wearing a crisp white uniform would instantly appear in a cloud of green smoke in your hallway right as you hung up the phone.

I would call it every second of the day without shame.

"Yeah, um, my child just shot juice out of her nose while laughing at her older brother, who has just stuck his whole face in his cereal milk for the hell of it, hmm, I'm not sure if this really qualifies, but I'm kind of gagging now. Can I actually get two janitors and no nurse with this one? Really, it's just a bit of bodily fluid mixed with apple, but I think sanitizing the whole kitchen is in order."

If such a hotline actually did exist (we are all entitled to our Harry Potter fantasies), I'm sure the line would always be busy anyway. Kind of like trying to put a call into a radio station when they just announced your birthday and the prize is a new Prius.

The recorded phone message would probably play something like this:

"All of our Vomiteers are currently out on assignment . . . please leave your name, number, and a brief message and we will get back to you as soon as possible. If this is an emergency, get your sorry ass out of bed and go help your screaming child. Thank you. Beeeeeeeeep."

My Husband and I have a deal.

We call it the "Vomit Deal," and it's capitalized because it's so very important. It's just one of the many deals we've struck over the years. Deals which have come into effect out of the pure necessity of trying to stay married in a household where your children's prime objective is to wreak havoc on your soul. Once we had said children and realized what they were truly capable of, we had no choice but to pinky swear to take on equal and active parts in the raising of our new hellions.

Which exact part each of us would or wouldn't take on as "prime duty" has often come up for debate, most of the time during joy-filled car rides, where being held prisoner and unable to stomp out of the room can result in a barrage of lethal verbal exchanges. "I am not taking diarrhea and a bloody head wound; you can just scratch that one right off your roster, pal."

Our car rides have rivaled Thunder Dome in their intensity, each of us fighting like an alley cat to gain some equal footing. Then when the car finally comes to a halt, we both step out, shaken and slightly out of breath, and seal the new deal in a pinky swear.

Or on occasion we sever a major artery and swap a blood oath.

These iron clad deals cover the gamut of childhood traumas, from who gets to bring bloodied child to hospital on down to who must change poopy apple juice diarrhea diapers.

So when the shrill screech of a vomiting child pierces us awake, usually between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m., my husband stumbles into the offensive bedroom first, half awake, and gathers up the vomit-soaked covers, while I veer toward the bathroom, grabbing a hold of the wailing child, who somehow always manages to tumble out into the hallway.

It always runs the same way.

I thrust said child under a current of water while frantically trying to gulp in some forgiving air, which has been sucked completely out of our tiny, suffocating bathroom, and then clothe him or her in a new vomitless outfit.

[On various vomit-filled vacations, I have discovered that hotel bathrooms on the whole are the worst vapor-barrier, zip-lock tombs in the universe, and the next morning, even after running the tortuous fan all night, the faint wafting smell of sulfuric odor pierces your senses awake and immediately alerts you to what you were hoping to forget had happened the night before.]

At the same time I'm spraying down said child, my husband is spending some quality time over the laundry tub rinsing out the offensive articles, after which he'll be required to get new bedding ready.

This technique of intercept, grab, and wash has worked well for us. I recommend a good plan for everyone. Though this method has been tried and tested many times on a single child, it has never been attempted on more than one vomiting child at a time.

In case of two vomiting children, please refer to the section of the parenting manual titled "Suicide."

So it's the middle of summer and my family attends a party at my parents house and do what normal people do at parties: We eat ourselves into a stupor.

Every time I even so much as glance at the food table I see little hands attached to very recognizable shirtsleeves, reaching recklessly into the array of goodies. Each child- sized fist grabbing big handfuls of Cheetos, Doritos, and marshmallows, like devilish little snack scoopers with no bodies attached.

But what am I going to do?

It's summer and my mother throws a damn good party.

Out of the corner of one eye I see Will pour himself at least 30 glasses of Hawaiian Punch. Which I fully admit is somewhat excessive, but come on, isn't that what you're supposed to do at a party? Eat yourself silly until you can't find a comfy spot on the couch? Nothing says party like unclamping your belt and doubling yourself over a chair so you can take in a breath.

I was really too busy stuffing chicken wings into my gullet to notice. You know?

So we're not even home yet and Will starts moaning from the backseat, "Mooommm, my tummy huuurrts."


You just ate everything in sight for four hours straight. You had a Cheeto/brownie sandwich for dinner and now you're surprised? So I give him the "That's why we don't eat stuff like that all the time, our bodies aren't used to all those yucky things and when you try and cram all that into your stomach it just doesn't like it." And then I throw in some "Now I hope you've learned your lesson, young man" just for fun.


"Moooommmmm. It really, really huuuurrrrtttss." A sobbing Will has managed to make it into our bedroom from the third floor, which is a first. My husband jumps out of bed, fearing the human fire hose spray, and redirects Will into the bathroom, where he erupts into the toilet just in time. I pad in behind them, mostly because I know I should be present even though the situation looks fairly under control.

What smells worse than vomit? Nothing.

I take a lethal sniff up my nose and give an involuntary gag. Honestly, I will gladly take a steaming pile of dog crap by the side of my bed rather than endure that acidic vomity smell.

I start dry heaving and have to leave the room.

