It was inevitable that one day it would happen. I’ve made it through eleven years of parenting without ever battling the dreaded stomach flu. Sure, there has been vomit (usually in the middle of the night), but never the prolonged, violent vomiting that comes with the stomach flu. My luck ran out during a six-hour car trip to visit family.
I always travel with a full roll of paper towels and trash bags in anticipation of the vomit that will be coming from the dog. At 88 pounds, my German Shepherd can’t seem to embrace being in a moving vehicle and usually upchucks every few miles for the first hour. I’m not sure how it’s possible, but I can see my bright white dog turn green moments before he blows chunks all over the floor mats. I invested in a tarp that lines the entire floor of the car for easy cleanup. I was prepared for canine nausea, and right on cue, he began to retch about 20 minutes down the road (bypassing the tarp and hurling directly into the door jamb). Crouched outside in the freezing cold at a gas station using a pencil and a paper towel to dislodge bits of regurgitated dog food from the gear of the automatic door was the moment I should have realized the universe was trying to tell me to turn back. Never being one to get the hint, I soldiered on.
The dog threw up two more times before real disaster struck. I had the dog cleanup routine down to a science, and was feeling smug about how it hadn’t knocked me off my schedule at all, when I heard my daughter shriek from the backseat, “The baby is throwing up!” Oh dear God. I pulled off the road, terrified of what I was about to discover. Sure enough, he was sitting in his car seat covered in chunky, white vomit. The dog was looking on, justified that he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t handle my driving. Luckily, the baby’s car seat was protected by his car seat cape and the cape got all of the contaminant. I cleaned him up, changed him, started a laundry bag, and called my sister. You don’t really want us to keep coming, do you? Shouldn’t we go home? Are you sure? We could be bringing the plague.
Ignoring my sage advice, my sister insisted that we come anyway since we were halfway there, even though I was sure it was only a matter of time until the other two were hurling right along with their brother (and dog). An hour later, more shrieking from the back seat began: “He’s throwing up again!” Who? The dog? “No! The baby!” they screamed. This time there was no barrier between him and the car seat. It was soaked and so was he. Pulled over in a school parking lot with a quickly dwindling roll of sodden paper towels at my feet, I cleaned and wiped as best as I could as the other two children cried, “It smells sooooo bad!” The naked two-year-old, wrapped in a blanket, sat whimpering quietly as I tried to spot wash his seat with a bottle of Aquafina. With a forced smile I said: It will be fine. I think I saw an air freshener in here somewhere. It won’t be a problem to take this seat apart into a million pieces, wash it, and put it back together in someone else’s house.
Sure enough, one of those cloying air fresheners Mr. Fox is always trying to put in my car (that I choke on and throw out) was lodged under my seat where he thought I’d never find it. I ripped off the package and hung it on my rearview mirror. The smell of throw-up was quickly overpowered by sugary vanilla candle. The children stopped complaining about the smell. I got an instant migraine. The baby was now on his third outfit of the day and strapped back into a damp car seat lined with paper towels and prayers that there was nothing left inside him to come out.
We made it with no further incidents until approximately 1:00 a.m., when the unmistakeable sound of retching came from the white couch where my eleven-year-old had been sleeping. Why my sister has white couches is something I’ll never understand. They’re not white anymore. And her area rug, I’ve been told, is now at the dump. Why is it that children can never make it the few steps to the bathroom when there is a throw-up issue? When it hit my seven-year-old, she had a bucket but didn’t use it because she was “afraid it wouldn’t hold all of it.” So she made it to the bathroom just in time to hurl on a closed toilet lid, splattering all four walls, the shower, the linen closet, and the dog who was hovering, concerned, over her shoulder. This same child looked up at her aunty, wide eyes full of tears as she admitted, “I thought it was just a toot! I swear I thought it was a toot!” to explain why she had pooped her pants while sitting on the formerly white couch. Thus began the nonstop vomit (and poop toot) cleanup as it moved through the entire household.
Many hours of frustration, stomach cramping, and poop toots later, the car seat had been cleaned (twice) and put back together (barely) and the carpets in the car shampooed by a guy who, smelling the desperation clinging to me, claimed to be giving me a $59 deal to clean a 2 x 1 section of carpet (it wasn’t). We returned home as fast as we could with our tails between our legs after having spent our entire visit sicker than any of us has ever been before and leaving behind a disaster of ruined carpets, couches, and bathroom tile that will never be the same again. I got a few miles down the road and received this text:
We are not getting an invitation to Christmas this year.
These are the moments we’ll treasure forever.