That’s one of the first laws of parenting. If you have a child, at some point it will vomit. When we had our first son, we moved from almost constant possetting (muslin cloths under his head at all times) to the law of If we go away overnight, he will be sick. We went to my cousin’s wedding – he was sick in the car and projectile vomited all over the hotel room. We went to my great uncle’s funeral – he was sick in the car. We went to America – he projectile vomited all over the hotel room we stayed in on our return through Heathrow – so much so that we left money for the cleaning staff, because we were so ashamed of the piles of vomit-covered linen left in the bath. We went on holiday to south Wales, this time with son number two in tow. They both projectile vomited all over the holiday cottage bedroom. This was the occasion of my nephew’s second birthday, and he was where they caught the sick bug from. I still remember my astonishment at my sister’s worry when my nephew was physically sick. But children are sick all the time! I thought. Not so with him. Aside from the usual babyhood possetting (spitting up, if you’re American), this was the first time he’d ever been sick. But you see, even he followed the law. If you have a child, at some point it will vomit.
Easter, then, must be prime vomiting territory. We should have realised, when we decided to take our three children out for a pleasant drive around Snowdonia, hoping to wow them with sights of the snowy and beautiful mountains. We’ve had an unusual Easter that started with snow even down at the coast, so we wanted to make the most of it. It’s all too easy when your backyard is this beautiful to go day by day thinking, Another day we’ll go and see all the beautiful things. And it was beautiful. Snowdon was snowy. The roads were banked up with huge unmelted piles of snow at the sides. The lakes were chill and expansive and wet, as you’d expect.
But as we come out of the mountains and start to turn back towards civilisation, the five-year-old son (let’s call him George – it’s his favourite name since being exposed to the Famous Five) wakes up from an uncharacteristic slumber to say, ‘Daddy, don’t do that. I feel ill.’
‘What kind of ill?’ (My voice gets an edge – that urgent, are we going to need to stop the car? edge.)
‘I’m going to be yick.’
‘Oh dear. Well, hang on, darling. We’ll try to find somewhere to stop.’
This is swiftly followed a kind of flood of what appears to be entirely liquid chocolate and an emergency pull-over into a bus stop. You can only imagine the wailing as we try to strip a chocolate-vomit-covered five-year-old in very chilly conditions, get a new top on him (thank god we brought an extra one), and explain to him why he can’t keep his vomit-covered trousers on. No, not his boots either. Nor the coat. Not anything covered in vomit.
My husband attempts to clean the car and carseat as best he can with terry-towelling nappies and water while I try to calm the child. At one point he’s lying face-down on the pavement screaming, because we won’t let him wear sick-covered clothes. Drivers passing must assume this is a normal occurrence for a five-year-old, since no one stops to ask why we’re abusing our half-naked child by making him lie on the ground in near-freezing temperatures.
Ten minutes later we’re back in the car, deciding whether to go the quick way back home, or back through the mountains. The wailing has stopped. George is warm under a jumper that’s spread over his knees. It seems that the sickness was just a case of too much chocolate. He’s already asking for sweets, ‘if we yop at a petrol yation.’
Back through the mountains we drive, choosing the alternative route so as to take in the majestic sight of Tryfan, a 3,000 ft high pile of cragged stone, and the part-frozen lake at its base. We ooh and aah and crane our necks backwards to take it all in. We travel on into the widening mountain valley. The two-and-a-half-year-old (let’s call him Benjamin) calls out, ‘Water bottle! Water bottle!’
I have a bad feeling about this. And I’m right. Before I can give him any water a chocolate slick explodes over the car, spattering Ben and his seven-year-old brother (Oscar?) in something resembling a terrible bog-snorkling accident.
Suddenly there’s a stream of holiday bikers behind us and not a stopping place in sight. Eventually we manage to pull up in a gateway half-filled with a heap of some kind of tarmac sweepings, and try to sort out the chocolate-covered two-and-a-half-year-old. Luckily (again) we have a spare top, but again there’s great dismay at the fact he can’t wear his vomit-covered trousers or boots. Most of the nappies we brought are so soiled from Incident No. 1 that we can’t use them to wipe up after Incident No. 2. I wrap Ben in my coat to keep him warm while my husband (who, by the way, has something of a vomit-phobia) tries to clean up the lake in the carseat.
The journey home isn’t one we try to take at a leisurely pace. Of course there are the obligatory tourists driving along the B-roads as if they expect avalanches and crocodiles around every corner, but eventually we make it, and the carseat covers get a much needed wash, along with almost every item of fabric that was in the car. My husband cleans out the car itself with dettol and water, then sloshes the waste water into the field, unaware that there’s a nesting goose directly in the line of fire. So it’s a bad day for the goose as well as for us.
But was it a bad day? There’s something rather fun in these kind of emergency situations. I mean, once you factor out the distress caused to the children. Being caught on the hop, having to manage to calm down children and keep them warm and clean up unexpected pools of sticky vomit and get them home safely. It certainly made it a memorable day. We all got home safe and well, the children perked up marvellously once they were clean and dry, and the washing machine got to prove its worth.
Lessons learned? Not much I didn’t already know. Always take a change of clothes when you take children in the car. (We don’t – we were just lucky, this time.) Travel with extra water. (Well, I try to.) Travel with towels. (Do terry-towelling nappies count?) Don’t let the children eat too much chocolate before travelling. (Is it ever possible to regulate a child’s chocolate intake at Easter?) If you ever plan a car trip, always expect vomit. (I try not to expect vomit, to be honest. I like to think positively.)
I hope we’ll get to go on holiday later in the year. If we do, remind me to refer back to this blog post, and plan accordingly.