I immediately go back into the bathroom because my son has now gone from hanging onto the edge of the toilet, vomiting cleanly into the basin, to sitting slumped over by the side of our claw foot tub, sobbing uncontrollably, seemingly unable to get over the trauma. He really doesn't vomit very often and is known as the iron gullet of our family.

I glance into the toilet on my way over to the tub because the color catches my eye, and then I quickly try to hide my concern, since panicking would only exacerbate an already trying situation. Will's mess is bright red and for a full 30 seconds I examine my crying heap of a son from head-to-toe and almost convince myself I see a rare tumor protruding out of his stomach. And then remember the Hawaiian Punch.

Thank God for the punch.

He has another episode over the toilet, but nothing comes up. We try to explain dry heaves but don't get very far with him wailing, "Why won't it stooooppppp!?"

After what seems like 72 hours, we propel him into our room. I pull open our closet door and grab our handy air mattress from the top shelf. I blow off the dust and try to uncrumple it by giving it a good shake. It's one of those cheap Target ones with the pointy edges and looks like it will last exactly seven seconds in the water. For some reason our swirly vinyl purple one has lasted us a whole year. I begin to inflate it as Will curls up in the fetal position on our bedroom floor, and then I lovingly roll him onto the finished purple product now located at the foot of our bed.

We toss an old comforter on top of him and wish him luck.

When the kids were small and sick, they got the treatment. They got to come into bed with us, and all the bells and whistles were attached. I would put a nice towel over the edge of our mattress to catch any excess flowage, pet them to sleep with a million loving strokes, all while murmuring sweet things in their ears, like how it will be all better in the morning.

Then we got old and tired.

We figure now that they're almost adults they can try fending for themselves once in a while. Six is more than old enough to take on some of life's bigger challenges. If you can bus your dishes, you can sleep in vomit. We'll have to break them in someday, so why not today? In the real world you're almost always alone, just you and your vomit.

Will throws up twice more during the night, reaching the toilet in record time. See, the air mattress location works really well. At this point we're still blaming it on the offensive Cheetos and the general after-party effects. He doesn't seem to have a fever, he's not shaky and he tells us he feels much better after tossing his proverbial cookies (and there may have been some of those in there).

The next morning he gets up and is ready to rumble. As he's getting dressed I deflate the handy purple mattress, thanking it for making it through another night. The kids have summer camp today. I'm making them lunches when Will comes down and says, "I don't want any junk food in mine."

My job as a parent is now complete.

I pat myself on the back and plop an apple and several carrot sticks into the bag. I drop them off at camp, telling Will 14 times along the way if there are any problems to call me. I make him recite all of our phone numbers like the Gettysburg Address. They all get out of the car happy and nobody looks green.

I go back to get them in three hours, which is almost enough time to get something done, but not really. Will comes running up to the car screaming at the top of his lungs, "Moooommmmm, it huuuurrrrttss again!" He's openly weeping and clutching his stomach. His unopened lunch is pounding against his hip as he runs, which causes the juice box to erupt out of it. His head is thrown back in utter despair as he howls at the moon.

I pile them all into the car, including several transient neighbor children, and cross my fingers that I won't contaminate the whole neighborhood with what now looks like a pretty good bout of influenza. That would really screw up our plans for a neighborhood "happy hour" on Wednesday. Every kid on the block having the flu and me having to explain to the other mothers how my judgment is lacking in every way doesn't sound very "happy hour-ish."

We get home and Will takes a five-hour nap. No vomit.

I guess blaming it on the Cheetos is out. He sleeps until 7:00 pm and then gets back into bed at 9 and sleeps all night. No vomit. He may have a low-grade fever, but since he's been comatose for most of the day, I'm not really sure. There is no need for the air mattress so it stays put on the top shelf. I wake up every hour thinking I hear my son stumbling down the steps from his third floor lair, vomiting down each tread as he makes his way into my room for another night of fun. But he makes it through the night vomit free.

He gets up early the next morning, and before I can tell him to take it easy on his stomach he's eaten a plum. We're in the upstairs hallway passing like we usually do in the morning, he most likely on his way to play some Queen on his boom box full blast, with me trying to rub the crust out of my eyes and get some caffeine injected into my blood stream.

He's telling me how much better he is this morning and how he's ready to tackle the d—wham! All over the upstairs hallway. Come on, the hallway? Do you know how many door jambs and corners there are in a hallway? Nine million. Not to mention, my husband is not currently at home. It's a Tuesday and it's not between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. Will's breaking every rule about vomiting we've ever had and I'm not sure what the protocol should be.

Wishing with all my might that Hermione would appear beside me with some great spell that would miraculously clean up vomit-caked door jambs, I hoist my son into the bathtub, peeling off his jammies as I go. He's so stunned that weeping is out of the question. I take advantage of that and leave him in there to soak while I quickly call the neighbor, start and finish the girls' lunches, shove them out the door for an impromptu carpool, arm myself with enough paper towels to wipe up the world and several bottles of Windex, all in approximately six minutes.

Lucky for me the plum hasn't been in his stomach too long, and although it is red, it's still whole and smells more like plum wrapped in acid, than acid-decayed plum. I clean it up without vomiting myself, which is such a huge feat I treat myself to a low-carb fudge bar for breakfast.

I then blow up the air mattress and start my day.
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