It was a burp that held an implication of something far worse; something we had read about as parents, dreaded, but never yet experienced.
An Accidental Posting
To those who may have briefly seen a posting float across your news feeds the other day and then disappear, I apologize for the error. To those who actually clicked on the link, thank you! and I am also sorry. That was a very rough draft of an article I am working on to explain the benefits of non-violent action to de-escalate a violent situation. The preview you saw the other day, however, went out not as a result of violence, but as a consequence of fatherhood. I’ve had a lot of training in my life: as a soldier, as a police officer, and as an inner-city special-education teacher. But none of that training, I learned, prepared me for being a dad.
Just Another Day
On the day of the unscheduled posting, we had a routine follow-up appointment for my son at the doctor’s office, which was a short 45 minute drive away. Sebastian has a disorder called ITP, which is a virus that causes his body to attack his platelets. If unchecked, it can result in severe bleeding. Since September, my wife and I have been making several trips with our son to doctor’s offices, emergency rooms, and labs for blood draws. In addition to our frequent travel trips to medical facilities, we also moved, I transferred jobs, and we had more doctor’s visits since my wife is pregnant with our second child. To top things off, 2 months ago I published my book, Service, started a publishing company, and have been spending many late nights and early mornings managing the sales and promotion aspects of my new venture. Needless to say, I don’t sleep much.
I was up at 5 am that morning, and watching the newsfeeds with anticipation as all of the local schools were closing due to it being the coldest day in a decade. (Our thermometer read -8). Normally I can stay in my pajamas and work from home when school is closed, but on this day I found myself using another “sick day” so I could be the driver, kid carrier, and moral support provider in the brisk January cold. I was focused on getting us to the doctor’s and back because I was anxious to start working on my article about de-escalation.
I dressed my son in the warmest pants he owns and put several layers of warm shirts and “onesies” on him. We joked as I dressed him and my son fell into his normal fits of laughter when we played our “pretend sneeze” game. My wife packed the diaper bag, which is more like a survivalists bug-out bag, and selected a jacket for herself that could best fit over her baby bump. We loaded ourselves and our survival gear into the car, with my son strapped happily in his car seat, and off we went to his appointment.
While at the doctor’s office, my wife broke out the snacks and my son laughed happily at me as he ate all of the animal crackers without giving one to daddy. The nurse drew some of his blood, he cried, and the doctor looked him over. Although my son’s platelet count was low, we were all relieved that he was not being admitted again, (like he was on my birthday 4 days before we moved).
We again bundled up, piled in the car, made a quick stop at the copy center, grabbed some lunch, and Jenny snuck in a quick shopping trip at her favorite retail store. We were enjoying our time as a family, but the day was growing late and we were getting tired. Jenny offered to drive home, and I jumped on the opportunity. I knew my son would nap in the car, which meant he would be wide awake when we got home, preventing any possibility of rest for either of us until he went to bed.
The Burp Heard ‘Round the World
Knowing I had a good 45 minutes to myself in the passenger seat, I excitedly began writing my article through the use of my new phone. I had been planning it for about a week, and was relieved to finally start getting the thoughts out of my head and on “paper.” After about 30 minutes, with 15 miles left in our drive, I was really into my writing.
We drove through the toll and I knew I had about ten minutes left to unleash my thoughts. But that time was cut short: Sebastian was awake, and he was upset. It started as a whimper and grew into a grumble. He then started whining and calling our names. We first ignored his cries in hopes he would go back to sleep, a tactic which has shown us success in the past. But his cries turned to screams, and this loving, funny, adorably stubborn little boy was demanding our attention. My wife hates when he cries, and I saw her knuckles turn white as she gripped the steering wheel tighter with a frustration and sadness that only a mother knows. My focus was gone, so I quickly pressed a button on my phone to save my article. Instinctively I found myself belting out our favorite verses of “Old MacDonald.” With each “eeee iii oooo,” Sebastian’s cries softened. As I made his favorite animal sounds he grew quiet, and then started singing along. I felt proud as a father for calming my son down. I had talked him off of the ledge of despair and ended the crisis of the back seat crier.
I was so impressed with my ability to pacify him that in my arrogance I actually thought I could squeeze in a few more minutes of writing before we got home. Then he burped… and my wife and I held our breath in silence. It was a burp that held an implication of something far worse; something we had read about as parents, dreaded, but never yet experienced. There was something behind that burp. Something terrifying. Something chunky. There was a heaviness in the air, and as he burped we both knew what had happened, despite our denial; until the smell hit us. It is a smell that cannot be mistaken as anything other than what it is. It is a smell that sickens most, and strikes fear into the hearts of many. It is the smell of vomit, and as I cautiously peered into the back seat I saw said vomit on my son, on his car seat, on my seat, on his shirt, blanket, and on his puppy dog seatbelt straps.
The smell grew stronger, and I knew Jenny and her pregnant sensitive nose would not be happy about it.
Panicked, my wife pulled the car to the side of the road. We were 10 minutes from home, and knew we needed to keep going. So I braved the smell of vomit and climbed in the back seat with my son. He looked at me quietly, and then smiled. The smell grew stronger, and I knew Jenny and her pregnant sensitive nose would not be happy about it. So down went her window, on the coldest day in 10 years, and on we went as I wiped, scrubbed, and cleaned my son and his surrounding mess.
About two minutes down the road we remembered we needed to get a prescription for Jenny and I needed to deposit a check in order to pay our mortgage (which was already late). So she stopped, and I continued to clean. In a few short minutes, we were again moving down the road as my son watched me clean his mess. He smiled at me, and despite the overpowering smell and mess that I failed to keep off of my hands, I was happy to be there taking care of him.
We arrived home and I finished cleaning the car, sprayed it with deodorizer, and gathered his things for the laundry. At bedtime I read him a story and laid down next to him. He passed out quickly with his head resting on my shoulder and I stayed with him for a few minutes before making my way to our bedroom. I gave a quick check on Facebook and surprisingly found that in my haste to calm my screaming son, I hit the wrong key and posted the rough draft of my article instead of saving it. I quickly took it down, frustrated that I had been so careless, and then spent some time reflecting on the day’s events.
The Consequence of Fatherhood…
My life has changed drastically since becoming a father. Free time is a thing of the past and when my son is awake he demands every single ounce of my attention. He frustrates me, exhausts my wife, and hits me when he’s mad. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. My day was filled with adventure, and as a father and a husband I am charged with caring for and protecting two of the people who matter most to me. So as I climbed in my car the other morning, two day’s after my son vomited in the back, the smell of vomit again hit me in the face, reminding me of my very special responsibility. As I rolled down the windows to vent my car in the cold from the lingering smell, I thought about the way my son smiled when I climbed in the back seat to help him and I realized: It is all worth it.
As parents we have an amazing opportunity to prepare our children for the future. Each day brings a new set of adventures, lessons, and mini-crises. With each new scenario, our life changes in a small way. We learn more about ourselves, and who we want to be. If you’d like to hear more about life’s adventures and the small changes that impact them, please consider signing up for our newsletter. If you have experienced your own small changes as a parent, please consider sharing them below. Your story may be the one that makes a difference in another parent’s day. Remember: small changes among the masses can have a massive impact across the world!