Just as parenting can bring some of our highest highs, it inevitably also brings some of the lowest lows. It’s funny how years go by and then suddenly you remember some moment that just lives on in your mind… maybe some sort of traumatic or embarrassing moment. I know we all have ours, parenting and personal… like that elementary school moment of tripping while holding my lunch tray—feeling like I took flight as every kid in the school watched the slow-motion debacle, followed by the customary rousing applause of shame.
Filed in the same general drawer of my brain is a trip to a now-vanished kid-play-space that was very popular back when I had preschoolers; it was called “Bright Child” and it was a place filled with indoor climbing structures, pits filled with balls and the notorious black curly slide. The labyrinthine tubes, chutes and bridges were just intimidating enough for three-year-olds so that we thirty-something dads and moms found ourselves spelunking through them, wondering how much it would cost us later at the chiropractor. But the kids adored the place.
And so it was that one bleak and blustery winter’s day, New Years Eve day it was, I volunteered to take the kids solo so my wife could have some repose. Bright Child was teeming that day, more packed than ever as we paid, got our wrist bracelets and checked our shoes at the door amid throngs of the coming, the going and the birthday celebrating. Maybe it was everyone hoping to run the kids to the edge of ragged sleep in prep for New Years’ revelry, or maybe, like us, they had no plans whatsoever for New Years and were manically digging parenting as a substitute for the lives we had used to lead.
And so we climbed, slid, frolicked, snacked, rolled, jumped, ran, chased, fussed, got over it… never quite realizing that my youngest one was incubating some wicked stomach bug.
Now one of the most engaging things for kids at Bright Child was an enormous screen surrounded by smaller screens peppered throughout the place with a camera trained on one little area between the entrance and the activities. So while you were changing shoes or waiting for the rest of your party, you might find yourself widely broadcast throughout Bright Child. The TV was not a running stream, but rather a random snapshot, like you have at the bottom of a roller coaster. The latest shot would thus hang there for a good long moment and then rotate with other recent snapshots.
We took a break in our play and I hoisted my little cutie onto the blond wood balustrade that I knew would put him front and center on the big screen. And then it happened—a gush of projectile vomit from out of nowhere, perfectly captured and frozen on the big and little screens.
An entire birthday party of pizza-eating eight-year-olds shouted howls of execration as I whisked my kid toward the bathroom for major clean-up as he continued to vomit copiously while I passed the snack area, dragging my bewildered older kid along with us through a juggernaut of little screens dazzling us with the all-star photo of spouting vomit.
The rest was a blur. Cleaning up with bathroom paper towels that were less absorbent than Teflon. Passing back through the corridor of shame. Fighting my own gag reflex (I think dads are much less capable of dealing well with vomit than moms). Spilling out into the fast-fading daylight and the bracing air.
If memory serves, that was the way we ushered in 1999 (a little different than the Prince song had foretold back in our Ride the White Pony dance-club days in downtown New York in the 80’s). From Barfly to Barf-fly, it seems that no matter how far we try to run from our original moments of supreme uncoolness, we seem destined to revisit them until we find the Groundhog’s Day grace, poetry, pathos and comedy (as in tragedy plus time) woven into the barfy fabric of our lives.
So, wherever you are today in your parenting journey, from burping your newborn to telling your teens not to burp so loudly, let’s dedicate today to finding the humor in the gag-reflex activating moments in parenting—in the service of all our collective children.