I was sitting on the lip of my son’s bed, tucking him in, when I heard my wife scream. I could tell from the pitch, that she wasn’t scared, but rather grossed out. Parents say they can tell if a child is really hurt or just faking it by the way they cry. Well… after being married to my wife for nearly 11 years, I can tell when she is screaming because of a spider, or when she thinks she’s heard an intruder, or when… say… our one-year-old pukes all over her. Sadly, this scream was the latter.
I walked into the living room to find my beautiful wife spackled with toddler puke. Aspen, the one-year-old, was crying, puke down her striped elephant pajamas. It was on the glider, and the carpet, and suddenly I was struck with fear. I know that I should have felt sorry for my wife. I should have felt compassion for her situation. And part of me, I’m sure did feel that way. But that was not the emotion that rose to the top. What really freaked me out was the fact that I knew, without a doubt, that I was going to have to clean up the puke.
I know what you are thinking, “Stop bitching, Clint. You didn’t get puked on.” And I know… I get it. I don’t expect your sympathy. But what I will say is that there are certain things that turn a person’s stomach. For me… it’s puke. Cleaning up puke makes me puke. In fact, just writing this essay is making me a little ill. Usually, when the kids puke, Mel handles it because she knows that I will just end up puking. At first, this was a source of tension in our marriage. She saw it as me passing the buck. We had to have a few long discussions about what it means for me to clean up puke. How I gag, and get watery-eyed. I can’t handle it.
But with it being late, nearly 10 p.m., and Mel and the baby soiled, I knew I’d have to step it up or never get to bed.
So much of parenting comes down to stepping it up. It comes down to swallowing your bile during a messy incident. It means being faced with something really gross, and having to clean it up, without complaint. No one is going to clean it up for you. And as Mel took the baby into the laundry room to strip her down, I looked at the puke dripping down the chair, into the crevices, and onto the carpet, and gathered my strength.
I got out our Bissell spot cleaner, filled it with water and cleanser, and took a deep breath. I was about to start when I turned around to see Mel standing in the kitchen, naked, holding a naked toddler. “I’m getting in the tub with Aspen. Thanks for handling this. Try not to puke.”
She was naked, so I felt obligated to be confident. I winked. “I got this,” I said. But in reality, I was scared.
“Yeah…” she said, suspiciously. “If you puke, don’t puke on the chair.”
She went into the bathroom, and I started cleaning.
I was surprised by how much there was. I was surprised by how much of it ended up falling between the cushion and the armrest, and how difficult it was to clean. I was grateful that the chair was microfiber, because it made things come up easier. And in all this, I didn’t gag once. I went into some paternal mindset. I looked at the whole situations as a duty, a job, a responsibility. There was some switch that flipped in my head. I was able to make it happen, somehow. And by the time it was all said and done, and the puke was clean, and towels were down in the chair, I felt like I’d turned some corner in my parenting. I felt like I’d discovered some inner strength, a super power perhaps, that made it possible for me, to finally, clean up puke.
I didn’t know if it was because of my strong sense of duty to my family and children that I was able to overcome the one thing about parenting, kid puke, that I couldn’t stomach, or if it was because I’d become so war hardened to gross kid situations, that I no longer had a problem with puke, but what I do know is that I felt like I’d really overcome a deep fear. I was handling something that I always avoided without issue. And the funny thing is, I had no idea that being able to handle kid puke without getting sick to my stomach would make me feel empowered as a parent.
I was emptying the spot cleaner in the toilet when Mel came in, her hair wet, holding Aspen.
“Did you puke?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I was, surprisingly, fine.”
She gave me a high five. I thought about the irony of sharing a high five over cleaning kid puke. But at the time, it seemed warranted. It felt like a real accomplishment. Like I’d conquered some demon.
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