I was surprised at how well my husband and I handled our daughter’s first couple vomiting experiences. It was as if we each assumed our roles without needing to talk it through or practice the scenario. As if there is ever time in that type of situation, because you are almost never ready.
It is an unmistakable sound, the retching cough and gag, the acidic liquid chunks hitting the bottom of the bowl. The smell is unmistakable too. A rancid, partially broken down blended mix of the past day’s food and stomach acids. The putrid smelling liquid warms your hands though the bowl as you clutch it shakily.
Vomit. An expected human bodily function to eliminate contaminated particles from our body.
Expected, yet never ready, especially with young kids. Vomit isn’t the only thing that has come up without warning as my husband and I raise our kids. With the vomit at least we assumed our roles and we knew it would pass. After that first spew, we had somewhat of an idea of what would follow. But as we are neck deep in the throes of parenting young kids, sometimes we don’t have an idea of what is coming and we don’t really know what to expect next.
It is an unmistakable feeling, wondering if you’ve handled a situation with your child correctly. Did I discipline correctly? Am I teaching them the way that’s best for them? The guilt is unmistakable too. I got too angry and yelled. My mouth spewed out commands and my face reddened. I didn’t follow through with what I said I would. My shoulders sink. Unsteadily, I sit down and ponder the best way to raise my children.
There are some great stories about my father-in-law that my husband has shared with me on multiple occasions. One story that my husband recalls is when he threw up over the side of his bunk bed when he was around eight (he was on the top bunk of course) and my father-in-law caught the vomit in his hands. That was just one of many vomit-catching moments of my father-in-law’s parenting life. Whenever one of his kids would vomit unexpectedly, he’d make a little cup with his hands together catching it all in one seemingly swift motion
I’ve always thought, “That’s it.” When I am a parent and I catch my kid’s vomit in my hands, I’ve arrived. I’ve become wise. I’ve reached the peak of all-knowing parental wisdom.
“Say bye to Grandma and Grandpa! Say goodbye to Nana and Papa!” I told Hadley as we quickly made our way off the ferry deck and down the stairs to our car.
“Noooo!!” Hadley yelled, red-faced and cheeks wet with tears. The ferry ride back to Edmonds was short and as soon as the announcement was made, people quickly made their way back to the car deck below. Hadley had just spent the entire weekend with our extended family on Whidbey Island and she did not know the goodbye would be so quick.
I buckled her in the car seat and decided to sit in the back with her to calm her down. She continued to scream and cry, just not quite ready for goodbye. Then suddenly, it came. I held out my hands cupping them together for the regurgitated Chex mix vomit.
Catch. Shake. Wipe.
Well, it’s safe to say, I’ve caught vomit in my hands at least a few times now and I’m here to tell you, I have not arrived. I am not the wise sagely mother I thought I would be. Instinctual perhaps, yes. One of my kids retches and I shoot out my hands and form a cup in front of their face and I remember my father-in-law with the story of his magical vomit-catching father hands. I instinctively hold out my hands. But this is not because I am wise, it’s because this is an impulse. Parenting seems to be more acting on impulse than wisdom lately.
I came out of my daughter’s room after saying goodnight to find my husband sitting in the dark at the kitchen counter.
“What are you doing?” I asked scrunching my brow.
“Just thinking.” He paused and then continued, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’m doing any of this right. I think I came down too hard on her tonight.”
“I don’t know either.” I shrugged. I sat there next to him while my tea water boiled. We have caught the vomit with our hands and we still don’t know.
The first few months after Hadley started kindergarten was admittedly a little rough at home. She’s been amazing at school and has no behavioral issues. She’s learning, forming friendships, and loves school. For that, we are grateful. She seems to be leveling out a little now that we are halfway through the year, but we’ve had our share of evening tantrums, which have included but are not limited to yelling, hitting, throwing, stomping, slamming, screaming and 6-year-old emotional logic. My husband calls it, “The Upside Down.” (Thank you, Stranger Things).
We tell ourselves, “We’ve reached the point of no return, she’s in The Upside Down now and we can’t get her back.”
We blame exhaustion, we blame her mind and body being on overload. I am glad she can let it out at home and she knows she’s safe and loved no matter what, but dealing with this behavior all too often has its wear. We aren’t ever really sure if we’ve handled the situation correctly, we try to use what we have in the moment, catching it with our hands if we have to.
Mom sat with me on the edge of my bed. Her hand rubbed my back and swept back strands of hair as I clutched the tin bowl in my hands. Hot dogs. We had eaten hot dogs for dinner that night. I hadn’t imagined I would see the same hot dog I ate for a second time.
After throwing up hot dogs, it took me a while to ever eat them again. The smell was terrible. Mom didn’t let on and never even flinched, but I knew it was horrid.
Sometimes you are ready. You know the vomit is coming and you are prepared for the purging of your child’s stomach. My mom was prepared for what came that night. She had the tin bowl ready to catch my mighty spew.
My father-in-law had no clue what was coming and he caught the vomit with his bare hands.
Sometimes, we are prepared for what’s coming as parents and sometimes we aren’t.
I’ve come to the realization that parenting is one part tin bowl- prepared, calm, ready, and one part cupping your hands together- instinctive, resourceful, and brave. We use one or the other sometimes alternating between both. But whatever we use, we catch that damn vomit.
However, what about the vomit that comes at night and ends up all over the bedding and rug? What then? No hands, no bowl, no preparedness or resourcefulness, just a disgusting mess to clean up without trying to vomit yourself as you gag from the stench.
Well, I don’t know. I don’t have my tin bowl. I don’t have my hands ready. I don’t have anything. Except, I am there. I am there to clean up the mess, to draw the bath, change their clothes, stroke their hair, and say “It’s alright.”
I am there.