“The dog puked over there — please grab some paper towels and get it.”
There is no response.
Not a movement. Not a word. Nothing. He just stands there.
So I look up at him and it’s that look on his face.
Ah, that’s right: he’s the kid who turns a light shade of green at these things. Even at 17.
How could I forget?
I’ve seen this shade of green for about 15 years now. The first time? That would be when he came out of the bathroom. His own bathroom. The light shade of green on his face. Lots of small swallowing going on. The blinking of his eyes. The confused look.
He walks past me toward his Looney Tunes in the living room. I watch him pass, then I raise an eyebrow and look toward the bathroom. I push the door open, slowly, not quite sure what I’m going to find in there. I’ve got three of these guys — any parent of three boys knows the art of pushing doors open slowly.
I step inside and Whoa. Okay, holy cow. As my old man might say, “Something crawl up you and die?”
Fair enough. Kid’s got what the experts call one of those “sensitive stomachs.” Not that I fully understand — you’re talking to a kid who himself spent most of his childhood cutting mold off cheese blocks and sniffing 2-week old leftovers.
But this kid? Any time he leaves his own bathroom, he has that same look on his face. Then, one morning, he simply turns around and heads back in, quickly — throwing up in the toilet. Well, some of the toilet. Kids never actually hit the entire toilet. That would make parenting easy.
This sensitive stomach of his, it becomes his personal hell, some kind of horrific dance with his devil: puking, smelling his own stench, puking, smelling his own stench, puking. I’ve walked by and seen the kid perched on the toilet, gagging.
Not always, no, but enough times. I actually develop somewhat of an appreciation for the little guy plowing through his demons like that. And I always make sure I have a hearty supply of Lysol wipes nearby.
But yeah: I officially had a toddler whose own stench made him vomit. I still haven’t found that in any parenting book I’ve ever read. I also think it’s funny you think I’ve ever read a parenting book.
I’ve raised three boys, including more than a decade as a work-from-home Dad. Carpools. Practices. Dentists. Parent-Teacher conferences. Parent-Principal conferences.
I know these boys. They know me. They’re funny. I’m funny. All in an odd sort of way.
But that poo-vomit-poo-vomit thing? That’s where the mundane world of parenting slowly oozes over to sitcom.
So yeah, in 2018, I get it: I’m not about to get help with the dog vomit on the carpet.
I’m smiling to myself, standing there in the kitchen last week, remembering why I’m not going to get any help with the dog vomit. In fact, I quickly remember that I actually don’t want him to get anywhere near this vomit and the carpet.
Way back when — we’re talking they’re like 4, 8, and 9 — it was time to shampoo the carpets. You know the hell: you trek off to the grocery to rent the cheap, shitty carpet shampooer. You track down the kid stocking the white bread for help finding the right shampoo. Then it’s an hour trying to put the thing together back home — connecting the hoses, explaining to three boys under the age of 10 that they’d better avoid the hoses during this Nerf gun war of theirs or else.
Then you spend the next 4 hours of your life wrestling with cheap, shitty carpet shampooers, taking “breaks” to wipe the sweat from your brow as you delicately position hoses and vacuums and things on staircases like you’re some sort of second-rate contortionist working for tips at the mall — while also now yelling at them for the 17th time about the hoses and this Nerf gun war of theirs.
And that’s just the first hour.
Finally — maybe a little heroically even — you’re unhooking the hoses and chasing the water trickling from the hose (!) all over the kitchen floor with paper towels and taking apart couplings and your knees ache and your back is screaming.
And so is the 4-year-old. From the top of the stairs.
You set it all down and make your way to the bottom of the stairs and look up and see your 4-year-old standing there, vomit all down the front of his shirt and yes, on the carpet you just spent the better part of your Saturday cleaning.
