When I was in college, I threw up on a guy once.
Mark, a fellow cafeteria worker who checked meal tickets and offered a smart remark for everyone who came through line, ringled a night out. I was friendly, but not quite friends, with Mark and he’d coaxed a good sized group to join him. We were a safety net for Mark, a way he could hang out with a girl he liked without having to ask her out on a ‘real’ date, whatever those were in college.
We ended up at Cochrane’s, the closest thing to dance club mid-state Illinois had to offer, after a long night of tequilla and Long Island iced teas. At some point, the three of us — me, Mark, the girl — were talking.
I was a little wobbly, but not falling and certainly not feeling like I was ready to, as we used to say, bow down to the porcelin gods.
In the middle of a sentence, I was. My sick hit Mark square in the chest.
Mark stepped back. His hands dropped to his sides. He looked as surprised as I felt.
“Dude,” he said, “this isn’t even my shirt.” He and the girl left.
Of all his possible reactions — a punch, a growl, a gentle or not-so-gentle throttle of my neck — he chose that. Acknowledgement. Acceptance. Moving on.
It’s been a long while since I’ve thought about Mark, but that night came back to me this week, as Reid puked on me, explosively, twice in as many days.
There are a lot of gross things about having kids. I won’t bore you with the full list. But I will say this: when your kid barfs on you, you find something out about yourself in a hurry.
Mainly, you find out that these kind of things don’t bother you the way you thought they might have before you had kids.
How does that happen? What mental switch has been thrown? Wiping yourself off just becomes another thing you do, like the bleary, late night feedings or the six stories you have to read to settle your son to sleep.
For most high-hazard jobs, you go through simulations. It’s the only way you’ll know what the job feels like. Soldiers go through war games. Astronauts experience zero gravity. Hell, I’ve media trained clients so they get a feel for an interview with a reporter.
There are no parenting simulations. (And if you think taking care of an egg for a week in high school is one, I’m here to tell you it IS NOT.) One day, you’re making jokes about how you aren’t sure you can take care of yourself all that well, much less another human being, and the next you’re trying to figure out how to give someone small and squirmy a bath in the kitchen sink.
Maybe in your life, you’re ‘lucky’ enough to go through a situation or two that might mentally prepare you for parenthood. A pet. Watching a sister’s kid for a weekend. Having a tapeworm.
It’s still not the same. But maybe it helped.
I like to think it does. And I like to think about Mark now, being a good Dad somewhere far away from Cochrane’s, because he know exactly how to handle himself in the face of a sick child.