My children vomit while riding in the car like it’s an Olympic event. This first occurred with my eldest child half an hour into a three hour trip. Rather than turn around, I stopped at the nearest Walmart, and my wife bought trash bags, a new car seat, and clothes. We stripped Lizzy down, put the contaminated clothes and car seat in a trash bag, and continued on.
I was furious. This was not part of the plan. Besides, I’m an automotive detailer specializing in abused vehicles, and our car was now an abused vehicle. In addition to the extra hundred and fifty dollars we paid and the malodor perfuming our car, I was going to spend part of my weekend detailing for free.
A week later, this narrative repeated. This time our family was three hours into a two day trip to start our Christmas vacation. My wife was driving out of the mountains so she wouldn’t get sick (the motion sickness comes from her side of the family), while I tried to sleep in the front passenger seat. Then I smelled something bilious.
I took off my seat belt and turned around as Eliza started to vomit. My first impulse was to contain the mess, so I reached out to catch this fragrant fountain before our Nissan Altima could be abused yet again. This idiotic plan was about as affective as trying to corral a firehose with a spaghetti strainer. Now I was stuck halfway between the front row and the back with the grotesque former contents of my daughter’s stomach seeping through my fingers.
Eliza screamed. Our infant son, Levi, screamed. I gagged, and tried not to throw up on Eliza.
My wife parked the car on the shoulder of the highway and come around to wipe my hands clean before trying to sooth Levi. I extracted myself from the front of the car and began the cleanup. The next several minutes were a blur of barf anointed clothing and wet wipes. The weather was freezing, and Eliza, now practically naked, was cold and still screaming. I too was cold and flung one contaminated wipe after another out the car door as I tried to mitigate the mess.
Then a state trooper, lights flashing, pulled up behind us. I thought, “I’m going to get a ticket for littering,” and began scurrying around retrieving all the scattered wipes.
The trooper began walking over.
“We’re fine,” I hollered over Eliza and Levi’s combined wailing. “One of our kids threw up.”
“There’s a rest stop ahead,” the trooper called, before beating a hasty retreat back to his car and speeding off.
Finally, I had done all I could in the circumstances. We were still a few hours from our hotel reservation, but every time we started driving again, the vomiting recommenced. Finally, we accepted the inevitable and found another hotel. I spent the next few hours of the night purging our car in the freezing weather, though the spoiled scent would linger for the rest of our trip. Once again, I was furious.
I didn’t think I had an anger problem until I had children. However, having kids exposed me. Raising children took my character and puts it under constant, persistent pressure. The car sickness is simply one of countless examples.
I’ve observed two primary ways that parents tend to respond to this pressure:
I’ve seen a number of older parents who are bitter with their kids, decry parenting, can’t wait to be finished, and see their children as inconveniences at best. Their kids turn eighteen years old, and the parents disconnect faster than that state trooper fled our puke scene. In essence, they view their offspring as the problem.
Then there are the parents who see parenting as a call to growth, a call to get over themselves. They realize that their kids aren’t the problem; the pressure of parenting simply reveals a need for maturity on the part of the parent.
For the Christian, parenting can play a significant role in the sanctification process. As a teenager or young adult, it was easy to feel good about myself; I appeared to love God and love others most of the time. Once I began to feel the grind of parenting, however, my real moral fiber began to show through. The ugliness of my own character, or lack thereof, is highlighted every time I lose my temper or resent my loss of time or independence or money.
Yet this has also been an opportunity to honestly evaluate myself and my need for a savior, to apologize and repent of selfish words, attitudes, and actions. I didn’t become a worse person when I became a parent; in becoming a parent, I became aware of just how much I need to grow up, to be sanctified. I chose that I was going to be the second kind of parent; I would die to self and mature.
I now have four children, and the motion sickness has settled into an established pattern. Every time we switch a toddler from an infant car seat to a convertible one, the floodgates open. Even a ten minute drive is perilous. A few years ago, we were driving to a nearby blackberry patch just a few miles away, and three quarters of the way there—surprise!–partially pureed breakfast, courtesy of Levi.
After several months, Levi grew out of the vomiting, but now our third born, Daniel, has taken up the sweet-smelling car seat. A few weeks ago, on the way home at the end of a particularly bad day, Daniel regurgitated his juice and snack and remnants of his lunch. Then a week after that, once I had disassembled, washed, dried, and reassembled Daniel’s car seat, the three eldest children and I drove to church. I kept glancing back at Daniel, but we arrived, scent free. I parked, looked back at Daniel with relief, and he then spewed his breakfast down his Sunday clothes.
Still, I wasn’t furious. I wasn’t even mad. I mostly just felt sorry for the toddler, who starred at me with mournful blue eyes without voicing a complaint. I put my head down, broke out those trusty wet wipes and set about cleaning. After I changed Daniel’s clothes, I unloaded his siblings, and we all went to church. It was actually kind of funny, in a sick sort of way.