You dash to the top of the stairs and get everybody into their corners like the prize-fight referee that you are. You discover that the 8-year-old apparently wasn’t particularly pleased to take some kind of sniper hit from the 4-year-old (who, quite cleverly, I might add) had positioned himself between the fern and the broken $150 Thomas the Tank table that I’m reminded lasted about a week after Christmas before they destroyed it in some sort of home-grown version of a WWF smack down. (The final words heard by almost every piece of furniture in the Riley household were “Cowabunga!”)
So apparently the sniper hit blasted the 8-year-old right between the eyes. Even worse, it won The Great Nerf Gun Battle of the Winter of 2004. The 4-year-old found this to be quite hilarious. So did the 9-year-old. The 8-year-old? Not so much. In fact, he is fuming, standing there trying to scoop his pride back into a neat pile and all.
Losing to your little brother, in anything — ever — is the cardinal sin of any boyhood.
So once their giggling had stopped, the 8-year-old had apparently pounced on the 4-year-old. Details were sketchy at this point, because I’m still trying to sift through the tears and screaming while stepping over vomit and resisting the urge to put all three of them up for adoption. (“What did I do?” asks the 9-year-old. I don’t know, actually. But us parents are good and finding guilt among anybody standing at the crime scene, so until I sort this out, go sit on that *&&^! couch.)
Apparently — these details now brought to you by a 9-year-old who, in part, is always the cooler head that prevails and, in part, is trying to save his own little ass — after the 8-year-old pounded on his little brother, the 8-year-old held him there. Cries of “Uncle!” weren’t about to soothe his bruised ego. Not even close. So he spun himself around and positioned his own self quite cleverly. I’m guessing I was mid-whistle and de-coupling downstairs at this point. I believe I even had visions of a couple of Advil and an afternoon of watching college football dancing in my head. I may even pick up a box of day-old donuts when I drop this thing back off at the store.
That’s about when the 8-year-old — not quite so cleverly in this parenting book of mine — hovered his fanny over the face of the 4-year-old. And farted. Repeatedly. He knew exactly what he was doing. And he knew exactly what was going to happen next.
Here came that shade of light green. Then the swallowing. The blinking. There were no cries of Uncle. Not when a man’s trying to keep his innards inward.
When the gagging started, the 8-year-old relented. He stood up — and probably even dusted off his hands, if I know this kid. His work was done here. He knew what would happen next. And it happened — as my mother used to so affectionally refer to them — “all over my clean *&&^%$ carpet!”
Now, there are moments when you sort of lose your shit and yell a little and maybe even invoke some crazy saying your own parents used to throw at you. Maybe you start throwing around menacing index fingers. The Dad scowl. Or else no longer does the trick. You’ve advanced to “…you’d better watch it, Mister!” … or even “your ass is grass and I’m a lawn mower” or one of my old standbys: “$*&^%!”
But then there are times you’re simply defeated.
The battle, the war, all of it.
So this weird calm comes over you, a soothing parent voice — dare I say, patience? Empathy? Kindness?
Oh my God, when I did suddenly move from eating the last of their chicken nuggets and inducing giggles with my Foghorn Leghorn impressions to becoming a parent?
So you just dab at tears with your carpet-shampoo-soaked shirt sleeve. You pull vomit-stained Ninja Turtle t-shirts off them. You hug. (Sure, you scowl at the 8-year-old now sitting on the couch nearby, wondering when the lawn mower is about to fire up, but you hug.)
You realize some things are bigger than vomit-stained carpets.
You tell the 8-year-old you’ll be back up here to deal with him in a minute, Mister. Then you go back downstairs and humbly begin hooking everything up again. The hoses. The couplers. Where in the holy &*^^! did I put that shampoo!
You find the bottle. Shake it. There’s about 2 ounces in there. You thank the carpet-shampooing Gods from above and you haul it all back to the top of the stairs.
Only when you get there, you come upon your shirtless, puffy-eyed 4-year-old. And his 8-year-old brother. Who is hugging him. “I’m sorry, Coopie.”
Yeah, no worries, Coop. I’ve got the pile of dog vomit in the corner. You’re good, buddy.